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Singapore as Sollywood? U gotta be kidding.

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    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/EI24Ae01.html Singapore as Sollywood? By Tony Sitathan Sep 24, 2003 Asia Times SINGAPORE - It has been almost a
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 29, 2003

      Singapore as Sollywood?
      By Tony Sitathan
      Sep 24, 2003
      Asia Times

      SINGAPORE - It has been almost a year since the government unveiled
      yet another blueprint to attempt to transform Singapore into Asia's
      media hub. This is a two-decade-old dream that has invariably
      foundered on the reality of the government's poisonous attitude
      toward the foreign media.

      The international media, often regarded locally as certain to bring
      perdition ashore, all too often have faced legal actions and libel
      suits that would have been laughed out of court in 1950s Bulgaria.
      Magazines and newspapers have had their circulation cut drastically
      for stories that contained the slightest amount of government
      criticism. That has made the international media deeply suspicious
      about the government's perennial blandishments to move their
      operations to the island republic.

      But with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong having taken over in 1990 from
      Lee Kuan Yew, tolerance seems to be growing. Goh's leadership style
      is more consultative and consensus-driven than the combative former
      prime minister's.

      Singapore's communications infrastructure now makes it ideal for
      broadcasting international media content by a host of foreign media
      companies. BBC World, ESPN, MTV Asia, the Discovery Channel and
      National Geographic Channels International (NGCI) have all decided to
      make Singapore their regional home.

      Diverse viewpoints have gingerly begun to surface - to a point.

      "As long as international broadcasters do not tamper with the
      domestic political scene or meddle in Singapore's internal affairs,
      international broadcasting companies are churning out programs for an
      international audience," said Andrew Marshal, a regional programming
      specialist with an international media house based in Singapore.

      The fact is that local political events remain off-limits to the
      print media on pain of being censored, gazetted or banned from
      circulation. The broadcast media run the danger of losing the right
      frequency allocations to air their programs. The international press
      faces the choice of transmitting knowledgeably to a local audience of
      3 million or to a broader audience across Asia. It thus makes
      economic sense, if not journalistic bravery, for the international
      broadcasters to fold their hand when reporting on Singapore's
      internal affairs. And they do.

      Singapore, technologically streets ahead of the rest of Asia, is
      still faced with the oxymoronic conundrum of being a creative vortex
      or an authoritative straitjacket. The media, ever ready to be
      seduced, are contemplating the unlikely possibility that the
      government has mellowed. In its latest incarnation as a media center,
      the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MITA) has
      been entrusted with a mission, called Media 21, to springboard
      Singapore into a mini-Hollywood - Sollywood? - churning out
      international TV programs and regional films, including

      David Lim, the former acting minister for information, communication
      and the arts, calls it a way to enhance the Singaporean identity and
      multicultural heritage as well as a vision to capture a creative and
      connected Singapore. Still, obviously there is a price to pay for
      being creative and connected, and Singapore, with its straitjacket
      broadcasting policies and restrictive censorship, so far has resisted
      all serious attempts at transformation.

      The government has made some inroads on its media-center campaign,
      working with NGCI and the Economic Development Board (EDB). Both sank
      close to US$2 million two years ago into a joint development effort
      to make documentaries on Asia from a local perspective and broadcast
      them internationally.

      The EDB-NGCI documentary production fund is designed to help budding
      local and other Asian filmmakers and production companies produce
      original programs with an international appeal. It has also recently
      announced a further injection of $8 million to $10 million over a
      five-year period.

      "When Singapore first started in the direction to be a media or
      broadcasting hub, there were not many foreign media talents in
      Singapore with the exception of the Yellow River Network, which was
      an amalgamation of production, talent and post production houses,"
      said a local source who started his own production house in 1999
      before closing it down two years ago. "Then the Singapore
      Broadcasting Corp [SBC] had a virtual monopoly of the media industry
      before it became a semi-government entity under the Television Corp
      of Singapore [TCS].

