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Machiavelli Meets Michelangelo: Newspaper Coverage of the Arts in Singapore

Machiavelli Meets Michelangelo: Newspaper Coverage of the Arts in Singapore This article examines newspaper coverage of the arts in Singapore to consider the role of the island state’s newspapers in the development and documentation of Singapore’s growing arts scene. Sampling two constructed weeks for each of 10 years, 1999 to 2008, content analysis is used to examine arts coverage in the Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao. The study benefits from groundwork laid by Janssen’s 1999 study of arts coverage in Dutch newspapers, in which not only quantity of content was reported but also hierarchical attention was paid to art forms over decades. Singapore is of interest as it represents a country where neither the arts nor newspapers are declining, and both enjoy significant overseeing by the government. Keywords Singapore, arts, arts coverage, newspaper coverage, content analysis In the West, newspapers face challenges similar to those the pragmatic early focus on economic progress and becoming arts have encountered in the past few years: declining an international business hub, Singapore was often consid- income, declining audiences, and challenges from less ered a “cultural desert” before the 1990s (Kawasaki, 2004, sophisticated forms of art on one hand and news on the other. p. 22). In October 2002, however, with the launch of the arts Concomitantly, newspaper coverage of the arts is on decline facility, the Esplanade—Theatres by the Bay, Singapore in the United States. In 1998, the National Arts Journalism “made a brilliant debut as a cultural nation.” More recently, Program (2004) at Columbia found that in many newsrooms, the Singapore Biennale and the Art Stage Singapore have “arts journalism continues to be a lower priority than other brought international galleries’ attention to the country fields such as business and sports.” (Thekkepat, 2012). Recently, then, Singapore has been creat- By contrast, those priorities were reversed in Singapore ing arts spaces and happenings that can be considered as political history. The early days of nation-building in the “important local expressions that give locales a sense of 1960s and 1970s saw infrastructure for business and sports identity in a rapidly globalizing world,” as an element of cre- built first, and support for the arts emerging only later (Kong, ating a relatively new nation (Chang & Lee, 2003, p. 128). 2000). Even beyond this, the city-state of Singapore is an The government has instigated a series of cultural policies intriguing case study of the relationship between newsprint in line with growing the arts scene, always with a pragmatic, media and the arts, because each has developed under and economic goal in mind (Bereson, 2003; Kong, 2000). Lee continues to receive government oversight, and neither is in (2012) described it as having “a politicized ideology that decline as is the case for both in some Western countries. In readily privileges the economic over the cultural” because addition, in much scholarly thought, arts are associated with economics is a key to stability and growth. In 2000, the gov- democracy (Ooi, 2010), yet it is helpful to open up discus- ernment issued the Renaissance City Report, a 10-year sion by examining how it could operate in a system that has been more authoritarian, by Western standards, at least. American University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates Nanyang Technological University, Singapore There is a historical precedent suggested in the title to this Botswana International University of Science & Technology, Palapye, article: The flowering of Italian art in the 15th century Botswana occurred under the auspices of the Borgias, who were far Corresponding Author: from being icons of tolerance and democratic Bradley C. Freeman, Associate Professor of Communication and inclusiveness. Information Studies, Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication, With strong government involvement, Singapore’s arts American University in Dubai, P.O. Box 28282, Dubai, United Arab scene has progressed since the country’s independence, Emirates. accelerating over the past 25 years. Perhaps due to its Email: Bfreeman@aud.edu Creative Commons CC-BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open roadmap to make the city-state an artistic hub on a par with city for the arts” (Chin, 2002), with the intention of creating London or New York, which was updated in 2002 and again “a thriving arts, cultural and entertainment scene, not only in 2008. Singapore aims for economic reasons (to attract tourists and foreign talents) but also for sociocultural objectives (enrichment of to reach a level of development that would be comparable to Singaporeans and nation-building)” (Chang, 2000, p. 819). cities like Hong Kong, Glasgow and Melbourne in five to ten Many schools of thought surround the arts in Singapore years. The longer term objective would be to join London and and their development and purposes (Henderson, 2001; W. S. New York in the top rung of cultural cities. (Renaissance City W. Lim, 2010; Ooi, 2008; K. P. Tan, 2003). Scholars have Report, 2000) looked at other aspects, from the return on investment of the arts to the importation of art and its meanings (Gwee, 2009; The term renaissance was used in the context of art as being Lenzi, 2008; Wee, 2003). We are interested in looking at one produced to honor patrons, as was the case in 15th-century related area—that of domestic newspaper arts coverage— Italy, as much as in the more common context of artistic which offers an insight into the processes whereby govern- rebirth (Bereson, 2003). In Singapore, the main patron is the ment art initiatives are brought into the public consciousness. government; the artists are still the artists. Machiavelli meets Furthermore, newspaper coverage also allows for obser- Michelangelo. vations about which art forms are privileged in society. We Given the Singapore government’s preoccupation with first distinguish between “cultural” and “commercial” art the economic value of the arts, and building on earlier forms, then examine the relationship between newspaper research by Janssen (1999), this article makes a distinction coverage and the arts, followed by Singapore’s arts scene, its between art for art’s sake—which we consider as “cultural” media system, and the role government plays in both. This arts—and art for economics’ sake—which we term “com- leads to research questions of what arts are privileged in mercial” art. Our central question is what characterizes the newspaper coverage, and what this suggests about the role of arts as they are reported in the newspapers, bearing in mind government using arts and the press—and the conjunction of the government’s avowed use of both arts and media in the the two—in the service of nation-building. service of nation-building and economic growth. What art forms are privileged in this strategic direction, and how has “Cultural” and “Commercial” Arts that changed as the country develops culturally and econom- ically over time? Finally, is a reduction in government over- Janssen’s (1999) levels of analysis are useful in approaching seeing of arts and newspapers reflected in coverage of one by news coverage of the arts. She begins an analysis which the other? “examines newspapers’ treatment of art in general” (p. 330). This informs us to examine the actual coverage space granted to the arts, for “the (relative) amount of newspaper space for Building a New Nation information on art, particular art forms, or specific works and Sitting on the Equator at the heart of Asia, the small island producers is indicative of their cultural status at a given point nation of Singapore has a population of 5.5 million in a space in time” (p. 330). of 700 sq. km. It achieved independence from Malaysia in Our article modifies her approach to propose that art 1965, and since then has experienced dramatic growth in forms can be divided into “cultural” and “commercial,” in wealth until it now ranks among the richest per capita in the place of Janssen, Kuipers, and Verboord’s (2008) division world. Growth has been achieved through consistent focus into “high” and “popular.” The rationale is that high art can on economics, and the arts have been co-opted into realizing be popular and economically successful; just as “pop” art can this goal: Attaining the “global art city” title is in line with be obscure, specialized, and decidedly un-economic, such as the overall plan. an indie band which has not (yet) found success. As a result, Much of what transpires in Singapore is said to be in ser- we suggest that the commercial or the cultural imperative vice of nation-building (Yeung, 2010). The idea of the arts behind the artwork is better placed at the heart of any serving this purpose is an important factor (Chong, 2006); as distinction. is the corresponding newspaper coverage of any government Cultural art is more likely to be supported by subsidy, and initiative in fulfillment of this task (Tey, 2008). Chong (2010) the primary imperative is the betterment of society or preser- noted that arts and culture were put into service early by the vation of cultural heritage. It is created with money making ruling political party due to a perceived “civilising effect,” as as a secondary motivation. On the contrary, commercial art is well as its ability to draw out multiculturalism and that it was created primarily with a view to making a profit. An example “vital in naturalising the orthodoxy of race” (p. 146). of this would be the staging of The Lion King. To clarify the Since the 1980s, the Singapore arts scene has been “driven distinction further, if an art house (cultural) movie makes a by an economic rationale” (Chong, 2006, p. 553). And with profit, it is pleasing but not the primary intention; if it loses substantive financial investment in the arts scene, Singapore money, it is disappointing but not surprising. However, if a has clearly targeted the goal of becoming known as a “global blockbuster, populist movie makes a profit, it is expected as Freeman et al. 3 this was the intention. If it does not make a profit, that is middle classes and to incoming foreign professionals, who surprising and disappointing, and it cannot fall back on the together would lift the country up the value chain from man- consolation prize of artistic integrity. ufacturing to a service economy. Then-Arts Minister George We look at how the arts are reported in the news pages of Yeo (1991) said, the two leading newspapers in Singapore, the English- We should see the arts not as luxury or mere consumption but as language Straits Times and the Chinese-language Lianhe investment in people and the environment . . . we also need taste. Zaobao, looking at both hard news and the softer lifestyle With taste, we will be able to produce goods and services of far pages. We consider both language newspapers to give a more greater value. (p. 54) complete picture from a multicultural country. News stories about the state of the arts and artists, as well as reviews of Some Western art (music and films) was embraced as rede- performances, albums, and exhibitions were included. fining Singapore as a “global city for the arts,” whereas Singapore is of concern because of the importance the indigenous art which did not conform to government social government places on both arts and media—and many other policy or “Asian values” encountered censorship (Bereson, areas of citizens’ lives. 