Slice of 70s history – Mass media consumption patterns in Singapore – Summary and Television

13 May

There are interesting revelations within Singapore’s not too-distant media history. This excerpt is based on a survey which was published by AMIC publication in 1978 to study the media consumption patterns of Singaporeans from the mid to late 1970ss.

While our media landscape has changed dramatically over the years, it appears some characteristics have remained somewhat the same. For example, the  television programmes are still broadcasted from various television channels according to the four major ethnic groups. The favourite programme genres are still dominated by movies and TV serials. Furthermore, by the late 1970s, Singaporeans, as compared to their South-east Asian neighbours, are most exposed to the mass media. Notice also that children were mainly the ones determining the programmes that the family watches. The survey also shows  that education and science shows are least popular amongst others. This could be the result of the low  quality of these programmes or simply, that television was being perceived mainly as an avenue of escape (or for relaxation after a day at work or school).


Mass media and communication patterns in Singapore
Peter S.J. Chen & Eddie C.Y. Kuo
AMIC Publication

p 1 – As a compact urban society in a process of rapid social change, Singapore is   characterised by a well-developed communication system which has played a vital role in nation-building and social development. The range of mass media found in Singapore is comparable to that in any large city of the world, but the situation here is complicated further by the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual nature of the population. Generally speaking, the population of Singapore is highly exposed to various types of mass media which are available in four official languages.

Radio and television services in Singapore are operated by the Broadcasting Department of the Ministry of Culture. Those who own radio sets and television receivers at their premises require licenses. Newspapers are, however, run by private commercial organisations. Presently, there are eleven daily newspapers in Singapore. Of the eleven, four are in Chinese, three in English, two in Tamil, one in Malay and one in Malayam.

Radio, television and the newspaper are the three most important mass media in Singapore. The availability and use of these mass media by Singaporeans are the highest in Southeast Asia. In 1976, there were in Singapore, 209 newspapers, 135 TV licenses, and 161 radio licenses per 1,000 population. According to the United Nations ESCAP survey conducted in 1972, radio was the most popular medium, followed by TV and newspaper. Results of the present survey conducted in 1977 show that there appear to be some dramatic changes in the mass media pattern in Singapore. Radio now becomes less popular, and television has replaced radio to be the most common medium. The findings reveal that only 70.8% of the respondents indicate that they sometimes listen to radio as compared with 89.5 % who read newspapers and 90.3% who watch television (see table 16). The findings also reveal that newspaper and television are perceived as the two most reliable media for most types of  information. The radio, the cinema, magazine and personal source are often not chosen as the most reliable sources (see Table 19).

p 4 – Television

Television was first introduced in Singapore in 1963, and the colour service began in 1974. There are two channels, 5 and 8, in Singapore which provide an average of 66 and 41 weekly transmission hours respectively. Both channels are operated by Radio Television Singapore (RTS), which is a government-owned, government-operated organisation, functioning under the Broadcasting Department of the Ministry of Culture. Other than the two channels provided by RTS, people in Singapore can also tune in to two other channels, 3 and 10, from Television Malaysia, which is operated by the Malaysian government in Kuala Lumpur.

A license is required to operate one or more television sets at any premise. In 1976, the Government issued a total of 309, 276 television licenses, with an average of 77 licenses per 100 households (Table 2.1). As each license holder can operate more than one TV receiver at home, the ration of the number of TV sets per 100 households must, therefore, be higher than 77. According to the present survey, more than 15% of the respondents have two or more TV sets at home.

Programmes in all four languages – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil – are transmitted. The RTS aims to maintain a balanced allocation of transmission hours among the four languages. The desired proportion has been set at 35% for English, 35% for Chinese, 20% for Malay and 10% for Tamil. But because of the cost

p 5 – and technology involved in the  production of TV programmes, most of Singapore’s TV programmes are imported from foreign countries, mainly the United States, Britain, Hong Kong and Taiwan. These imported programmes are often in either English or Chinese. As a result, in actual practice, more than half of the total transmission hours are allocated to programmes in the English language. To cater for its multilingual audience, TV Singapore makes frequent use of subtitles.

… Television is a very popular medium in Singapore. According to the 1972 ESCAP survey, 76.4% of the population aged 15 and over claimed to have watched television This figure has increased to 90.3% in 1977 as revealed by the result of this survey.

p 7 – Respondents’ views on TV programmes

The most popular TV programmes are movies and TV serials, which more than 50% of the audience indicated that they liked most (Table 2). The less popular TV programmes are forums and topics of the week (0.7%), youth and juvenile programmes (0.6%), women programmes (1.1%) and educative and science programmes (2.5%). Movies and TV serials (60.4%) and news and current affairs (17.2%) are the two most popular TV programmes for women. But, for men, the most popular TV programmes are movies and TV serials (42.1%), sports (20.1%), news and current affairs (20.1%).

p 9 – Language Medium and TV channels

Television programmes are transmitted in all the four official languages and several Chinese dialects, mainly Cantonese and Hokkien. Results of the survey show that there is a very high correlation between the ethnic background of the audience and the language of the TV programmes they watch. TV programmes in the Malay and Tamil languages are most popular among members of the Malay and Indian communities respectively. While Chinese programmes are most popular among the Chinese audience, they also attract some audience from other ethnic communities. For example, 26.3% of the Malay and 23.9% of the Indian audience indicate that they often watch Chinese programs. Subtitles for TV programmes make it possible for various ethnic communities to watch TV programmes in the language they do not understand.

p 10 – Decision on selecting TV programmes

Children are the decision-makers among many Singapore families in the case of selecting TV programmes.

p 11 – TV’s effects on Children

We also find 40.0% of the parents state that they do not have any control on the type of TV programmes that their children watch, while 40.6% indicate some control and only 19.4% believe they have much control.

The majority of the audience with children at home (56.3%) think that TV has some negative effect on their children’s school work. Only 25.4% indicate that TV does not affect their children’s school work. The remaining 18.3% have no opinion (Table 2.17).


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