About three weeks ago, on 4 May (Saturday), the Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam appeared in a YouTube video and Facebook video with Ah Lian, a well-known Internet personality and the alter ego of actress Michelle Chong.
The video, was seen to tap on the other side of the Minister where he took a light and easy approach to explain the recently passed Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA) to the public.
In the video, Mr Shanmugam covered concerns regarding the Bill which include who determines what is fake news, what happens if someone shares a fake news and the process involved if one goes to court to decide whether something is fake, among others. However, as TOC highlighted in its Facebook post, most of the concerns expressed by the internet tech giants, academics, journalists and civil society were not addressed by the Minister.
Following that, the Straits Times (ST) published an article titled “The art of soft sell: Political leaders changing how they communicate with public” where it somehow pinpointed on the negative aspects of the video.
Citing experts, ST wrote that Mr Shanmugam and other politicians are opting for a softer approach to send across the Government’s messages to people whom mainstream media does not always reach.
However, it noted that this approach has potential pitfalls like people will still remain unconvinced with such a method or it contradicts with the politician’s usual persona, just like what happened with the Law Minister with his YouTube video with Chong.
Upon reading ST’s article, Mr Shanmugam took to his Facebook on Monday (20 May) to castigate the newspaper for its article regarding the video.
He said that ST assumed that his video with Chong will talk in-detail about POFMA, but it “was not intended for that purpose”.
He explained that it was actually part of “a multi-faceted engagement and communications effort”.
“The Michelle Chong video sought 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 succeed in reaching this group,” he said.
The Minister noted that the video had been viewed by over 1 million people and the reach could probably be wider. In addition, it also received thousands of positive feedbacks from numerous parties, including journalists from other media excluding ST.
He added, “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”.
As such, Mr Shanmugam pointed out that ST failed to look at all these positive facts and only “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 wrote that the Government has to try out different methods to communicate their policies as mainstream media does not reach everyone in the society. Due to this, even the Ministry of Finance tested out social influencers to communicate the Budget a few years ago.
“This is why the Government has stepped up ground engagement through such means as Reach, the Silver Generation Officer and the Community Network for Seniors. And this is why I did the video with Michelle Chong, which went viral,” Mr Shanmugam wrote.
In the end of his post, he mentioned that the Ministry of Law had previously noted that the amount of money spent on non-mainstream video is just “a fraction of what the Government spends on advertisements in the mainstream media”, which ST failed to report on.
In the comment section of his post, many netizens conveyed their support to Mr Shanmugam for his light-hearted video, including Nas Daily. The famous travel vblogger who recently moved to Singapore said he personally liked the video as he reminded him of the campaign former US President Barack Obama did with Obamacare to reach wider audience.
However, he highlighted that negative comments almost always get a bigger attention than the supportive ones, both in Singapore and around the world. Most articles will only focus on the 10% disapproval rather than the 90% approval rating.
He ended his comment by stating that he has “no opinion on this matter or this law”. All he is doing is just “publicly observing”.
Following his comment, Mr Shanmugam replied and thanked the vblogger for his comment and support. However, he noted that Nas Daily is not “precluded from expressing any views” it has regarding POFMA.
On the other hand, even actress Michelle Chong penned down her thoughts about the ST’s article in the comment section. She said that she was shocked with ST’s one-sided article where it had gotten “all one-sided views of experts on this subject matter”.
She added that “the article completely and conveniently ignored the video’s over half a million ORGANIC views”, which had garnered 24,000% more likes to dislikes. Although Chong is not “discrediting the comments of 7 to 8 experts” in the article, but 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”.
As such, she felt that the authors of this article had “a pre-conceived premise with which they wanted to present the article” which should be then written as an opinion piece.
In response, Mr Shanmugam thanked Chong and said that the statistics highlighted by her shows just how much the video was liked and well-received by the public.