2003). More recently, there has been a move toward Asian con- With a strong influence in many aspects of the lives of tent and indigenous art. Once again this has much to do with Singaporeans, the Singapore Government has, in the past and building the identity of a nation as with economic impera- currently, sought to systematically direct certain forms of collective behaviour in Singapore through its myriad public and tives. Kong (2012) noted that recent policy has been on the cultural campaigns implemented by its various administrative arts’ social value, and the aim has been to get residents par- bodies. (L. Lim, 2012, p. 309) ticipating in its creation and consumption. Free events and outreach programs build an interest in the arts by fostering In other words, the government aims to inculcate a certain community engagement, hobby groups and clubs, and by taste in the arts among its citizenry, and to direct what the supporting practitioners. Censorship has been relaxed to media considers worthy of coverage. This article looks at encourage creativity, although restrictions continued on how the press takes part in this strategy, and which art forms socio-political content around racial and religious harmony are privileged over others. (Ooi, 2010). Emerging talent was mentored. In 2006, Singapore launched its first biennale. This is a view of government policy: Arts practitioners Singapore Government Arts Policy themselves may be less charitable about the government–arts Cultural policy in the 1960s and 1970s looked at how the arts relationship which has been described as one of courteous, could contribute to nation-building, distinguishing Singapore mutual distrust (Chong, 2011). The government knows that particularly from Western cultural norms. Then-Minister of the arts contribute to making the country livable and eco- Culture Jek Yuen Thong said in 1974, “Literature, music and nomically vibrant, but does not necessarily approve of their the fine arts have a significant role to play from within the methods. The arts community appreciates the government’s framework of nation-building. A truly Singaporean art must support; but resents and resists any perceived or real artistic reflect values that will serve Singapore in the long run” (cited interference, censorship, or control. Their interests do not in Kong, 2000). This was in opposition to “decadent” always overlap. Western art forms which were often seen as posing a threat to values espoused by Singapore, and thus were to be rejected. Singapore Government Media Policy Much Western music and film were banned or censored. In the 1980s, however, the arts were seen as a way to In the 50 years since independence, the arts scene in improve quality of life and make workers more productive, Singapore has been molded and characterized by govern- strengthen social bonds, attract tourists, and be economic ment intervention. The same is true of the newspapers. It has centers in their own right providing employment for artists been said that Singapore practices a form of journalism (Henderson, 2001; Kong, 2000). Bureaucratic support for the where government and press work together for national arts in the form of a National Arts Council and a National development (Bokhorst-Heng, 2002). The founding father of Heritage Board was launched (Bereson, 2003), but the the nation, Lee Kuan Yew, observed that “Freedom of the emphasis was still on “art for money’s sake,” rather than “art news media must be subordinated to the overriding needs of for art’s sake.” Singapore, and to the primacy and purpose of an elected gov- By the mid-1990s, arts were being promoted as a sign of ernment” (Latif, 1998, p. 151). In 2003, the then-Information a gracious, sophisticated society, rather than being directly Minister echoed this, saying “The local media have an yoked to economic matters. Yet, as Kong points out, the gov- important role in our nation-building effort” (Cenite, Chong, ernment was still aware of the economic potential of the arts Han, Lim, & Tan, 2008, p. 284). The next year, Attacks on to make the country attractive to its increasingly affluent the Press 2004 (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2005) 4 SAGE Open called the government “one of the world’s most efficient population to be more engaged with an array of proposals, engines of media control” (p. 118). Whether it still follows plans, and activities that would mold a nation more in keep- such controlling a model or whether it still needs to is open ing with government fiat, from which language to speak to for debate (Cenite et al., 2008; Wong, 2004). how many children to have and whether or not to give up a Newspapers are controlled by a range of tools, including seat on the train to those who might need it more (Bokhorst- print licenses, share ownership and even the threat of clo- Heng, 2002). sure, which was last used in the mid-1970s. Today, self-reg- The Singapore arts scene is one such evolving initiative, ulation is more the norm as George (2007) has pointed out, and newspaper coverage is generally acknowledged as sup- referring to the government’s use of “calibrated coercion” portive of this. Yet it is far from clear-cut case of media, arts, which leads to a press characterized by caution and self-cen- and government collaborating. The media operates as a cul- sorship, but which is in tune with government wishes. tural intermediary, standing between the practitioner and the The rationale behind these controls is a history of racial reading public, determining the value of the artwork, and and religious violence in the 1950s and 1960s, fanned by the creating a framework for how it will be perceived by future media. To maintain social and racial harmony, the govern- audiences (Chong, 2011). The media is also aware of how ment co-opted the media in all four of the main languages much interest its readers will show in arts of any kind, and spoken in the country. In the past, different newspapers have the National Arts Council in Singapore reported that “one in been gathered together under one roof, and now Singapore three of the population expressed some interest in the arts in Press Holdings (SPH) has a virtual monopoly of newsprint. 2009, 35% of the population remained neutral, and 35% Although there is no direct control over the newspapers and expressed no interest in the arts” (National Arts Council, no direct censorship, media and government are close, and 2008). These numbers may inform newspaper editor’s deci- the country has recently moved down to 153 of 180 nations sions on how much coverage to give to the arts. In addition, in the Reporters Without Borders (2015) press freedom relationships between the arts and the media were strained index. This could be considered a harsh indictment of a press during the years under study. Chong (2011) reported that system in which no journalist is killed or imprisoned, and the practitioners were highly critical of the quality of reviewing, avowed intention is to build consensus (albeit in line with the and quotes a playwright as saying to a reviewer “the Great government) rather than foment conflict and confrontation. Singapore Play could be produced, and no one would know Although far from being propagandist, neither does the about it” (p. 93). These all combine to compromise the rela- media take a watchdog role adopted by the libertarian tionships among media, the arts, and the government. Western model. Instead, it considers itself unelected and Given the indeterminacy of these relationships which therefore not permitted to criticize the activity of democrati- would make them subject of a separate study, we focus cally elected politicians. As the paper of record, the Straits instead on the economic role the arts play in this 50-year-old Times pays particular attention to the wishes of the govern- nation. The arts and arts education inculcate creativity and ment; and while more lurid tabloid approach characterizes the entrepreneurship that generates; they make the city-state much of the Chinese print media, Lianhe Zaobao is respect- more livable and more attractive to foreign companies, for- ful and conservative. Culturally, the newspapers conform to eign executives, and foreign investment; and they stimulate Asian values of consensus over conflict, and a concern with employment (Chang, 2008; J. Tan & Gopinathan, 2000). the community rather than the individual (Latif, 1995). These art-induced realities contribute to forming the macro- picture, and from a micro-economic perspective, arts cover- age in the newspapers may not directly generate much Singapore Journalism and the Arts advertising (important for financial stability and indepen- Bearing in mind this idiosyncratic media model in which the dence of a newspaper), but it creates an ethos of sophistica- arts are encouraged for nation-building, it can be expected tion within the newspapers which makes them attractive to that the newsprint media will aid this through coverage of the high-end brands and companies with big advertising budgets arts, even if that means its approach may be closer to the (McCleary, Lattimer, Clemenz, & Weaver, 2008). The gov- intentions of the government than those of practitioners: ernment also wishes to promote this cosmopolitan culture, as “the mainstream press . . . is a key institution of orthodoxy in a way of moving the economy and the jobs in Singapore up the theatre field” (Chong, 2011, p. 95). The press benefits the value chain, away from manufacturing and toward a from the gloss of sophistication that arts coverage gives it, knowledge economy. Arts and the media work together to making it attractive to advertisers; the arts benefit from the build the economic, cultural, and social life of Singapore. publicity the press gives them. The relationship is wary, Keeping in mind these nuances of a Singaporean context, uneasy, but tolerant of the other. this study had three aims. The first was to identify the amount The press has been a willing accomplice in the creation of of coverage given to arts coverage in Singapore newspapers the nation, seeking to build harmony in a country driven by between 1999 and 2008. As a mode of comparison, coverage racial violence in its early years (Duffy, 2010). It has faith- between the main English language newspaper (The Straits fully reported government initiatives, exhorting the Times) and the main Chinese language (Lianhe Zaobao) Freeman et al. 5 paper was investigated. The second aim was to determine previous studies (Hester & Dougall, 2007). As the period how different art forms ranked and whether this