“Without accountability, communication is simply one-way transmission, limited in purpose, lacking response, guidance, or even known effect.” Denis McQuail, author of Media Accountability and Freedom of Publication. In the 21st Century, the mass media is increasingly powerful and at the same time increasingly hard to control.
McQuail argues it is possible (and desirable) for media to have freedom and be accountable at the same time. The media in Singapore is known for being answerable to the state. Yet how accountable is the Singapore media to the people?
Recently, a radio DJ on 987 FM, a station targetting impressionable young people, made gender and sexuality-related remarks that I found problematic. I sent an email to the editor of MediaCorp to voice this concern. Below was the message conveyed:
I am sending this email because I am uncomfortable with Mr Young’s comments just aired in his late-night show.
I was tuning in to Mr Young’s late-night show on 987 on Friday, December 17th. In the short span of time I was tuned in, Mr Young made several comments about various female celebrities, including Nicole Scherzinger. What I noticed was that most of his comments of the female celebrities revolved around their bodies. He alluded to their curves, hotness, and at some point pointed out that hotness was about moving fats of the body around. He then said for women, fat could be moved from the butt (if it were too big) to the “chest area”, and then said that for women the chest area can never be too big.
Since this radio programme has many teenage listeners, the objectification and sexualisation of the female celebrities on air is particularly worrying. Young people (no pun intended) tend to be heavily influenced by the media, and poor body image among teenage girls is a real problem. The attempt to attain a certain ideal beauty standard is associated with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia–both growing problems among image-forming teens–Does Mr Young realise he is reinforcing this ideal beauty standard?
As a radio celebrity with many listeners, I think it is reasonable to hope that our local DJs will be more aware of social trends and be more concerned about promoting respect for people (not only for their physicality), and to help young people be positive about their self-image.
Moreover, in responding to a caller who had won tickets to some event, Mr Young immediately asked the male caller to bring three of his hottest friends, again emphasizing the importance of good looks. And then he at once followed with asking if the friends would be females. When the caller said he did not know, Mr Young was (or acted) shocked. He said he thought the caller did not know the sex of his friends, like he was bringing friends from Changi Village. Here, Mr Young alluded to the transsexuals of Singapore. When the caller said “no la…”, Mr Young breathed a sigh of relief and implied the idea of ‘Phew, that’s good’.
Here, Mr Young was subtly discriminatory towards the transgendered community in Singapore, already a very marginalized group. It may be subtle, but then most media messages that people internalize are plenty, all-around, and each seemingly subtle, yet in totality effective in propagating and reinforcing certain narrow and discriminatory ideas.
This message was sent on the 17th of December, 2010. About two weeks later, no response was received, and I sent another email asking for an acknowledgement of the receipt of the earlier email. As of January, 2011, I have not received any response from MediaCorp.
I am disappointed that the official media conglomerate of Singapore, MediaCorp failed to be responsible enough to address people and be accountable to them. This is especially problematic in an organisation whose work impacts the lives of people. Beyond being a matter of company and customer relations, one who controls the media should be aware of its social implications-such as the way it increasingly pervades our lives and influences our emotions and identity.
UPDATE: The writer has still received no response from Mediacorp.
Nina Carlina is a supporter of AWARE’s cause. She is currently completing her honors in Sociology at NUS.