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Defending the indefensible

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Defending the indefensible: Study showed dialect ban need not have caused Rediffusion’s end – so said Ang Peng Hwa

 Ang is acting head of the Division of Journalism and Publishing at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information in Nanyang Technological University -ST report.

 He was cautious in his ST forum letter today (14 May 12) not to take full credit for such a view. Instead, he has cleverly attributed it to one Karen Chen, an honours year mass communications student of the NUS. But by quoting her he is undoubtedly associating himself with it.   In fact, he made his stand pretty clear in the first paragraph by saying he is “writing to correct that perception” (that the blanket ban on the use of dialect was responsible for the eventual demise of Rediffusion). Resting, as it were, his entire case on the strength of a single research attempt by a single student in the mid-1990s! That is all the authority he apparently needed to ‘correct’ the perception held by many Singaporeans that it was the govt’s ban on the use of dialects that has doomed Rediffusion! Talking about a one trick pony!

 But in the process he revealed (unwittingly?) that Rediffusion’s attempt at finding a way to survive the ban through applying for an FM radio licence and offering its service via cable TV were both turned down. But conveniently he has forgotten to add that the Singapore Govt was (and still is) the approving authority for both the radio licence and the service provider for cable TV service!  Would anybody believe that the LKY govt then out to rub out the use of dialects would be capable of such magnanimity towards a ‘contender’?

 Also, it seems that it has slipped Ang’s mind that Rediffusion was given an ultimatum and deadline to slash its dialect programmes content – which was the mainstay of its business exceeding even the popularity of DJs like Tan Swee Leong and Larry Lai – to the bare bone.

Famed and almost legendary Rediffusion dialect story telling personalities like Lee Dai Soh even had to leave our shores for distant places like Australia (if I remember correctly) in order to continue making his living through entertaining the Aussie Chinese community with his highly popular Cantonese story telling.

 Is the inevitable fate of Rediffusion any surprise then given the general govt clamp down on all things dialects including Chinese Singaporean’s favourite Hong Kong Cantonese TV drama serials which enjoyed a wide appeal across dialect groups and were reputed to even count fans among the other races?

The mass appeal of the Cantonese TV serials was reputed to have emptied hawker centres nation-wide during their broadcast time over the SBC (Mediacorp’s predecessor). The local press even published pictures of this phenomenon . Not forgetting too that video tapes in Cantonese and other dialects sent to the censorship board for clearance by video shops were openly discriminated against by being placed  right at the end of the queue i.e. given low priority.

 Ang exposed his true colour as an unapologetic PAP apologist when he attempted to blame an already anaemic Rediffusion for a ‘mis-step’ of deciding not to lay wires into new HDB estates. Everyone knew only too well that without substantial dialect offerings listening to Rediffusion was like eating ice cream without the ice or the cream!

And I don’t buy Ang’s drivel about the quality of Rediffusion sets etc as among the material reasons for the decline in subscribership. He was clutching pathetically at straws and in denial that it was deliberate policy of the PAP govt TO BAN DIALECTS that had been unilaterally responsible for the tragic decline of dialects and with it went out of the window the heritage, roots and ethnic anchors of most Chinese Singaporeans of the younger generations.

That the LKY govt had delivered a grievous body blow to  dialects here is without any shadow of a doubt at all. But it is a Pyrrhic victory at the expense of  a thoroughly weakened local Chinese dialect heritage. Collateral damages also include the poor grasp of  English and Mandarin common among Singaporeans because of the totally ambivalent  and ‘rojak’ language policies of the govt, that is, Malay is our National Language, yet ironically, perhaps with minor exceptions, only the local Malay community is conversant in (and it is likely to be confined mainly to the older Malay generations ) ; the force feeding of Mandarin, the nemesis of most Chinese Singaporean students, produced only mostly ‘half-past-six’ Mandarin speakers whose command of the language is despised and vilified by the Chinese mainlanders and the very negative ‘knock-on’ effect  of the struggle to teach/learn Mandarin on Singapore students’ learning and proficiency in English -the official working language of the land.

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