has changed covered 10 years, a total of 140 days were examined for over the decade. The third aim was to look at the govern- each newspaper. ment’s role in the process and to what extent their programs Forty-nine and 46 arts-related search terms were used for and dictates were harmonizing with the newspaper coverage the search of the Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, respec- (though we are not able to directly link the coverage numbers tively. The discrepancy was caused by the differing natures with the practice in this article). The following research of the English and Chinese words. For instance, the key- questions are suggested: words “dance” (noun) and “dancing” (verb) were used to capture as many dance-related articles as possible for the Research Question 1: Given the government oversight English paper, whereas for the Chinese paper, the term “舞 of both the arts and the media and its interest in nation- 蹈” (Wu Dao) sufficed. The keywords were selected by list- building, what has been the nature of arts coverage in ing related art forms according to 11 categories suggested by Singapore newspapers from 1999 to 2008? Janssen (1999). Twenty-two and 21 search terms were ini- Research Question 2: Given the economic imperative tially used for the search of the Straits Times and Lianhe behind the arts scene at the time, is there a noticeable Zaobao respectively during the pre-test. The pre-test revealed privileging of commercial over cultural art forms? other keywords, and search terms were refined to make sure Research Question 3: Given the changing priorities of that they covered as many articles as possible. The articles the Singapore government over the years, has there been captured covered both local and international arts. a noticeable change in coverage of certain art forms? The articles, retrieved from Factiva, were clustered into categories, depending mainly on the keywords. For instance, theater and Chinese opera performances were classified as Method “performing arts,” and symphonies and orchestras were clas- This study examined newsprint coverage of the arts in sified as “classical music.” We also classified articles which Singapore to uncover the role of the island state’s newspa- reported specifically on government arts policy. Articles that pers in the development and documentation of Singapore’s did not fit any of the categories were classified as “other.” cultural arts scene. Content analysis was used to examine For example, a story on whether Mariah Carey’s concert coverage of the arts during a 10-year period (1999-2008). would spur other big names to come, and a review of a new These years were selected as the years leading up to and Steely Dan album were both classified as “popular music.” subsequent to the watershed opening of the US$420 million The category of “film” included how the novel Sense and Esplanade in October 2002, which was done with the inten- Sensibility was adapted for film, and a review of Two Days in tion of putting Singapore on the global cultural map with a Paris. “Performing arts” included an article about changing world-class music and theater venue. 2008 also marks the styles of movement in lion dances, as well as a review of most recent Renaissance City Report. The time frame is stage show Broadway Beng. Performances by a Chinese skewed to have more years after the opening of the orchestra, and reviews of budget-priced Naxos CDs were Esplanade, to allow time for any “Esplanade effect” to have both “classical music.” And an article on a new writers’ cen- taken place. ter and a review of a book, The Dark Ages, were both catego- Although studies exist that have compared ethnic lan- rized as “literature.” Finally, a prime ministerial speech about guage media (including newspapers) to so-called mainstream the Renaissance City Plan and changes in the classification media (Firdaus, 2006), and other studies have examined of films were both “government policy.” popular press versus more elite papers (Janssen, 1999), the As some articles contained only brief mentions of the present study looks at the two most-read papers in the coun- search terms but were in fact not arts-oriented, a filtering try of Singapore—their plain difference is the language uti- process determined which were to be scored. It was decided lized, yet they are still published by the same company. SPH that the related keywords must account for more than 30% of is the country’s biggest publisher of daily newspapers. As the the article’s content before it could be considered relevant. English newspaper of record, the Straits Times boasts a cir- Two coders reviewed and categorized each article, and found culation of approximately 480,000. Lianhe Zaobao is the agreement more than 80% during the pilot test, and more leading Chinese-language daily with a reported circulation than 90% agreement for categorization of articles in both of 160,000, down from its 1994 figures which were around papers, meaning that we were confident in our article/cate- 208,000. Perhaps more important than the quantity of reader- gory placements. ship is the quality as China’s then-premier Wen Jiabao was a faithful reader of Lianhe Zaobao (Kam, 2008). Findings Sampling was done using two constructed weeks from each year for each paper, using keywords. This amounted to A total of 1,217 articles were coded. Overall, the most writ- 14 days of coverage for each paper per year. The con- ten about art form was popular music (272, or 22.4%), fol- structed-week approach has been successfully deployed in lowed by the performing arts (199, or 16.4%), then film 6 SAGE Open Figure 1. Coverage of arts in Singapore newspapers 1999 to Figure 3. Comparison of arts coverage in Straits Times and 2008 by topic. Lianhe Zaobao, 1999 to 2008. Figure 2. Newspaper coverage of cultural and commercial arts, Figure 4. Comparison of arts coverage between Straits Times and government arts policy. and Lianhe Zaobao, 1999 to 2008. (193, or 15.9%), literature and the visual arts (both 116, or Zaobao also covered cultural arts (350) more than commercial 9.5%), and dance a distant sixth (32, or 2.6%) (Figure 1). (241), whereas for Straits Times, coverage was exactly the Over the 10 years analyzed, reporting of cultural arts same (224). showed a decline, while reporting of commercial art forms fluctuated, but showed a slight increase. Intriguingly, both Discussion and Conclusion showed a dip in 2001 to 2002, coinciding with the opening of the Esplanade, while writing about government policy spiked Kong (2000) considers government’s arts policy with rela- in 2003, as the Esplanade was becoming established. In tion to its economic bias; Bereson (2003) looks at how it terms of specific arts, coverage of the performing arts, clas- neglects indigenous arts at the expense of imported; Chang sical music, and dance—all of which are the raison d’être for and Lee (2003) the creation of social environments and cre- the Esplanade—showed a decline in newspaper coverage. ative spaces; Chong (2010) the use of the arts to reinvent and Coverage of government arts policy, meanwhile, was consis- envision society; and L. Lim (2012) These art-induced reali- tent over the decade, with a small increase in 2002 to 2003 ties contribute to forming the macro-picture, and from a immediately after the opening of the Esplanade (Figure 2). micro-economic perspective, arts coverage. They all look Lianhe Zaobao (687) consistently had more coverage of directly at the arts; in this article, we take a more oblique arts than Straits Times (530), although for both of them there look to see how the arts are reported in the media. Our cri- was a dip in 2001 to 2002 (Figure 3). Coverage in Lianhe tique is thus as much of the media system as the arts sys- Zaobao declined over the decade, whereas in the Straits tem—indeed, the observation is of how they work together Times it declined and then bounced back. Of these, cultural with government policy. art forms (574, or 47.1%) were written about more often than Our first research question asked what, given the govern- commercial art forms (465, or 38.2%). ment oversight of both the arts and the media and its interest in The only art form where the Straits Times was slightly ahead nation-building, has been the nature of arts coverage in of Lianhe Zaobao was popular music; in all others, the Chinese Singapore newspapers from 1999 to 2008? The data show that newspaper had significantly more coverage (Figure 4). Lianhe cultural arts (classical music, dance, literature, performing Freeman et al. 7 arts, and the visual arts) received more newspaper coverage post-9/11 global slowdown, and as a result, there would not than commercial art forms (popular music, film). These con- have been space for increased editorial. In addition, there tribute to the government vision of Singapore as a cultured was no change in coverage of separate art forms, apart from city, and a hub for “high” arts. They may also represent a a gradual rise in dance, from a very low base of one article sophisticated environment for advertisers within the newspa- captured in 1999 to five in 2008. pers in which they appear. Just as the country moves up the The only significant change was in 2001 to 2002, when value chain to a technology- finance- and service-based econ- coverage of arts overall went down briefly. As this coincided omy, so the newspapers look to move up the value chain by with the build-up to the opening of the Esplanade, this was attracting high-end advertisers. The performing arts was the unexpected. Both Chang and Lee (2003) and Bereson (2003) most covered of these “cultural” arts, which may be a result of questioned the opening of the Esplanade, asking to what the “Esplanade effect,” and a greater public acceptance of the- degree it acted as an agent to bring to life the cultural and ater as an established pastime. Film was the third most covered artistic policies of the government, and support a cultural art form overall, consistent with its place in Singaporean soci- “renaissance,” or whether its effect would be to distract ety as a popular pastime: “per capita movie-going is amongst attention away from low-key, indigenous work in favor of the highest in the world” (Ravenscroft, Chua, & Neo Wee, grand, large-scale (often imported) spectacle? Certainly the 2001, p. 215). newspapers were less inclined to write about the arts at all. Our second research question asked whether, given the This may be an effect of the long period of anticipation for economic imperative behind the arts scene at the time, there the Esplanade which resulted in an “arts coverage fatigue.” is a noticeable privileging of commercial over cultural art Coverage of “arts venues,” which is not shown here as it is forms. The lack of a clear bias in favor of “commercial” arts subsumed into the “other” category, briefly spiked from one is instructive. It suggests that there is no political–economic to five in 2002. distinction between “cultural” and “commercial” arts, as The constructed week is a limitation of this article, and both can equally contribute to the national economy in