Singapore—Just before the country’s anti-fake news law went through its second reading in Parliament earlier this month, Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam made a video explaining the bill with actress Michelle Chong, who played her “Ah Lian” character.
In this informal and even humorous setting, Shamnugam and Chong talked about the bill, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which was passed last week.
On Sunday, May 19, a commentary “The Art of the Soft Sell” was published in The Straits Times. In the commentary, it was noted that critics of the video “said they “cringed” at the unusual approach to explaining government policy.”
While some praised Shanmugam (and the government) at this unorthodox approach to educating the public on an important piece of legislation, the ST commentary said that “the reaction has been mixed.
In response, the minister took to Facebook to clarify why the video was made in the first place.
He explains that the aim was not to “convey detailed points about the new online falsehoods legislation,” but instead was only one part of a “multi-faceted engagement and communications effort” which included the following: “media briefings and interviews, Op Eds, ground engagements and numerous dialogues with different stakeholders, including academics, lawyers, other professionals, as well as grassroots leaders (a few thousand).”
In other words, it was not the sole channel through which the contentious bill was discussed.
The video with “Ah Lian,” he explains further, was intended for those who had little time, or who wanted to learn about some vital points in the bill.
“This,” he wrote, “included people which mainstream media does not reach. And I believe we succeeded in reaching this group.”
Furthermore, he noted the wide reach of the video, as well as the “overwhelmingly positive” feedback, including compliments from some members of media themselves.
“Our conservative estimate is that the video was viewed by over 1 million people, and with a reach which was likely even wider. The feedback, numbering in the thousands, has been overwhelmingly positive – including young journalists from other media beside ST.”
Expressing confidence that the video’s reach would garner the bill more support Shanmugam hopes it has already sparked interest in those who wished to follow the debate on POFMA.
“I am reasonably confident that the video reached more people than those who read news articles in MSM. We had hoped that after watching the video, some might then go on to follow the debate in greater detail.”
Shanmugam said that the positive feedback and wide audience of the video “seem to have been overlooked by ST,” which focused on those who were not in favor of it.
“Instead it found and highlighted the views of a few persons who didn’t like the video, or thought that it was not an appropriate way to engage. We too heard from people with such views, but they were a small number.”
He then went on to explain why he did the video in the first place, and cited examples when the government had sought novel ways to reach those who may not be as exposed to mainstream media.
“We have to try out different ways to communicate policies, not least because mainstream media does not reach everyone. This is why the Ministry of Finance tried social influencers to communicate the Budget a couple of years ago. That is why the Government has stepped up ground engagement through such means as Reach, the Silver Generation Office and the Community Network for Seniors. And this is why I did the video with Michelle Chong, which went viral.”
To end his post, he asserted that the law ministry had only spent a small amount on the video project compared to what the government spends on mainstream media — something that ST does not report on.
“MinLaw had earlier pointed out (but not reported by ST), that the money spent on such a non-mainstream video is a fraction of what the government spends on advertisements in the mainstream media.”/ TISG