Third-rate television for a Third-world country

Four young people were asked what they thought of local television. All four said it sucks. The lack of fresh ideas and creativity on television reflects a society-wide problem, one that will doom us to a Third-world future. Full essay.

13 Responses to “Third-rate television for a Third-world country”

  1. 1 george 13 October 2009 at 10:47


    You forgot to talk about the broadcast media (radio).

    IMO, Singapore radio stations are designed to insult your intelligence and to make you STUPID!

    The obscenity of it is made so painfully crystal clear when you listen to the beep (BBC).

    My radios at home and in the car are permanently tuned in to the beep for the obvious reasons.

  2. 2 Marc 13 October 2009 at 13:03

    I will agree with George that radio broadcasts in Singapore are designed to insult your intelligence and to make you stupid (I also listen to BBC!).

  3. 3 Kai Khiun 13 October 2009 at 13:42

    Dear YB,

    You have touched on an issue which i have been thinking quite hard about

    A major restriction on our tv culture has been the imposition of rather unreal ethnic and linguistic regulations that have divorced and alienated the audience from the programmes.Unlike HK, Korean and J-dramas, we get tongue tied and contrived into rigidity in our dramas in the requirement to use official languages, rather than what is recognised to be more vernacular expressions from singlish to chinese dialects. The ethnic division of our media (and the token representations of minorities) is also another crippling blow that have prevented local audiences with more cosmopolitan experiences from identifying with their media stations. I actually dare say that the only good “drama” to watch on TV is Crimewatch that is given the artistic license under context of public education to recreate a more realistic and dynamic aspect of Singapore society.

    As for local current affairs and news…well…you have to be “objective” and not say anything bad about the government.

    Another aspect explaining the decreasing standards is the divorce of education from a holistic pedagogical experience into its carefully segmented technical emphasis, where media studies today is more concerned with fonts and formats rather than addressing fundamental issues of media and society.

    Hence, as we so call value professional qualifications and expertise, we are generation of new breed of so call specialised “knowledge workers” and their MBA type managers with little awareness and respect for not just artistic, but also socio-cultural sensitivities. This explains not just the robotic parroting of state policies on primetime news, but also the highly inappropriate shallow and often vulgarly sexist remarks by radio DJs

    PS: As for the apathy of academics, while i do agree that is a greater trend towards careerism rather than raising further social consciousness as public intellectuals, I must remind you there are still some who do really care for society here. And, they have paid rather dearly for their public involvement (of course this does not include a prominent don parading her distaste for sexual minorities

  4. 4 Marrett 13 October 2009 at 15:01

    Hi Alex

    A brilliant piece.Well said.Congratulations

    You are right- this is a country of permissions.

    I studied at Singapore’s top school – I can count top civil servants and even the CEO of Singapore’s largest company as classmates and/or schoolmates.

    But few are truly creative, bold or innovative in what they do.

    You should do a piece on the money the Government is dumping to develop digital content.Content is king but in Singapore content is treated with a cut and paste mentality .To make matters worse, Singaporeans are becoming worse in English .

    Keep up your good work.

  5. 5 Vic 13 October 2009 at 17:01

    Dear Alex,

    I cannot agree more.

    When I watch Mediacock 8 or 5 on TV Mobile on the bus (forced to watch anyway), this is always familiar:

    1) Our actors are shouting when communicating to each other on screen aka Patricia-Mok-style. I find this extremely irritating. If you have not noticed this, do pay a little more attention and you will see that I am quite right.

    2) It pains me to watch melodramatic acting all the time with actors playing it up for the camera. Stereotypical expressions are pulled out of the bag readily. Curious? Raise an eyebrow and raise it high. Perplexed? Frown. Act cool? Do a Tay Ping Hui. I hear that Aaron Aziz is teaching drama and I can only shake my head.

    3) The plots are almost always heavily preachy with generous doses of moralistic drops.

    4) PCK is recycled to death and ‘Police and Thief’ goes into the 5th season (I think). Even the canned laughter seems strained.

    One only needs to watch a couple of TVB drama episodes to be hooked immediately. The material is constantly fresh, the pace is engaging and the actors are worth their salt. I am impressed even with their family-themed dramas.

    As for American shows, we are lightyears behind in everything.

    I don’t really know what the reason is. We have got the money poured in but one of the highest viewership shows is the wedding ceremony of Chris and Fann. We have got a handful (not all) of good solid actors like Zoe Tay and Adrian Pang but we give them horrible scripts. We have got Royston Tan and Eric Khoo but they are wise enough not to enter into the foray of TV…

    The generation today will grow up to boycott Mediacock. They can find excuses to blame the influx of more cable TV choices for the consumer or they can buck up.

    I am more inclined to believe in the former.