dif- different results might have been returned had every single ferent ways—the former by increasing the livability of the arts-related article been analyzed. Furthermore, it is possible city-state and indirectly influencing economic growth; the to argue with the classifications used in this article, and the latter in a more direct way. Popular art forms—pop music lines between “cultural”and “commercial” arts shift; but as and film—may have a direct economic impact through sales Janssen (1999) pointed out, they “are not fixed entities but of (at the time of the study) CDs and movie tickets, but they classifications which are continually subject to change” do not contribute to the bigger government plan for the (p. 333). Finally, there are questions as to whether newspaper nation. Ironically, in this strategic, government-policy-level coverage adequately reflects the “artistic trajectory” of the picture, cultural art forms may be more economically valu- country as it is questionable whether the arts journalists have able than commercial ones. the skills and understanding to accurately report on what This may have an effect on the arts practitioners them- they see (Chong, 2011, p. 99). This article has no intention of selves, as they seek to follow where the government leads to entering into this particular fray, and thus concentrates on the secure subsidy. L. Lim (2012) has observed that the well- relationship between government and the arts, as represented funded flagship Singapore Arts Festival “seeks to create a in—rather than mediated by—the press. specific cultural taste in Singaporean art-goers through privi- This is an early study, but it opens the door for further, leging and promoting works that are internationally market- more complex research into direct linkages between arts able to European countries . . . at the expense of Singaporean companies that receive state funding, and coverage in news- artists” (p. 1). Those who wish to take part in this profile- papers. Future studies might also look at how the National raising event need to offer artworks which conform to the Arts Council itself categorizes art forms. As Singapore aims vision of the festival. This vision is based on what will have to be a “global city of the arts,” it would be interesting to international rather than primarily local appeal. Parochial establish how many arts events are imported and how many themes were to be avoided; Asian themes to be embraced. are home grown, and to look at media coverage of the two. Our third research question asked whether, given the All of these fall outside the remit of this current article, and changing priorities of the Singapore government over the would offer greater insights into the subject of study. years, there had been a noticeable change in coverage of cer- As to whether the government’s aspiration has been met, tain art forms. Janssen (1999) reported that in her study in the depends largely on the evaluator and measuring stick. L. B. Netherlands, newspaper articles on art rose by 60% between F. Lim (2009) showed that the Singapore government “uses 1965 and 1990; no such dramatic findings were found in this a variety of rules and regulations to manage the cultural pro- study. Yet she points out that the rise is due to increased duction of arts and culture in Singapore and . . . attempts to advertising, which demanded more editorial content to inculcate an appreciation of a specific aesthetic style in both increase pagination; by contrast, newspaper advertising Singaporean artists and audiences.” Ultimately, though, she between 1999 and 2008 in Singapore was hit first by the argued that “Singapore’s quest to become a Global City for Asian financial crisis of 1997/1998, and then by the the Arts is stymied due to its inability to develop a 8 SAGE Open meaningful international global profile through the way it Chong, T.C. (2011). The theatre and the State in Singapore: Orthodoxy and resistance. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. attempts to micro-manage the creation, production and con- Committee to Protect Journalists. (2005). Attacks on the press in sumption of culture in Singapore” (L. B. F. Lim, 2009). That 2004. New York, NY: Author. raises questions of how much (benign) authoritarian inter- Duffy, A. M. (2010). Shooting rubber bands at the stars: Preparing vention is beneficial for the arts, or how much they should be to work within the Singapore system. In B. Josephi (Ed.), allowed to develop without support. Machiavelli might have Journalism education in countries with limited media freedom given one answer; Michelangelo would surely have had (pp. 31-51). New York, NY: Peter Lang. another. Firdaus, A. (2006, November 27-29). Ethnic identity and news media preferences in Malaysia. Paper presented at the ARC Acknowledgments APFRN Signature Event 2006: Media Policies, Cultures and Futures in the Asia-Pacific Region, Perth, Australia. Retrieved The authors wish to thank Shallyn Xue Ling Leow and Clara Loh from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1. for coding and research assistance. 1.452.9920&rep=rep1&type=pdf George, C. (2007). Consolidating authoritarian rule: Calibrated Declaration of Conflicting Interests coercion in Singapore. The Pacific Review, 20, 127-145. The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect Gwee, J. (2009). Innovation and the creative industries cluster: to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. A case study of Singapore’s creative industries. Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, 11, 240-252. Funding Henderson, J. (2001). Tourism and the arts: A view from Singapore. Tourism, Culture & Communication, 3(1), 27-36. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for Hester, J. B., & Dougall, E. (2007). The efficiency of constructed the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study week sampling for content analysis of online news. Journalism was supported by a grant from the Wee Kim Wee School of & Mass Communication Quarterly, 84, 811-824. Communication & Information at Nanyang Technological University. Janssen, S. (1999). Art journalism and cultural change: The coverage of the arts in Dutch newspapers 1965-1990. Poetics, 26, 329-348. Notes Janssen, S., Kuipers, G., & Verboord, M. (2008). Cultural global- 1. No comparison is intended between the Singapore govern- ization and arts journalism: The international orientation of arts ment and the Borgia family, beyond their financial support for and culture coverage in Dutch, German, and U.S. newspapers, the arts. Rather, our point is that democracy and the choice it 1955 to 2005. American Sociological Review, 73, 719-740. implies are not necessary conditions for art to flourish. Kam, W. L. (2008, June 28). Thriving without SUNLIGHT. The 2. The “popularity” of both is subjective, of course, but they Straits Times, p. 78. would scarcely be categorized as “classical music.” Kawasaki, K. (2004). Cultural hegemony of Singapore among ASEAN countries: Globalization and cultural policy. References International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 13, 22-35. Bereson, R. (2003). Renaissance or regurgitation? Arts policy Kong, L. (2000). Cultural policy in Singapore: Negotiating eco- in Singapore 1957-2003. Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and nomic and socio-cultural agendas. Geoforum, 31, 409-422. Cultural Management, 1, 1-14. Kong, L. (2012). Ambitions of a global city: Arts, culture and Bokhorst-Heng, W. (2002). Newspapers in Singapore: A mass creative economy in “post-crisis” Singapore. International ceremony in the imagining of the nation. Media, Culture & Journal of Cultural Policy, 18, 279-294. Society, 24, 559-569. Latif, A. (1995, August 24-25). Asian values in journalism, or val- Cenite, M., Chong, S. Y., Han, T. J., Lim, L. Q., & Tan, X. L. ues in Asian journalism? AMIC Seminar on Asian Values in (2008). Perpetual development journalism? Balance and fram- Journalism Seminar, Nilai-Nilai Kewartawanan Asia, Kuala ing in the 2006 Singapore election coverage. Asian Journal of Lumpur, Malaysia. Communication, 18, 280-295. Latif, A. (Ed.). (1998). Walking the tightrope: Press freedom and Chang, T. C. (2000). Renaissance revisited: Singapore as a global professional standards in Asia. Singapore: AMIC. city for the arts. International Journal of Urban and Regional Lee, T. (2012). The media, cultural control and government in Research, 24, 818-831. Singapore. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. Chang, T. C., & Lee, W. K. (2003). Renaissance City Singapore: A Lenzi, I. (2008, September 23). Is it ART for art’s sake? Time out study of arts spaces. Area, 35, 128-141. Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/ Chang, T. C. (2008). Art and soul: Powerful and powerless art in art/feature/is-it-art-for-arts-sake Singapore. Environment and planning A, 40(8), 1921-1943. Lim, L. (2012). Constructing habitus: Promoting an international Chin, M. (2002). Pulling out all the stops in Singapore, global city arts trend at the Singapore Arts Festival. International Journal for the arts. Retrieved from http://www.michellechin.net/writ- of Cultural Policy, 18, 308-322. ings/14.html Lim, L. B. F. (2009). In the global field of cultural production: Chong, T. C. (2006). Singapore’s cultural policy and its conse- Singapore as global city for the arts (Unpublished master’s quences. Critical Asian Studies, 37, 553-568. thesis). University of Warwick, UK. Retrieved from http:// Chong, T. C. (2010). The state and the new society: The role of the wrap.warwick.ac.uk/3762/ arts in Singapore nation-building. Asian Studies Review, 34, Lim, W. S. W. (2010). Architecture, art, identity in Singapore: Is 131-149. there life after Tabula Rasa? In P. Herrle & S. Smitz (Eds.), Freeman et al. 9 Constructing identity in contemporary architecture: Case Studies Thekkepat, S. K. (2012, April 13). The art of enjoying Singapore. from the South (pp. 233-287). Münster, Germany: LIT Verlag. Gulf News. Retrieved from http://gulfnews.com/life-style/ McCleary, K. W., Lattimer, C. L., Clemenz, C. E., & Weaver, travel/the-art-of-enjoying-singapore-1.1007193 P. A. (2008). From Broadway to the bistro: Partnering with Wee, C. J. (2003). Creating high culture in the globalized “cul- tural desert” of Singapore. The Drama Review, 47, 84-97. the arts to attract upscale customers. International Journal of Wong, K. K. (2004). Asian-based development journalism and Hospitality Management, 27, 197-203. political elections. Gazette, 66, 25-40. National Arts Council. (2008). Performing arts activities. Statistics Yeo, G. Y. B. (1991). Building in a market test for the arts. Speeches: Singapore Newsletter. Retrieved from https://www.singstat. A Bi-monthly Selection of Ministerial Speeches, 15, 54-57. gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/publica- Yeung, H. W. (2010). Globalising Singapore: One global city, tions/publications_and_papers/social_indicators global production networks, and the developmental state. In T. National Arts Journalism Program. (2004). Reporting the arts II: H. Tan (Ed.), Singapore perspectives 2010: Home, heart, hori- New Coverage of Arts and Culture in America. Retrieved from zon (pp. 109-121). Singapore: World Scientific. