Singapore's YOG and the international media.
The international media reaction to Singapore's Youth Olympic Games is rather interesting. Firstly, it is interesting to note that there is so relatively little coverage...and secondly, that quite a bit of that coverage is negative. There might be good reasons for that.
Singapore is famous for many things. It is famous for its airport. (Something that is pretty sad in itself, don't you think? How about being famous for its composers, artists, scientists, engineers, writers, actors...) It is famous for its cleanliness. It is famous for its strictness of social control. It is famous for its liberally applied death penalty. It is also famous for loving to sue anyone, in the international media, who voices any kind of criticism. Not only that, but international media know they may lose the right to distribute their newspapers or magazines, in Singapore, if they don't mind what they say.
Now, think about that for a moment. Singapore has had a large number of widely publicized law suits AGAINST international media. What effect do you think that has on the international media's view of Singapore? Surely, all international media, even those who have not been sued, directly, might feel somewhat chilly on the issue of Singapore, given the way it behaves towards their brethren. Don't you think, given Singapore's reputation amongst the international media, that international journalists might be reluctant to heap praise on Singapore, during the Youth Olympic Games? It seems to me that they might take some delight in either ignoring the games (as many have) or in covering it in a negative light (as many of them have). You see Singapore cannot expect to bully, intimidate and threaten the international media when they are trying to give their views of the city state - but then expect those very same international media, to come running to heap praise on their wonderful YOG.
Singapore, as ever, is short-sighted, as it is in all things. Scholars, you see, can't see beyond the next page in their books. Perhaps all that reading has left them too short-sighted to see the realities of the world. Singapore has long pursued a policy of bullying the international media into a quiescent, manageable state with regards to how they comment on the "Disneyland with the death penalty", as William Gibson famously described it. (I think he got it wrong, though. It is much less comfortable and interesting than Disneyland - though equally as crowded these days.) Now, all that bullying will have bred a certain attitude towards Singapore - a certain lingering dislike in the minds of many an international journalist. That has obvious consequences for Singapore. The effects are obvious. Though this is the first Youth Olympic Games and so is, in that sense, an historic event, the international broadcast media have generally decided to pass on it. They are simply not covering it. So, too, international newspapers are writing relatively little about it. Many of them, in fact, have taken to knocking it. I have read tales of Singapore's "Stalinist approach" to the Youth Olympic Games; I have read gloating articles of the "empty seats", of the "dog food" served to "volunteers" who were "forced" to help out. Indeed, the negative copy is quite perturbing if the purpose of the Youth Olympic Games was to elevate Singapore as a desirable host of major international events.
Having glanced through the sparse global coverage that I have seen, the general impression is not a positive one. It does seem, from it, that Singapore's people are not supportive of the event - and that Singapore's government is not as good at organizing things as the legend of Singapore would lead us to expect.
Yet, all this is the fault of none other than Singapore itself. Whatever the inadequacies of their organization, marketing and promoting of the Youth Olympic Games (and there are plenty of those...for instance, not bothering to tell everyone where the individual events are!), the failure of the YOG to inspire the global media, may have its ultimate roots in the kind of relationship Singapore has long been cultivating with said media: an antagonistic, oppositional, intimidating one. Indeed, I feel tempted to describe it as belligerent.
The international media have long formed their views of Singapore, through its historical behaviour towards them. It seems to me unlikely that many media would be keen to write endless reams of positive copy, on a city state that has ill-treated them in the past. Thus, it is that Singapore cannot have it both ways. Singapore cannot expect to muzzle the international media from commenting on its shortcomings and curious practices - and then expect them to stampede to their shores, clamouring to cover the YOG - or whatever other event or great accomplishment they want the world to take note of.
Thus it is we can see the harm done to Singapore through its persistent bullying of international media into silence. Once so silenced, do you think they want to speak out to say something positive, when required, on cue, when Singapore desires it? No. Once silenced, they shall be forever unwilling to speak in Singapore's favour.
Singapore needs the global community for its continued prosperity, indeed, its very existence. Bullying the media, is a very isolationist thing to do...the absolute reverse of what Singapore needs to survive long term. The ultimate effect of such bullying is to remove the ability of Singapore to communicate its merits to the rest of the world, should it have any merits to communicate. The rest of the world, in the shape of the media, will have stopped to listen, after their brethren have had one law suit too many.
For me, a sign of wisdom is the ability to see the consequences in whatever we choose to do. By that measure, there seems little wisdom in the leadership of Singapore - for they do not see the future they are creating, by the actions they take, today. They are so concerned with the immediate, that they do not see the delayed impact, of their deeds. Yet, the future of a nation, is determined by those consequences. It seems, therefore, that, overall, the-powers-that-be, in Singapore, are rather blind to the tomorrow they are building for their tiny nation state.
It takes very little understanding of human nature to realize that if a policy of bullying the media is pursued, that those media will not be there, in future, to give positive comment on one's subsequent achievements, when it is needed. How come Singapore's very expensively paid leadership, couldn't see that? Personally, I confess myself somewhat baffled that something so stunningly obvious, could have been overlooked.
If Singapore wants to build a great international reputation, it must begin, not to terrorize writers, but to cultivate them. Singapore needs to be kind to the media, if it ever expects the media to be kind to it. That means being accepting of the international media's free speech, being tolerant of bloggers in the blogosphere - and generally being open to the idea of an expressive, free and independent global media. Only after the international media has come to see that Singapore has changed, not only in its conduct towards them, but in the nature of the society itself and its degree of freedom of expression, will they be mollified, and open, thereafter, to a more friendly and abundant coverage of the misguided nation state.
Then again, will they listen? I have my doubts...after all, I left Singapore precisely because of their congenital deafness and arthritic inflexibility. Maybe the sniggers of the global media, regarding the YOG fiasco, might unblock their ears.
We shall see.
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