From ‘Why Mandarin segment on Channel 5 show?’, 3 Jan 2014, ST Forum
(Maria Alice Anthony):WHILE watching Channel 5’s countdown show on New Year’s Eve, I was shocked to see a host speaking in Mandarin during the programme. I had to switch between channels to check if I was tuned in to Channel 5, an all-English channel, or Channel 8, the Mandarin channel.
If the hosts were present to translate the English-language segments into Mandarin, where were the hosts to do translations into Tamil and Malay?
Why was a national celebration turned into a bilingual event catering to only one ethnic group?
Maria’s party-pooper rant about the TV50 spectacular is mild compared to theatre actor Ivan Heng’s scathing Facebook complaint about how ‘cheena’ the programme was, where MCs send greetings in Mandarin and you have singers like Wang Lee Hom headlining the event instead of homegrown artistes. To be fair, the show kicked off with a multiracial mix of talents including legend Dick Lee and the original Singapore Idol Taufik Batisah. But you’d soon realise how barren the Channel 5 ‘English-speaking’ talent pool is when you have Gurmit Singh coercing people to ‘make some noize’ as host. FOR THE 7823th TIME. The last time I remember anyone doing MC duty for BIG parties in English was Moe Alkaff.
Gurmit’s partners Joanne Peh and Bryan Wong are themselves ‘cheena’ veterans, but if you look back at the history of our 50 years of television, cheena has clearly dominated the scene, and the fact that two-thirds of the MC lineup were Channel 8 artistes suggests that national television, not to mention NYE countdowns, is unsustainable without Channel 8 celebrity. In one PCK/City Beat/Under One Roof skit, Gurmit was trading jokes with 4 ‘cheena’ artists and 1 Pierre Png, technically now a Channel 8 regular after crossing over from 5. In the final minutes of 2013, the hosts interviewed in succession a who’s who of Channel 8’s star roster, from Zoe Tay to Jack Neo, all of whom didn’t even attempt to say three simple words of Happy New Year in English. Not a single Suria or Vasantham personality was in sight. It was probably the most-watched sequence on stage when everyone’s ready to ring in the new year, yet it almost felt like Cai Shen Ye on a golden steed could ride in at any moment. And where the hell was James Lye? Or the fabulous Muthu?
Critics didn’t just pick on the language bias in the past, but even racial quotas. In 1999, Mediacorp, then known as TCS was accused by a forum writer of being a ‘Totally Chinese Station‘, where English dramas have mostly Chinese as lead actors, or foreign talents with mixed heritage (but still look Chinese). Nothing much has changed since. Think of a current Channel 5 hunk in a leading role and he’s most likely to be Chinese. Or half-Chinese. That’s if you can even think of such a programme in the first place.
It’s really all business and eyeballs for Medicorp, a company that has to struggle to reflect the ‘inclusivity’ of the real world by selling ‘make-believe’. I wouldn’t want to pay money to watch a mash-up of PCK and Moses Lim doing Dick Lee’s rendition of Rasa Sayang on NYE, especially when there’s always catch-up TV. But diehard fans will flock just to watch Jeanette Aw pirouette in a shimmery dress. If you want a REAL Singaporean year end party, you should have been at Boon Lay instead of sitting at home miserable and wasting time channel surfing. As for Joanne Peh and Bryan Wong, see you in a few weeks’ time at the Lunar New Year Countdown then. I doubt anyone could complain about that being too ‘kantang’.