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/najp/publications/researchreports/ rta2.html Author Biographies Ooi, C.-S. (2008). Bounded creativity and the push for the creative economy in Singapore. Retrieved from http://coombs.anu.edu. Bradley C. Freeman is associate professor of Communication & au/SpecialProj/ASAA/biennial-conference/2006/Ooi-Can- Information Studies at the Mohammed bin Rashid School for Seng-ASAA2006.pdf Communication at the American University in Dubai. Prior to this Ooi, C.-S. (2010). Political pragmatism and the creative economy: position he lectured at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication Singapore as a City for the Arts. International Journal of at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He served on Cultural Policy, 16, 403-417. the John Ben Snow Research Team at Syracuse University, also as Ravenscroft, N., Chua, S., & Neo Wee, L. K. (2001). Going to the editorial assistant for “Communication Research,” and has contrib- movies: Cinema development in Singapore. Leisure Studies, uted articles and papers on a wide variety of topics in popular and 20, 215-232. academic publications. Renaissance City Report. (2000). Renaissancec city report is Andrew J. Duffy is an assistant professor at the Wee Kim Wee issued. Retrieved from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/ School of Communication and Information at Nanyang events/d0504b41-06f4-4f4b-80d2-f7d84aa2086d Technological University in Singapore. His research interests Reporters Without Borders. (2015). Press Freedom Index 2015. include journalism roles, identities and practice; and the intersec- Retrieved from https://index.rsf.org/#!/ tion of travel journalism and cultural studies. Tan, J., & Gopinathan, S. (2000). Education reform in Singapore: Towards greater creativity and innovation? Nira Review, Xiaoge Xu is professor of Mobile Studies at Botswana International pp. 5-10. Retrieved from http://www.nira.or.jp/past/publ/ University of Science & Technology. His research interests are in review/2000summer/tan.pdf mobile media, digital media and communication, and journalism Tan, K. P. (2003). Sexing up Singapore. International Journal of studies. He previously worked at the University of Nottingham- Cultural Studies, 6, 403-423. Ningbo, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He Tey, T. H. (2008). Confining the Freedom of the Press in Singapore: is the founder of Mobile Studies, a global institute of mobile media A “pragmatic” press for “nation-building”? Human Rights and communication research, where he also serves as Editor-in- Quarterly, 30, 876-905. Chief of Mobile Studies series and Mobile books. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png SAGE Open SAGE

Machiavelli Meets Michelangelo: Newspaper Coverage of the Arts in Singapore

SAGE Open , Volume 6 (2): 1 – Apr 26, 2016

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Abstract

This article examines newspaper coverage of the arts in Singapore to consider the role of the island state’s newspapers in the development and documentation of Singapore’s growing arts scene. Sampling two constructed weeks for each of 10 years, 1999 to 2008, content analysis is used to examine arts coverage in the Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao. The study benefits from groundwork laid by Janssen’s 1999 study of arts coverage in Dutch newspapers, in which not only quantity of content was reported but also hierarchical attention was paid to art forms over decades. Singapore is of interest as it represents a country where neither the arts nor newspapers are declining, and both enjoy significant overseeing by the government. Keywords Singapore, arts, arts coverage, newspaper coverage, content analysis In the West, newspapers face challenges similar to those the pragmatic early focus on economic progress and becoming arts have encountered in the past few years: declining an international business hub, Singapore was often consid- income, declining audiences, and challenges from less ered a “cultural desert” before the 1990s (Kawasaki, 2004, sophisticated forms of art on one hand and news on the other. p. 22). In October 2002, however, with the launch of the arts Concomitantly, newspaper coverage of the arts is on decline facility, the Esplanade—Theatres by the Bay, Singapore in the United States. In 1998, the National Arts Journalism “made a brilliant debut as a cultural nation.” More recently, Program (2004) at Columbia found that in many newsrooms, the Singapore Biennale and the Art Stage Singapore have “arts journalism continues to be a lower priority than other brought international galleries’ attention to the country fields such as business and sports.” (Thekkepat, 2012). Recently, then, Singapore has been creat- By contrast, those priorities were reversed in Singapore ing arts spaces and happenings that can be considered as political history. The early days of nation-building in the “important local expressions that give locales a sense of 1960s and 1970s saw infrastructure for business and sports identity in a rapidly globalizing world,” as an element of cre- built first, and support for the arts emerging only later (Kong, ating a relatively new nation (Chang & Lee, 2003, p. 128). 2000). Even beyond this, the city-state of Singapore is an The government has instigated a series of cultural policies intriguing case study of the relationship between newsprint in line with growing the arts scene, always with a pragmatic, media and the arts, because each has developed under and economic goal in mind (Bereson, 2003; Kong, 2000). Lee continues to receive government oversight, and neither is in (2012) described it as having “a politicized ideology that decline as is the case for both in some Western countries. In readily privileges the economic over the cultural” because addition, in much scholarly thought, arts are associated with economics is a key to stability and growth. In 2000, the gov- democracy (Ooi, 2010), yet it is helpful to open up discus- ernment issued the Renaissance City Report, a 10-year sion by examining how it could operate in a system that has been more authoritarian, by Western standards, at least. American University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates Nanyang Technological University, Singapore There is a historical precedent suggested in the title to this Botswana International University of Science & Technology, Palapye, article: The flowering of Italian art in the 15th century Botswana occurred under the auspices of the Borgias, who were far Corresponding Author: from being icons of tolerance and democratic Bradley C. Freeman, Associate Professor of Communication and inclusiveness. Information Studies, Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication, With strong government involvement, Singapore’s arts American University in Dubai, P.O. Box 28282, Dubai, United Arab scene has progressed since the country’s independence, Emirates. accelerating over the past 25 years. Perhaps due to its Email: Bfreeman@aud.edu Creative Commons CC-BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open roadmap to make the city-state an artistic hub on a par with city for the arts” (Chin, 2002), with the intention of creating London or New York, which was updated in 2002 and again “a thriving arts, cultural and entertainment scene, not only in 2008. Singapore aims for economic reasons (to attract tourists and foreign talents) but also for sociocultural objectives (enrichment of to reach a level of development that would be comparable to Singaporeans and nation-building)” (Chang, 2000, p. 819). cities like Hong Kong, Glasgow and Melbourne in five to ten Many schools of thought surround the arts in Singapore years. The longer term objective would be to join London and and their development and purposes (Henderson, 2001; W. S. New York in the top rung of cultural cities. (Renaissance City W. Lim, 2010; Ooi, 2008; K. P. Tan, 2003). Scholars have Report, 2000) looked at other aspects, from the return on investment of the arts to the importation of art and its meanings (Gwee, 2009; The term renaissance was used in the context of art as being Lenzi, 2008; Wee, 2003). We are interested in looking at one produced to honor patrons, as was the case in 15th-century related area—that of domestic newspaper arts coverage— Italy, as much as in the more common context of artistic which offers an insight into the processes whereby govern- rebirth (Bereson, 2003). In Singapore, the main patron is the ment art initiatives are brought into the public consciousness. government; the artists are still the artists. Machiavelli meets Furthermore, newspaper coverage also allows for obser- Michelangelo. vations about which art forms are privileged in society. We Given the Singapore government’s preoccupation with first distinguish between “cultural” and “commercial” art the economic value of the arts, and building on earlier forms, then examine the relationship between newspaper research by Janssen (1999), this article makes a distinction coverage and the arts, followed by Singapore’s arts scene, its between art for art’s sake—which we consider as “cultural” media system, and the role government plays in both. This arts—and art for economics’ sake—which we term “com- leads to research questions of what arts are privileged in mercial” art. Our central question is what characterizes the newspaper coverage, and what this suggests about the role of arts as they are reported in the newspapers, bearing in mind government using arts and the press—and the conjunction of the government’s avowed use of both arts and media in the the two—in the service of nation-building. service of nation-building and economic growth. What art forms are privileged in this strategic direction, and how has “Cultural” and “Commercial” Arts that changed as the country develops culturally and econom- ically over time? Finally, is a reduction in government over- Janssen’s (1999) levels of analysis are useful in approaching seeing of arts and newspapers reflected in coverage of one by news coverage of the arts. She begins an analysis which the other? “examines newspapers’ treatment of art in general” (p. 330). This informs us to examine the actual coverage space granted to the arts, for “the (relative) amount of newspaper space for Building a New Nation information on art, particular art forms, or specific works and Sitting on the Equator at the heart of Asia, the small island producers is indicative of their cultural status at a given point nation of Singapore has a population of 5.5 million in a space in time” (p. 330). of 700 sq. km. It achieved independence from Malaysia in Our article modifies her approach to propose that art 1965, and since then has experienced dramatic growth in forms can be divided into “cultural” and “commercial,” in wealth until it now ranks among the richest per capita in the place of Janssen, Kuipers, and Verboord’s (2008) division world. Growth