The media has always played a major role in influencing how society moves with the times. Recognised as being the tool as a catalyst for change, governments around the world control content being released through the various media channels. Media as a form of communication is also one of the key primary targets in wartime as crippling the media communications network will ensure that half the war is won.
In this day and age, whilst traditional media remains relevant, the introduction of new media in the recent decade has made a significant impact in how society receives, interprets and accepts information. Traditional media channels such as radio, television, movies and newspapers as well as magazines, although still widely listened, watched and read by society, are now considered to be ‘evil’ because it is less transparent and dishonest after the many edits. Traditional media channels which also encompass the mainstream media channels are widely controlled by government agencies who set the guidelines towards the kind of content allowed to be published. In Singapore, the Media Development Authority (MDA) regulates this set of guidelines and sets the motion going for Singapores’ media companies. Even the most primitive media channel, theatre, requires its’ performances to be regulated by an authority, National Arts Council (NAC).
New media on the other hand has taken on the role of playing the police on information to traditional media content. Individuals who use new media (netizens) take on to blogging, podcasting, FaceBook and Twitter to counter the lack of information which mainstream media is guided by. Netizens organize themselves through social media networks such as FaceBook to connect individuals who share a common idealogy to ‘protest’ against mainstream media’s regulated content. The advent of technology has allowed strangers who’d otherwise get arrested for congregating in public with a common purpose, to congregate online to discuss and to conduct what would otherwise be considered illegal, within the confines of their own personal spaces.
With the outreach of traditional media supported by the vibrance of new media, media can be a catalyst for change in any society.
A perfect example of how the amalgamation of both forms of media have worked was in the recent debacle at how an Indian family’s curry cooking wasn’t well-liked by their foreign Chinese neighbours. Through a mediation session, the Indian family agreed that they’d only cook it once a week or when their Chinese neighbours weren’t home. This article was first highlighted in mainstream media newspapers and in a flash had sparked fiery words from fellow Singaporeans who felt that the PRCs who had first sought mediation were being unreasonable living in a multicultural and multiracial Singapore. Within days, Singaporeans had rallied together online to “Cook A Pot of Curry” which was an event created on new media’s FaceBook. A song and music video was also created and had spread like wildfire to protest against the handling of the mediation.
The issue raised so much discontent and angst amongst Singaporeans that the Law Minister, K. Shanmugam, had to intervene to issue a statement to state that the mediation occured some six to seven years ago in an attempt to quell the growing unhappiness that was growing. When the eventual day came, many people did have curry as a pledge towards the occasion and the cause, standing in solidarity against how the mediation was first managed; a protest without the need to go onto the streets yet received much coverage as even mainstream news covered the event and reported it.
Such was the impact of what new media can do and how a good use of both traditional and new media can be the catalyst for change in a society. (I’m pretty sure the policy makers at MDA and Law Ministry are coming up with a new set of laws to govern the use of the internet, its’ content and perhaps even making arrests of people who organise online protests)
I have always been a proponent of positive youth development attributes and have always believed that the media should be used to steer more positive content. In a job interview that I had some 3 years ago with a television channel in MediaCorp, I had made it clear that I believed that the channel should produce and air programmes which can serve as a positive motivation for the community. This cause came about as most of the programmes that were produced or aired often denotes a society which was focused on problems and issues rather than on its’ achievements. Unfortunately, I was perhaps sitting in an interview at the wrong place as the network only produces what sells and receives ratings. A better place to have gone for the interview should have been at the MDA.
Nonetheless, 3 years down the road and similar programmes are still being aired.
At a recent seminar which I attended and had blogged about in my previous entry, “Imagining Youth” – Media as a Catalyst for Change, I had mentioned that to see positive changes in our society (Malay/Muslim), we need to work with media partners closely to set the direction towards how we want to see our society become. The GOH at the event, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, had quoted my words and said that we shouldn’t use media but should start work with ourselves.
I hope that Dr Maliki would stand corrected on his words because clearly, if we were to steer clear of the media, we wouldn’t be able to see the ripple effect of whatever programmes that were implemented. Already there was media coverage at the seminar, as it was reported on the Malay channel, Suria. If he truly believed that media shouldn’t be involved, then we’re definitely moving into primitive times as everyone is reliant on media, be it traditional-mainstream or new-alternative media.
So how can we make such positive changes work in our society?
I believe that in order to do so, we need to first ‘Identify’ what are the gaps, needs and root issues in our society that we need to work on. At the seminar, many of us were speaking about the gaps but without the presence of the beneficiaries or organisations who deal directly with the community-in-need, we wouldn’t be able to fully understand the needs and roots issues.
Based on what we’ve identified, it is also good to allow for ideas and discussions to be held with the community-at-large. This can be done informally via the new media social network, FaceBook, which allows for open groups to be organised which will then allow open and free-flow discussions.
Through the feedbacks gathered from the free-flow discussions online, a feasibility study can then be organised between the policy makers, practitioners and beneficiaries to see if the ideas brought forward can be implemented and is able to meet the needs of the community-in-need and at-large. The outcome of it should be something which will allow room for growth, improvement and changes to be made whilst still maintaining the vision to meet the needs. The reason being, society changes with time and whilst the policy might have been relevant to be implemented at the time it was discussed, the same strategy might no longer be applicable at a time when it reaches implementation stage and thus, requires changing and the tweaking should be something which will not rock the entire system of what was planned out.
Lastly, the ideas needs to be communicated out to the masses and this can be done through both traditional-mainstream and new-alternative media sources. Television programs can be produced and aired to educate and motivate the young and old who are illiterate whilst the newspapers can serve those who don’t watch TV but read. Netizens can also take to the internet to further help spread the message by organising social groups online to discuss on the failures and provide solutions faster, minus the red tape compared to the need to organise another seminar/meeting where only a segment of the population is/will be invited.
I strongly believe that should this system be allowed to work, media as a catalyst for change can definitely change and improve how society behaves and thinks. I also believe that perhaps politicians need to put aside their differences and realise that they are here to serve the community and not their individual beliefs and needs and thus, should allow collaborations between ministries and institutions.