Dated: 2 September 2009
In its 12th biennial report on the state of broadcast content in Singapore, the Programme Advisory Committee for English Programmes (PACE) commended television broadcasters for making strides in presenting info-educational programmes in a creative way, and showing quality local sports programmes; whilst radio stations were credited for their efforts in improving programming and strengthening their individual identities.
However, PACE expressed concerns over the presence of Singlish, in particular, in some local children's productions. It also called for more programmes targeted at the elderly in view of Singapore's rapidly-aging society.
The PACE report, covering the period 1 August 2007 to 31 July 2009, was made public today.
The 36-member PACE was appointed by the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts in 2007, to give feedback and advise MDA (Media Development Authority) on the range and quality of English television and radio programmes under the period in review, as well as suggest areas for improvement.
Said Prof Leo Tan, Chairman of PACE, “Over the course of our two-year term, PACE was able to have fruitful and constructive dialogues with broadcasters to gain a better understanding of the challenges they face, while bringing relevant programming to viewers. As representatives of the community, we hope that the recommendations released by the Committee today will prove useful to broadcasters and the public, helping to achieve content that truly entertains, educates and informs.”
PACE’S Overall Comments on Broadcast Content
Overall, PACE was pleased to see broadcasters come up with new and appealing programmes that combine both realism and educational value. Two programmes that came in for praise were Unexpected Access, which took viewers behind the scenes to places not open to public viewing, e.g. a funeral home and forensic laboratory; and Lifewatch, which captured the reality of sickness, life and death in the operating theatre of a local hospital. Though PACE members acknowledged that some viewers might have found some scenes too explicit or gory, the programmes were nonetheless well-produced as they were engaging, educational and realistic.
In addition to Unexpected Access and Lifewatch, other Public Service Broadcast programmes were also commended as the Committee’s “Choice” programmes for their portrayal of unique aspects of Singapore life, including local dramas Sayang Sayang and Fighting Spiders.
Members were also heartened that the broadcasters had taken heed of the Committee’s earlier recommendation to have more programmes focusing on local sports, and commended the local sports programmes Sports@SG and The School Nationals, as these not only highlighted local sports and school sports events respectively, but also encouraged the young to stay active and lead healthy lives.
Conversely, PACE was uncomfortable with the continual use of sexually-suggestive remarks made on air by deejays on some radio stations; the continuous use of Singlish on radio and television programmes which could send the wrong signal to impressionable minds that Singlish was cool and acceptable to use; and the blurring of lines between commercials and regular programmes which were misleading to the public.
PACE noted that radio stations were making efforts to improve their programming and strengthen their stations’ identities. PACE was also pleased that there were some attempts by deejays to ensure that the language they used as well as the topics which they discussed were acceptable to general listeners.
However, PACE felt that the popular English station deejays do not provide much background information on the music they played, or the singers or composers behind the music. PACE suggested that local deejays introduce air time talk revolving around music genres, song-writing and interviews with song-writers.
Advertising and Sponsorship on TV and Radio
PACE was pleased that advertorial programmes on free-to-air TV channels were moved to post-10pm timeslots and were clearly labeled as “paid presentations”, making the nature of the programmes clear to viewers. However, PACE observed that infomercials were still being passed off as part of regular programming on radio. Members noted that some radio deejays were endorsing products during their programmes or reading advertisements on air before and after they read the news, and this made it confusing to listeners which segments were advertisements and which were not. It cited the example of newsreaders who read the News and also served as the “voice” of consumer products and services. PACE reiterated the need for radio stations to find ways to make a clearer distinction between sponsored content and regular programmes.
PACE was pleased with MediaCorp’s launch of okto, a new, dedicated channel for children, arts and culture, in October 2008. With okto replacing Kids and Arts Central, the new channel now has a bigger time belt to cater to a wider age group of young viewers.
However, members were concerned that some local actors, who had mass appeal due to their exposure on other channels like MediaCorp TV Channel 8 and were brought in to helm okto programmes, were weak in English. While these actors may attract viewership due to their mass appeal, their inability to speak proper English could give young viewers the impression that speaking Singlish was hip and acceptable.
PACE also reminded broadcasters to ensure that trailers for programmes targeted at older children should not be aired during timeslots when younger children are more likely to be tuning in, for example at times when preschool programmes are being aired. Members cited the trailers for R.E.M – The Next Generation, a programme targeted at tweens and teenage viewers, as being too violent for younger viewers.