has been achieved through consistent focus into “high” and “popular.” The rationale is that high art can on economics, and the arts have been co-opted into realizing be popular and economically successful; just as “pop” art can this goal: Attaining the “global art city” title is in line with be obscure, specialized, and decidedly un-economic, such as the overall plan. an indie band which has not (yet) found success. As a result, Much of what transpires in Singapore is said to be in ser- we suggest that the commercial or the cultural imperative vice of nation-building (Yeung, 2010). The idea of the arts behind the artwork is better placed at the heart of any serving this purpose is an important factor (Chong, 2006); as distinction. is the corresponding newspaper coverage of any government Cultural art is more likely to be supported by subsidy, and initiative in fulfillment of this task (Tey, 2008). Chong (2010) the primary imperative is the betterment of society or preser- noted that arts and culture were put into service early by the vation of cultural heritage. It is created with money making ruling political party due to a perceived “civilising effect,” as as a secondary motivation. On the contrary, commercial art is well as its ability to draw out multiculturalism and that it was created primarily with a view to making a profit. An example “vital in naturalising the orthodoxy of race” (p. 146). of this would be the staging of The Lion King. To clarify the Since the 1980s, the Singapore arts scene has been “driven distinction further, if an art house (cultural) movie makes a by an economic rationale” (Chong, 2006, p. 553). And with profit, it is pleasing but not the primary intention; if it loses substantive financial investment in the arts scene, Singapore money, it is disappointing but not surprising. However, if a has clearly targeted the goal of becoming known as a “global blockbuster, populist movie makes a profit, it is expected as Freeman et al. 3 this was the intention. If it does not make a profit, that is middle classes and to incoming foreign professionals, who surprising and disappointing, and it cannot fall back on the together would lift the country up the value chain from man- consolation prize of artistic integrity. ufacturing to a service economy. Then-Arts Minister George We look at how the arts are reported in the news pages of Yeo (1991) said, the two leading newspapers in Singapore, the English- We should see the arts not as luxury or mere consumption but as language Straits Times and the Chinese-language Lianhe investment in people and the environment . . . we also need taste. Zaobao, looking at both hard news and the softer lifestyle With taste, we will be able to produce goods and services of far pages. We consider both language newspapers to give a more greater value. (p. 54) complete picture from a multicultural country. News stories about the state of the arts and artists, as well as reviews of Some Western art (music and films) was embraced as rede- performances, albums, and exhibitions were included. fining Singapore as a “global city for the arts,” whereas Singapore is of concern because of the importance the indigenous art which did not conform to government social government places on both arts and media—and many other policy or “Asian values” encountered censorship (Bereson, areas of citizens’ lives. 2003). More recently, there has been a move toward Asian con- With a strong influence in many aspects of the lives of tent and indigenous art. Once again this has much to do with Singaporeans, the Singapore Government has, in the past and building the identity of a nation as with economic impera- currently, sought to systematically direct certain forms of collective behaviour in Singapore through its myriad public and tives. Kong (2012) noted that recent policy has been on the cultural campaigns implemented by its various administrative arts’ social value, and the aim has been to get residents par- bodies. (L. Lim, 2012, p. 309) ticipating in its creation and consumption. Free events and outreach programs build an interest in the arts by fostering In other words, the government aims to inculcate a certain community engagement, hobby groups and clubs, and by taste in the arts among its citizenry, and to direct what the supporting practitioners. Censorship has been relaxed to media considers worthy of coverage. This article looks at encourage creativity, although restrictions continued on how the press takes part in this strategy, and which art forms socio-political content around racial and religious harmony are privileged over others. (Ooi, 2010). Emerging talent was mentored. In 2006, Singapore launched its first biennale. This is a view of government policy: Arts practitioners Singapore Government Arts Policy themselves may be less charitable about the government–arts Cultural policy in the 1960s and 1970s looked at how the arts relationship which has been described as one of courteous, could contribute to nation-building, distinguishing Singapore mutual distrust (Chong, 2011). The government knows that particularly from Western cultural norms. Then-Minister of the arts contribute to making the country livable and eco- Culture Jek Yuen Thong said in 1974, “Literature, music and nomically vibrant, but does not necessarily approve of their the fine arts have a significant role to play from within the methods. The arts community appreciates the government’s framework of nation-building. A truly Singaporean art must support; but resents and resists any perceived or real artistic reflect values that will serve Singapore in the long run” (cited interference, censorship, or control. Their interests do not in Kong, 2000). This was in opposition to “decadent” always overlap. Western art forms which were often seen as posing a threat to values espoused by Singapore, and thus were to be rejected. Singapore Government Media Policy Much Western music and film were banned or censored. In the 1980s, however, the arts were seen as a way to In the 50 years since independence, the arts scene in improve quality of life and make workers more productive, Singapore has been molded and characterized by govern- strengthen social bonds, attract tourists, and be economic ment intervention. The same is true of the newspapers. It has centers in their own right providing employment for artists been said that Singapore practices a form of journalism (Henderson, 2001; Kong, 2000). Bureaucratic support for the where government and press work together for national arts in the form of a National Arts Council and a National development (Bokhorst-Heng, 2002). The founding father of Heritage Board was launched (Bereson, 2003), but the the nation, Lee Kuan Yew, observed that “Freedom of the emphasis was still on “art for money’s sake,” rather than “art news media must be subordinated to the overriding needs of for art’s sake.” Singapore, and to the primacy and purpose of an elected gov- By the mid-1990s, arts were being promoted as a sign of ernment” (Latif, 1998, p. 151). In 2003, the then-Information a gracious, sophisticated society, rather than being directly Minister echoed this, saying “The local media have an yoked to economic matters. Yet, as Kong points out, the gov- important role in our nation-building effort” (Cenite, Chong, ernment was still aware of the economic potential of the arts Han, Lim, & Tan, 2008, p. 284). The next year, Attacks on to make the country attractive to its increasingly affluent the Press 2004 (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2005) 4 SAGE Open called the government “one of the world’s most efficient population to be more engaged with an array of proposals, engines of media control” (p. 118). Whether it still follows plans, and activities that would mold a nation more in keep- such controlling a model or whether it still needs to is open ing with government fiat, from which language to speak to for debate (Cenite et al., 2008; Wong, 2004). how many children to have and whether or not to give up a Newspapers are controlled by a range of tools, including seat on the train to those who might need it more (Bokhorst- print licenses, share ownership and even the threat of clo- Heng, 2002). sure, which was last used in the mid-1970s. Today, self-reg- The Singapore arts scene is one such evolving initiative, ulation is more the norm as George (2007) has pointed out, and newspaper coverage is generally acknowledged as sup- referring to the government’s use of “calibrated coercion” portive of this. Yet it is far from clear-cut case of media, arts, which leads to a press characterized by caution and self-cen- and government collaborating. The media operates as a cul- sorship, but which is in tune with government wishes. tural intermediary, standing between the practitioner and the The rationale behind these controls is a history of racial reading public, determining the value of the artwork, and and religious violence in the 1950s and 1960s, fanned by the creating a framework for how it will be perceived by future media. To maintain social and racial harmony, the govern- audiences (Chong, 2011). The media is also aware of how ment co-opted the media in all four of the main languages much interest its readers will show in arts of any kind, and spoken in the country. In the past, different newspapers have the National Arts Council in Singapore reported that “one in been gathered together under one roof, and now Singapore three of the population expressed some interest in the arts in Press Holdings (SPH) has a virtual monopoly of newsprint. 