      "Times were really tough for those that wanted to do documentaries,
      as budgets were comparatively small compared even to commercials and
      docudramas made for television. Although the Singapore government put
      emphasis on training of media practitioners and graduates of mass
      communications, the reality at that time made it impossible for
      smallish run production outfits to survive."

      A technical sound expert with Turntable Music Pte Ltd, based in
      Singapore, maintains, however, that even today the opportunities for
      new companies starting up are not many, since the market is
      relatively small and its creative talent is limited.

      "I find it difficult for Singapore to be another Hollywood or, for
      that matter, another Bollywood, as the Singapore market of less than
      4 million people makes it rather difficult for the documentaries or
      films to be absorbed locally," he said. "Production companies are
      therefore dependent on the outside market for their distribution of
      content. And even in terms of location shooting, countries like
      Malaysia and Thailand have much more to offer in terms of natural
      scenery and contrasting landscapes."

      However, Michael Chin, formerly operations director in a local
      production company, said he is hopeful that the issue of grants and
      funding allowances is different now. In the past, he said, when the
      EDB dished out grants it did not physically give money but rather
      converted the grants into tax holidays that were later accounted into
      final production costs. "It was a counter-productive effort, since
      small companies had no way to claim their money upfront and were only
      given tax holidays that were later factored as grants from the EDB,"
      he said.

      So it is little surprise that one of the first documentaries made
      using the EDB and NGCI fund was Hidden Genders, shot in Thailand by a
      Singapore-based production company called Right Angle. It examines
      Thai kickboxing and looks at the world of transsexuals and
      transvestites. It received about US$200,000 in funding, a large
      amount by local standards.

      Now there seems to be a concerted effort by the newly anointed Media
      Development Authority (MDA) to push Singapore's idea across as a
      global media city, said Lim Hock Chuan, the chief executive officer
      of MDA.

      "Media 21 is our vision of how we can co-create our future of
      Singapore as a global media city," Lim said. "It represents a
      holistic approach to develop the whole media ecosystem, covering the
      whole range of processes ranging from content production and
      delivery, the education system, talent development, infrastructure
      and facilities, and media literacy."

      There are also concrete plans to double the media sector's
      contribution from $2.5 billion or 1.56-3 percent of gross domestic
      product. According to the latest statistics, the film and video
      production industry has been growing at 13.5 percent on average each
      year from 1995 to 2000, and its total output of the industry was
      estimated at $30.2 million in 2000.

      Is all this going to happen? David Yew, the strategy director of
      Fusion Consulting, based in Singapore and with regional offices in
      Asia, says having money alone is not a good consideration for
      boosting the creative side of the business that is needed to drive
      the media industry.

      "The talent industry needs to be nurtured," he said. "Singapore's
      vision is parochial in nature. It needs to change the way it uses
      creative talents from overseas while nurturing its own talent base.
      Also the current attempts at making movies makes it difficult to be a
      regional success. When there is use of Chinese dialects like Hokkien
      or Teochew, the majority of even the Chinese may be alienated. It has
      to look at universal themes instead of cultural themes that may only
      work in the beginning."

      Thus, despite Singapore's bid to catapult itself into Asian media-
      hubdom, there are some considerations that Marcel Fenez, a media
      specialist with PricewaterhouseCoopers based in Hong Kong, brought up
      during one of the recent forum discussions organized by MDA in
      Singapore. He said Singapore should loosen its censorship laws and
      deal with its external perception when attracting overseas investors
      to invest in its media industry.

      "Singapore also has to deal with [places] like Hong Kong and Dubai
      that have adequate protections for intellectual property as well as a
      regulatory environment which encourages creativity and freedom of
      expression," he said.

      That would mean financial carrots alone aren't sufficient. Singapore
      needs to look at its regulatory framework, its talent mix as well as
      its prohibitive censorship laws that could well be a stumbling block
      to achieving its dream.

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