PACE also cautioned against having too many cartoons promoting violence, such as Power Rangers, Digimon, Pokemon, as watching too many programmes of this nature could have an impact on young children. The Committee highlighted that research conducted by the American Psychological Association had shown that media violence has links with childhood aggression and urged channels like okto to refrain from scheduling so many of such programmes as young viewers can be easily influenced by what they see on television. In addition, the Committee expressed concern over children’s programmes with occult themes such as Jake the Dragon, Twitches and Halloweentown, which glamourise the supernatural as this can lead to children developing an attraction to the occult. PACE was therefore pleased when the evening programming slot on okto called “Freaky Friday” which showed programmes with a supernatural theme was replaced with educational and entertaining programmes such as “Brain Juice: Prove It!” and “Brain Juice: Tricky TV”.
Programmes for Seniors
In the light of a rapidly-aging Singapore society, PACE felt that there remains a lack of engaging English programmes for seniors. Members therefore urged broadcasters to come up with more info-educational and entertainment programmes which could cater to the needs of seniors. These could be in the form of programmes which educate seniors on health and fitness, active aging and give information on medical conditions and medical breakthroughs. There could also be programmes that raise their awareness of activities suitable for them, equip them with new skills, build family togetherness, and feature music and songs of yesteryears.
Programmes on ArtS and Culture
Members commended the programme “Film Art”, on Arts Central/okto, for its telecast of good quality productions such as Les Choristes, The King and I, Half Nelson. However, PACE expressed disappointment over the general line-up of arts and culture programmes on okto, as more time appeared to be devoted to children’s programmes and other programme genres, rather than to the Arts. Members expressed a desire to see more locally-produced Arts programmes or programmes focusing on the local arts scene, such as local arts performances by SSO, and programmes showcasing local talent.
PACE suggested that the National Arts Council, National Heritage Board and broadcasters come together to align their activities so that arts and cultural programmes can be shown during a dedicated period such as a National Arts and Culture Month.
PACE reminded producers to be more mindful in selecting celebrities to helm sports programmes. While PACE appreciated that celebrities could draw viewership, it felt that that this alone is not enough as audiences expect the hosts of such programmes, whether they are celebrities or not, to be knowledgeable and well-versed in the subject.
In addition, PACE also expressed concern over the impact on consumers as a result of the bidding war between StarHub and SingTel for the exclusive broadcast rights of the latest season of the UEFA Champions League, which has led to football fans having to subscribe to channels of both pay TV players if they wish to continue watching the popular English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. While PACE recognised that little can be done for this season’s UEFA Champion’s League since the deal had already been inked, they expressed a desire for future major football events that both Pay TV players could cooperate and come up with an arrangement that would benefit viewers more.
News, Current Affairs and Info-Educational Programmes
Overall, PACE noted that the quality, range and standard of most info-educational and current affairs programmes on television had improved. The Committee applauded CNA for its good quality and wide coverage of international and Asian News and Current Affairs, as well as the variety of info-educational programmes on topics ranging from travel and health, to science and technology. Nonetheless, while members praised CNA for its efforts in becoming an opinion leader instead of merely reporting the facts, it was also of the view that there was still room for improvement as CNA had generally still adopted a conservative and careful approach in its reports and programmes, which has resulted in the public having the perception that CNA was the “voice” of the government. This could hamper CNA’s ability to be an effective and trusted conduit for information as well as the articulation of ideas and arguments during difficult times. As such, PACE urged CNA to produce more probing and incisive investigative programmes on current social, political and economic issues, so as to captivate audiences more.
Pay television operator StarHub Cable Vision was commended for showing quality documentaries on channels such as “Discovery”, “National Geographic” and the new “History Channel”.
The full details of the PACE Report 2007/2009 can be found here.
Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA)
Formed in 2003, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) plays a vital role in transforming Singapore into a Trusted Global Capital for New Asia Media. MDA spearheads initiatives that promote industry growth in film, television, radio, publishing, music, games, animation and Interactive Digital Media. At the same time, in ensuring clear and consistent regulatory policies and guidelines, MDA helps to foster a pro-business environment for industry players and increase media choices for consumers. For more information, visit www.mda.gov.sg and www.smf.sg.