2009, 35% of the population remained neutral, and 35% Although there is no direct control over the newspapers and expressed no interest in the arts” (National Arts Council, no direct censorship, media and government are close, and 2008). These numbers may inform newspaper editor’s deci- the country has recently moved down to 153 of 180 nations sions on how much coverage to give to the arts. In addition, in the Reporters Without Borders (2015) press freedom relationships between the arts and the media were strained index. This could be considered a harsh indictment of a press during the years under study. Chong (2011) reported that system in which no journalist is killed or imprisoned, and the practitioners were highly critical of the quality of reviewing, avowed intention is to build consensus (albeit in line with the and quotes a playwright as saying to a reviewer “the Great government) rather than foment conflict and confrontation. Singapore Play could be produced, and no one would know Although far from being propagandist, neither does the about it” (p. 93). These all combine to compromise the rela- media take a watchdog role adopted by the libertarian tionships among media, the arts, and the government. Western model. Instead, it considers itself unelected and Given the indeterminacy of these relationships which therefore not permitted to criticize the activity of democrati- would make them subject of a separate study, we focus cally elected politicians. As the paper of record, the Straits instead on the economic role the arts play in this 50-year-old Times pays particular attention to the wishes of the govern- nation. The arts and arts education inculcate creativity and ment; and while more lurid tabloid approach characterizes the entrepreneurship that generates; they make the city-state much of the Chinese print media, Lianhe Zaobao is respect- more livable and more attractive to foreign companies, for- ful and conservative. Culturally, the newspapers conform to eign executives, and foreign investment; and they stimulate Asian values of consensus over conflict, and a concern with employment (Chang, 2008; J. Tan & Gopinathan, 2000). the community rather than the individual (Latif, 1995). These art-induced realities contribute to forming the macro- picture, and from a micro-economic perspective, arts cover- age in the newspapers may not directly generate much Singapore Journalism and the Arts advertising (important for financial stability and indepen- Bearing in mind this idiosyncratic media model in which the dence of a newspaper), but it creates an ethos of sophistica- arts are encouraged for nation-building, it can be expected tion within the newspapers which makes them attractive to that the newsprint media will aid this through coverage of the high-end brands and companies with big advertising budgets arts, even if that means its approach may be closer to the (McCleary, Lattimer, Clemenz, & Weaver, 2008). The gov- intentions of the government than those of practitioners: ernment also wishes to promote this cosmopolitan culture, as “the mainstream press . . . is a key institution of orthodoxy in a way of moving the economy and the jobs in Singapore up the theatre field” (Chong, 2011, p. 95). The press benefits the value chain, away from manufacturing and toward a from the gloss of sophistication that arts coverage gives it, knowledge economy. Arts and the media work together to making it attractive to advertisers; the arts benefit from the build the economic, cultural, and social life of Singapore. publicity the press gives them. The relationship is wary, Keeping in mind these nuances of a Singaporean context, uneasy, but tolerant of the other. this study had three aims. The first was to identify the amount The press has been a willing accomplice in the creation of of coverage given to arts coverage in Singapore newspapers the nation, seeking to build harmony in a country driven by between 1999 and 2008. As a mode of comparison, coverage racial violence in its early years (Duffy, 2010). It has faith- between the main English language newspaper (The Straits fully reported government initiatives, exhorting the Times) and the main Chinese language (Lianhe Zaobao) Freeman et al. 5 paper was investigated. The second aim was to determine previous studies (Hester & Dougall, 2007). As the period how different art forms ranked and whether this has changed covered 10 years, a total of 140 days were examined for over the decade. The third aim was to look at the govern- each newspaper. ment’s role in the process and to what extent their programs Forty-nine and 46 arts-related search terms were used for and dictates were harmonizing with the newspaper coverage the search of the Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, respec- (though we are not able to directly link the coverage numbers tively. The discrepancy was caused by the differing natures with the practice in this article). The following research of the English and Chinese words. For instance, the key- questions are suggested: words “dance” (noun) and “dancing” (verb) were used to capture as many dance-related articles as possible for the Research Question 1: Given the government oversight English paper, whereas for the Chinese paper, the term “舞 of both the arts and the media and its interest in nation- 蹈” (Wu Dao) sufficed. The keywords were selected by list- building, what has been the nature of arts coverage in ing related art forms according to 11 categories suggested by Singapore newspapers from 1999 to 2008? Janssen (1999). Twenty-two and 21 search terms were ini- Research Question 2: Given the economic imperative tially used for the search of the Straits Times and Lianhe behind the arts scene at the time, is there a noticeable Zaobao respectively during the pre-test. The pre-test revealed privileging of commercial over cultural art forms? other keywords, and search terms were refined to make sure Research Question 3: Given the changing priorities of that they covered as many articles as possible. The articles the Singapore government over the years, has there been captured covered both local and international arts. a noticeable change in coverage of certain art forms? The articles, retrieved from Factiva, were clustered into categories, depending mainly on the keywords. For instance, theater and Chinese opera performances were classified as Method “performing arts,” and symphonies and orchestras were clas- This study examined newsprint coverage of the arts in sified as “classical music.” We also classified articles which Singapore to uncover the role of the island state’s newspa- reported specifically on government arts policy. Articles that pers in the development and documentation of Singapore’s did not fit any of the categories were classified as “other.” cultural arts scene. Content analysis was used to examine For example, a story on whether Mariah Carey’s concert coverage of the arts during a 10-year period (1999-2008). would spur other big names to come, and a review of a new These years were selected as the years leading up to and Steely Dan album were both classified as “popular music.” subsequent to the watershed opening of the US$420 million The category of “film” included how the novel Sense and Esplanade in October 2002, which was done with the inten- Sensibility was adapted for film, and a review of Two Days in tion of putting Singapore on the global cultural map with a Paris. “Performing arts” included an article about changing world-class music and theater venue. 2008 also marks the styles of movement in lion dances, as well as a review of most recent Renaissance City Report. The time frame is stage show Broadway Beng. Performances by a Chinese skewed to have more years after the opening of the orchestra, and reviews of budget-priced Naxos CDs were Esplanade, to allow time for any “Esplanade effect” to have both “classical music.” And an article on a new writers’ cen- taken place. ter and a review of a book, The Dark Ages, were both catego- Although studies exist that have compared ethnic lan- rized as “literature.” Finally, a prime ministerial speech about guage media (including newspapers) to so-called mainstream the Renaissance City Plan and changes in the classification media (Firdaus, 2006), and other studies have examined of films were both “government policy.” popular press versus more elite papers (Janssen, 1999), the As some articles contained only brief mentions of the present study looks at the two most-read papers in the coun- search terms but were in fact not arts-oriented, a filtering try of Singapore—their plain difference is the language uti- process determined which were to be scored. It was decided lized, yet they are still published by the same company. SPH that the related keywords must account for more than 30% of is the country’s biggest publisher of daily newspapers. As the the article’s content before it could be considered relevant. English newspaper of record, the Straits Times boasts a cir- Two coders reviewed and categorized each article, and found culation of approximately 480,000. Lianhe Zaobao is the agreement more than 80% during the pilot test, and more leading Chinese-language daily with a reported circulation than 90% agreement for categorization of articles in both of 160,000, down from its 1994 figures which were around papers, meaning that we were confident in our article/cate- 208,000. Perhaps more important than the quantity of reader- gory placements. ship is the quality as China’s then-premier Wen Jiabao was a faithful reader of Lianhe Zaobao (Kam, 2008). Findings Sampling was done using two constructed weeks from each year for each paper, using keywords. This amounted to A total of 1,217 articles were coded. Overall, the most writ- 14 days of coverage for each paper per year. The con- ten about art form was popular music (272, or 22.4%), fol- structed-week approach has been successfully deployed in lowed by the performing arts (199, or 16.4%), then film 6 SAGE Open Figure 1. Coverage of arts in Singapore newspapers 1999 to Figure 3. Comparison of arts coverage in Straits Times and 2008 by topic. Lianhe Zaobao, 1999 to 2008. Figure 2. Newspaper coverage of cultural and commercial arts, Figure 4. Comparison of arts coverage between Straits Times and government arts policy. and Lianhe Zaobao, 1999 to 2008. (193, or 15.9%), literature and the visual arts (both 116, or Zaobao also covered cultural arts (350) more than commercial 9.5%), and dance a distant sixth (32, or 2.6%) (Figure 1). (241), whereas for Straits Times, coverage was exactly the Over the 10 years analyzed, reporting of cultural arts same (224). showed a decline, while reporting of commercial art forms fluctuated, but showed a slight increase. Intriguingly, both Discussion and Conclusion showed a dip in 2001 to 2002, coinciding with the opening of the Esplanade, while writing about government policy spiked Kong (2000) considers government’s arts policy with rela- in 2003, as the Esplanade was becoming established. In tion to its economic bias; Bereson (2003) looks at how it terms of specific arts, coverage of the performing arts, clas- neglects indigenous arts at the expense of imported; Chang sical music, and dance—all of which are the raison d’être for and Lee (2003) the creation of social environments and cre- the Esplanade—showed a decline in newspaper coverage. ative spaces; Chong (2010) the use of the arts to reinvent and Coverage of government arts policy, meanwhile, was consis- envision society; and L. Lim (2012) These art-induced reali- tent over the decade, with a small increase in 2002 to 2003 ties contribute to forming the macro-picture, and from a immediately after the opening of the Esplanade (Figure 2). micro-economic perspective, arts coverage. They all look Lianhe Zaobao (687) consistently had more coverage of directly at the arts; in this article, we take a more oblique arts than Straits Times (530), although for both of them there look to see how the arts are reported in the media. Our cri- was a dip in 2001 to 2002 (Figure 3). Coverage in Lianhe tique is thus as much of the media system as the arts sys- Zaobao declined over the decade, whereas in the Straits tem—indeed, the observation is of how they work together Times it declined and then bounced back. Of these, cultural with government policy. art forms (574, or 47.1%) were written about more often than Our first research question asked what, given the govern- commercial art forms (465, or 38.2%). ment oversight of both the arts and the media and its interest in The only art form where the Straits Times was slightly ahead nation-building, has been