This year, Singapore celebrates its 56th National Day. While an important milestone to highlight how far the country has come since independence over half a century ago, it may have appeared somewhat innocuous just a couple of years ago — before COVID-19 happened.
National Day celebrations in 2021 will understandably be more muted than what we are used to. But there remain many reasons to celebrate the nation’s strength through one of the most trying times in its history and to look towards a brighter future ahead.
While times are indeed tough, if there is one thing I have learned over the many years of having the privilege to live and work here, Singapore’s resilience always shines through. That’s why this year’s National Day theme aptly focuses on the Singapore Spirit.
But such a spirit is not monolithic; it comprises many aspects that make it truly unique on the world stage.
Perhaps what resonated with me the most — as someone who has worked with Singapore’s media for a great many years — is the opening line in the above video for the National Day Parade festivities.
Our Singapore spirit. We hear it in speeches, read about it in the news, but what, exactly, is it? — NDPeeps
The spirit of a country and its people shines through in its voice. Singapore’s leaders and media institutions have a unique voice in the way they speak to the nation and the world. With this voice comes the opportunity to build a truly distinct global identity.
A new normal has dawned upon all Singaporeans, even for its media institutions. Earlier this year, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) restructured from a publicly listed company to a company limited guarantee (CLG), a move that has been aligning with current global media trends.
Whilst the intention to utilise this structure for digital transformation has been clearly expressed, there is the greater opportunity to harness and guide this towards a direction that crafts a uniquely Singaporean voice, with the potential to create global impact.
Structural reinvention is not new to the media industry, as other media organisations have successfully created those paths — not just in terms of profit, but in leveraging their unique advantages to enhance their content. Some have done so to ensure their unique voices and legacy are preserved to focus on journalistic integrity.
These organisations have maintained or increased reader or viewership with compelling content. Applying those learnings in crafting a distinctively unique Singaporean voice that is consistent through media outlets could concurrently fulfil editorial and financial goals, as well as preserve — and perhaps even extend and pay homage to — the legacy of the prized China bowl.
Firstly, it is worth reminding ourselves of the ethos of media as the Fourth Estate: good, informative, and credible journalism. During a time where trust in the media is under the microscope even more, journalism that is accurate, ethical, independent, critical, and of public interest is sorely needed. This, whilst capitalising on the new structure, can build the foundation from which a unique voice is crafted and honed.
As observed, there is no shortage of talent or ambition in Singapore — it just has to be ‘unleashed’. The breaking news story on Bellagraph Nova, for example, showcased the calibre of Singaporean talent and resources in generating newsworthy content of high public relevance and interest. Focusing on objective and reliable reporting through in-depth, investigative and long-form stories is one very viable option.
There is also an opportunity to close the gap in reporting international affairs. Already, there is great and frequent in-depth reporting on local and regional news; however, there is still a dependence on repurposing international news from other established, reputable organisations. Given the desire to improve quality, the opportunity lies in training existing talent for more on-the-ground, objective yet unique and original Singaporean perspectives on international developments.
During a time where trust in the media is under the microscope even more, journalism that is accurate, ethical, independent, critical, and of public interest is sorely needed.
Another avenue could be to feature more long-form thought leadership and opinion-editorial pieces. From intellectuals and scientists to academics, ex-diplomats and politicians, Singapore has no shortage of thought leaders who can contribute meaningfully to pertinent topics of interest. While quite a few already do, there is scope to expand in terms of variety, volume and form.
For instance, the intention to maximise and target digital engagement to certain demographics was mentioned. This could be further enhanced and expanded to include, for example, hosting events and conferences online that have reach and engagement beyond Singapore’s physical borders, distinguished from other platforms with a Singaporean perspective.
Effectively, such moves can create more platforms where Singaporean voices can be heard, but also spaces that invite, listen to and deliberate global participation and insights. Through hosting discussions with both internationally and locally renowned experts, Singapore’s interlocutory role can be embodied on the international stage.
It is an opportunity to showcase inherent journalistic capabilities by engaging meaningfully with domestic, regional and global audiences.
A voice makes no sound if there is no one to hear it. Whilst the quality and content of journalism go to the heart of good reporting, its reach is just as important.
This is an opportunity for Singaporean media organisations to leverage Singapore’s global standing as an international economic hub — one which still leads the way in the global financial sphere, prioritises the rule of law and continuously fosters high competitiveness — which lends the nation credibility as a sought-after voice.
English-speaking audiences worldwide would find Singapore’s perspectives relevant and accessible, but as pointed out recently, there is also the opportunity for vernacular media to comment on global and regional affairs with a Singaporean perspective, extending current reach.
The role of the vernacular media in giving a voice to different communities could be maintained and adapted to the needs of the readers whilst at the same time reaching further to present an objective point of view on international affairs. Together, these efforts would preserve the community and national building ethos intrinsic to local media whilst creating international reach and impact.
The Singapore model of diplomacy — whereby the nation has a voice at every table — can therefore be easily transposed to the journalistic approach of its media organisations. Singapore’s reputation for being balanced and objective yet authoritative could be leveraged by providing greater coverage, for example, of crises situations.
On-the-ground first-hand reporting, building on what is currently done, could provide a distinctively Singaporean voice — one that is distinguished from other media voices regionally and internationally.
Capitalising on the opportunities of the new structure to create a strong Singapore voice and perspective can result in not only a uniquely Singaporean ‘brand’ of journalism — but one that also truly encapsulates the nation’s spirit. By identifying, nurturing, growing and showcasing local talent to create engaging, first-hand content, the dual-pronged effect of maintaining and fostering nation-building goals as well as global reach and impact can be achieved.
While the focus on digitalising infrastructures is a salient move, considering the rapid pace of technological and societal evolution, it is just one part of the transformation process. Amid this change, there is a great opportunity to contribute to the global diversity in voices of editorial and journalistic integrity with the Singaporean perspective.
By focusing on honing this, varied opportunities for generating revenue may also be created, which ultimately leads to doing better business. This might not only preserve the proverbial ‘China bowl’, but also extend its legacy through a uniquely crafted and honed Singaporean voice.