Local actress and television personality Michelle Chong has expressed shock over a Straits Times article that covered a video she did with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, regarding the recently passed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
In her famous “Ah Lian” persona, Ms Chong interviewed the Minister about the anti-fake news law about a week before the law was passed in Parliament. The video has garnered hundreds of thousands of views since it was published on platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
On Sunday (19 May), the national broadsheet published a premium article, entitled ‘The art of soft sell: Political leaders changing how they communicate with public’, which noted that the Minister’s video with Ms Chong was “light-hearted and unorthodox” despite the serious and controversial topic.
Pointing to other videos, in which the Minister has casual chats about POFMA with other television personalities, the ST article asserted that the “reaction has been mixed” and that critics “”cringed” at the unusual approach to explaining government policy.”
The ST article said, “These videos are emblematic of how Singapore’s political leaders, and more broadly the Government, have turned to different channels to explain policies and convince the electorate of their merits.”
Noting that social media has become a catalyst for new approaches politicians may use to present themselves, the ST article said that there are “potential pitfalls” to such an approach.
The writers of the article interviewed several individuals who felt that the end result could be “stiff and awkward”, oversimplify salient issues, or in Mr Shanmugam’s case, possibly come off contrary to his “no nonsense brand identity”.
Taking issue with the ST article’s take on his video with Ms Chong, Mr Shanmugam criticised the article in a Facebook post published yesterday.
Asserting that the ST article made untrue assumptions and overlooked important facts, he wrote that the article “assumes that the video was intended to convey detailed points about the new online falsehoods legislation. But the video was not intended for that purpose.”
Revealing that the video is “part of a multi-faceted engagement and communications effort,” the Minister said that the Michelle Chong video was targeted to reach“those with limited time or interest and who might have wanted to know only some key points. This included people which mainstream media does not reach. And I believe we succeeded in reaching this group.”
The Minister said that there has been “overwhelmingly positive” feedback to the video and that the video could have reached well over a million viewers. Sharing that he is “reasonably confident that the video reached more people than those who read news articles in MSM,” he added:
“For some reason, all these facts seem to have been overlooked by ST. 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.
“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.
“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.”
In the comments section of the Minister’s post, Ms Chong said that she shares Mr Shanmugam’s views on the matter. Revealing that she was “shocked” at the “one-sided” nature of the article that “was framed as a fairly-written discourse”. She wrote:
“Thank you, Minister, for this post. I couldn’t agree more. I myself was shocked at how one-sided the article was, even though it was framed as a fairly-written discourse of sorts, having gotten the (all one-sided) views of “experts” on this subject matter.”
Noting that “the most accurate indicator of the success and effectiveness of such a campaign would be its statistics in terms of views and positive engagement,” and that the “overwhelmingly positive” feedback the video received could have easily been found online, Ms Chong asserted that the ST article “completely and conveniently ignored” the video’s reach:
“I would imagine the most accurate indicator of the success and effectiveness of such a campaign would be its statistics in terms of views and positive engagement. Granted I myself did not give the journalists an interview, but the overwhelmingly positive comments can be easily found on my video post on FB or IG, and even on the pages of those who shared the video (almost 6k shares to date).
“The article completely and conveniently ignored the video’s over half a million ORGANIC views (over a million reach and almost 2 million impressions) and overwhelmingly positive engagement (4.1k???????? 1.8k???? 211❤ to 19???? 6????. That’s 24,000% more likes to dislikes.) and failed to mention or quote a SINGLE recurring positive comment that indicated that the video was effective (“Creative public education at its best. Well done Minister Shanmugam.” “Know the law the “funny” way.” “Very funny while breaking down for the non-law degree person.” “This is good leh! Fun and easy to understand Lian! Do more leh!” etc).”
Clarifying that she isn’t discrediting the opinions of those that ST interviewed and that “all sincere feedback is constructive and we will strive to keep on improving,” Ms Chong, however, said that she would have “expected and appreciated some objectivity in the article, especially when it was not written as a column or an opinion piece but a seemingly researched one.”
She added: “This can only lead me to conclude that the journalists already had a pre-conceived premise with which they wanted to present the article, in which case they should have been braver and presented it as an opinion editorial.”
Minister Shanmugam agreed with Ms Chong’s views and said that the “stats speak for themselves”. In a postscript note, Ms Chong invited prominent vlogger Nas Daily to collaborate with her.
Nas, whose real name is Nuseir Yassin, had written in an earlier comment that he personally liked the video and that ST’s article could be another example of how “negative comments almost always get a louder microphone than the supportive ones.”
He is among those like distinguished diplomat Tommy Koh who expressed support for the video the Law Minister did with Ms Chong. -/TISG
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