the nature of arts coverage in of Lianhe Zaobao was popular music; in all others, the Chinese Singapore newspapers from 1999 to 2008? The data show that newspaper had significantly more coverage (Figure 4). Lianhe cultural arts (classical music, dance, literature, performing Freeman et al. 7 arts, and the visual arts) received more newspaper coverage post-9/11 global slowdown, and as a result, there would not than commercial art forms (popular music, film). These con- have been space for increased editorial. In addition, there tribute to the government vision of Singapore as a cultured was no change in coverage of separate art forms, apart from city, and a hub for “high” arts. They may also represent a a gradual rise in dance, from a very low base of one article sophisticated environment for advertisers within the newspa- captured in 1999 to five in 2008. pers in which they appear. Just as the country moves up the The only significant change was in 2001 to 2002, when value chain to a technology- finance- and service-based econ- coverage of arts overall went down briefly. As this coincided omy, so the newspapers look to move up the value chain by with the build-up to the opening of the Esplanade, this was attracting high-end advertisers. The performing arts was the unexpected. Both Chang and Lee (2003) and Bereson (2003) most covered of these “cultural” arts, which may be a result of questioned the opening of the Esplanade, asking to what the “Esplanade effect,” and a greater public acceptance of the- degree it acted as an agent to bring to life the cultural and ater as an established pastime. Film was the third most covered artistic policies of the government, and support a cultural art form overall, consistent with its place in Singaporean soci- “renaissance,” or whether its effect would be to distract ety as a popular pastime: “per capita movie-going is amongst attention away from low-key, indigenous work in favor of the highest in the world” (Ravenscroft, Chua, & Neo Wee, grand, large-scale (often imported) spectacle? Certainly the 2001, p. 215). newspapers were less inclined to write about the arts at all. Our second research question asked whether, given the This may be an effect of the long period of anticipation for economic imperative behind the arts scene at the time, there the Esplanade which resulted in an “arts coverage fatigue.” is a noticeable privileging of commercial over cultural art Coverage of “arts venues,” which is not shown here as it is forms. The lack of a clear bias in favor of “commercial” arts subsumed into the “other” category, briefly spiked from one is instructive. It suggests that there is no political–economic to five in 2002. distinction between “cultural” and “commercial” arts, as The constructed week is a limitation of this article, and both can equally contribute to the national economy in dif- different results might have been returned had every single ferent ways—the former by increasing the livability of the arts-related article been analyzed. Furthermore, it is possible city-state and indirectly influencing economic growth; the to argue with the classifications used in this article, and the latter in a more direct way. Popular art forms—pop music lines between “cultural”and “commercial” arts shift; but as and film—may have a direct economic impact through sales Janssen (1999) pointed out, they “are not fixed entities but of (at the time of the study) CDs and movie tickets, but they classifications which are continually subject to change” do not contribute to the bigger government plan for the (p. 333). Finally, there are questions as to whether newspaper nation. Ironically, in this strategic, government-policy-level coverage adequately reflects the “artistic trajectory” of the picture, cultural art forms may be more economically valu- country as it is questionable whether the arts journalists have able than commercial ones. the skills and understanding to accurately report on what This may have an effect on the arts practitioners them- they see (Chong, 2011, p. 99). This article has no intention of selves, as they seek to follow where the government leads to entering into this particular fray, and thus concentrates on the secure subsidy. L. Lim (2012) has observed that the well- relationship between government and the arts, as represented funded flagship Singapore Arts Festival “seeks to create a in—rather than mediated by—the press. specific cultural taste in Singaporean art-goers through privi- This is an early study, but it opens the door for further, leging and promoting works that are internationally market- more complex research into direct linkages between arts able to European countries . . . at the expense of Singaporean companies that receive state funding, and coverage in news- artists” (p. 1). Those who wish to take part in this profile- papers. Future studies might also look at how the National raising event need to offer artworks which conform to the Arts Council itself categorizes art forms. As Singapore aims vision of the festival. This vision is based on what will have to be a “global city of the arts,” it would be interesting to international rather than primarily local appeal. Parochial establish how many arts events are imported and how many themes were to be avoided; Asian themes to be embraced. are home grown, and to look at media coverage of the two. Our third research question asked whether, given the All of these fall outside the remit of this current article, and changing priorities of the Singapore government over the would offer greater insights into the subject of study. years, there had been a noticeable change in coverage of cer- As to whether the government’s aspiration has been met, tain art forms. Janssen (1999) reported that in her study in the depends largely on the evaluator and measuring stick. L. B. Netherlands, newspaper articles on art rose by 60% between F. Lim (2009) showed that the Singapore government “uses 1965 and 1990; no such dramatic findings were found in this a variety of rules and regulations to manage the cultural pro- study. Yet she points out that the rise is due to increased duction of arts and culture in Singapore and . . . attempts to advertising, which demanded more editorial content to inculcate an appreciation of a specific aesthetic style in both increase pagination; by contrast, newspaper advertising Singaporean artists and audiences.” Ultimately, though, she between 1999 and 2008 in Singapore was hit first by the argued that “Singapore’s quest to become a Global City for Asian financial crisis of 1997/1998, and then by the the Arts is stymied due to its inability to develop a 8 SAGE Open meaningful international global profile through the way it Chong, T.C. (2011). The theatre and the State in Singapore: Orthodoxy and resistance. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. attempts to micro-manage the creation, production and con- Committee to Protect Journalists. (2005). Attacks on the press in sumption of culture in Singapore” (L. B. F. Lim, 2009). That 2004. New York, NY: Author. raises questions of how much (benign) authoritarian inter- Duffy, A. M. (2010). Shooting rubber bands at the stars: Preparing vention is beneficial for the arts, or how much they should be to work within the Singapore system. In B. Josephi (Ed.), allowed to develop without support. Machiavelli might have Journalism education in countries with limited media freedom given one answer; Michelangelo would surely have had (pp. 31-51). New York, NY: Peter Lang. another. Firdaus, A. (2006, November 27-29). Ethnic identity and news media preferences in Malaysia. Paper presented at the ARC Acknowledgments APFRN Signature Event 2006: Media Policies, Cultures and Futures in the Asia-Pacific Region, Perth, Australia. Retrieved The authors wish to thank Shallyn Xue Ling Leow and Clara Loh from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1. for coding and research assistance. 1.452.9920&rep=rep1&type=pdf George, C. (2007). Consolidating authoritarian rule: Calibrated Declaration of Conflicting Interests coercion in Singapore. The Pacific Review, 20, 127-145. The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect Gwee, J. (2009). Innovation and the creative industries cluster: to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. A case study of Singapore’s creative industries. Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, 11, 240-252. Funding Henderson, J. (2001). Tourism and the arts: A view from Singapore. Tourism, Culture & Communication, 3(1), 27-36. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for Hester, J. B., & Dougall, E. (2007). The efficiency of constructed the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study week sampling for content analysis of online news. Journalism was supported by a grant from the Wee Kim Wee School of & Mass Communication Quarterly, 84, 811-824. Communication & Information at Nanyang Technological University. Janssen, S. (1999). Art journalism and cultural change: The coverage of the arts in Dutch newspapers 1965-1990. Poetics, 26, 329-348. Notes Janssen, S., Kuipers, G., & Verboord, M. (2008). Cultural global- 1. No comparison is intended between the Singapore govern- ization and arts journalism: The international orientation of arts ment and the Borgia family, beyond their financial support for and culture coverage in Dutch, German, and U.S. newspapers, the arts. Rather, our point is that democracy and the choice it 1955 to 2005. American Sociological Review, 73, 719-740. implies are not necessary conditions for art to flourish. Kam, W. L. (2008, June 28). Thriving without SUNLIGHT. The 2. The “popularity” of both is subjective, of course, but they Straits Times, p. 78. would scarcely be categorized as “classical music.” Kawasaki, K. (2004). 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Press Freedom Index 2015. include journalism roles, identities and practice; and the intersec- Retrieved from https://index.rsf.org/#!/ tion of travel journalism and cultural studies. Tan, J., & Gopinathan, S. (2000). Education reform in Singapore: Towards greater creativity and innovation? Nira Review, Xiaoge Xu is professor of Mobile Studies at Botswana International pp. 5-10. Retrieved from http://www.nira.or.jp/past/publ/ University of Science & Technology. His research interests are in review/2000summer/tan.pdf mobile media, digital media and communication, and journalism Tan, K. P. (2003). Sexing up Singapore. International Journal of studies. He previously worked at the University of Nottingham- Cultural Studies, 6, 403-423. Ningbo, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He Tey, T. H. (2008). Confining the Freedom of the Press in Singapore: is the founder of Mobile Studies, a global institute of mobile media A “pragmatic” press for “nation-building”? Human Rights and communication research, where he also serves as Editor-in- Quarterly, 30, 876-905. Chief of Mobile Studies series and Mobile books.

Journal

SAGE OpenSAGE

Published: Apr 26, 2016

Keywords: Singapore; arts; arts coverage; newspaper coverage; content analysis

References