  6. 6 Poetry in motion 13 October 2009 at 18:29

    “Did you ever hear anyone say ‘That work had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very dangerous to me’?”
    – Joseph Henry Jackson

  7. 7 KSR 13 October 2009 at 23:15

    When I moved to Singapore a decade ago, I quite enjoyed the shows on Ch 5 and 8. Growing Up and Under One Roof are some of the decent English shows that come to mind. Despite my family not being Chinese, we used to watch the 9pm dramas on Ch 8 together. Then we subscribed to SCV and that was the end of local television in my house. I’m still baffled as to what happened over the years that led to a severe deterioiration of the quality of local TV shows.

  8. 8 Ned Stark 14 October 2009 at 01:50

    Hi Mr Au,

    I agree with you generally, but with regards to Academia I feel the need to highlight some things.

    I believe there are academics out there who actually do care and have been trying, in their own way, to inculcate in their students some kind of consciousness. Of course they do not succeed all the time, but we should acknowledge their effors. Academics that come to mind are Professor Michael Hor and, whatever we might think of her stance on 377A, Professor Thio Li Ann, to name a few. For example, Professor Michael Hor has been a staunch advocate for fundamental principles like the presumption of innocence, to name a few, while Professor Thio has strenously criticised the one-sided constitutional judgments rendered by the courts.


  9. 9 dyno 14 October 2009 at 07:04

    i’m wondering if they (the censors/mediacorp) will be pressured into lightening up/improving the quality of local tv once we have the much faster internet connections that are coming in a couple of years or so. at that point it will even easier for internet-savvy people (i.e. younger and/or the more affluent/educated) to watch foreign programmes. and as a result, the demographics of mediacorp watchers is going to be even more unattractive to advertisers. it will be a dollars and cents issue (and we all know what that means), so it’s going to be interesting.

  10. 10 BK 14 October 2009 at 11:34

    Hi YB

    Well said! I agreed fully. I talked to many people who were quite indifferent about politics, thinking that it’s none of their business. But end of the day, political climate affects us in many different ways, as described so well in your piece here. As long as our present political climate doesn’t loosen up, I can see no hope in local creative industry (TV, 3D production, movies making etc) to take off like other countries. All the money thrown in by MDA has helped, but definitely not to the level of expectation we wanted.

  11. 11 snugpug 18 October 2009 at 22:50

    Dear Alex,
    I don’t know if anyone’s pointed out what happened to the Ellen Degeneres show. Here, I lifted this from my blog:

    It’s bad enough that the episodes of the Ellen Degeneres talkshow that are being broadcast on the free-to-air station here is six months behind the US screening.

    It’s even worse that they are shown at 3am. (I catch them because I happen to watch TV at that time of the night after coming home from night shift.)

    But it is unforgivable when a whole episode goes missing.

    I was watching the show last week when I saw on the little crawler that flashes the next day’s guest: Portia Di Rossi. Who also happens to be Ellen’s spouse. Now that would be a nice episode to watch, I thought.

    The episode never materialised. Play It Safe Broadcast Corporation didn’t just apply their usual (insert sarcasm here) light censorship hand, they took an axe to the whole episode.

    To say that I was piffed off was an understatement.

    But then, I figured there was no point getting angry, writing in or complaining. Play It Safe Broadcast Corporation would only say that they had to follow the Media Development Authority’s broadcast guidelines on undesirable content or risk paying a fine.

    They probably thought they got away with fooling an audience of maybe 5 people at 3am. Maybe they thought that we didn’t notice the crawler. Or that we blinked and missed Portia’s guest spot. Or maybe they thought we’re stupid.

    We’re not. We know what you did. And we know how to YouTube. And there it was. Two people glowing with happiness when they talked about their wedding day because they could share their life together. A gay couple who outshone a straight couple when they played The Newlywed Game, the game that tests how well you know your partner.

    What’s more morally reprehensible or more of a threat to the insitution of marriage: a gay talkshow host who proudly introduces her wife on the show, or a straight talkshow host who recently confessed to having sex with his staff when he was in the middle of a long-term relationship with his partner?

  12. 12 Akikonomu 26 October 2009 at 23:21

    Like a sample size of FOUR settles the issue easily, no? Next time the Straits Times does a survey, be sure you don’t talk point out a ridiculously small sample invalidates their world class survey and makes mince meat out of their scientific polling. Next!

  13. 13 tj 16 November 2009 at 23:29

    The same thing probably applied back in English class whenever we had to come up with anything remotely creative. All the short stories I wrote were always set in some faraway nameless location or in some fantasy/scifi setting but never would the drama unfold in a HDB estate. I guess the consensus (for there were some pretty good writers in my class) was that the really interesting stuff couldn’t possibly happen here.

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