Here To Serve

Conferred with a Public Service Medal, Mr Basskaran Nair, SVP, Group Corporate Marketing and Communications shares his contribution to the media landscape

Issue: Oct 2010

Group Photo
Using his expertise, Mr Nair’s contribution to the community is being recognised and honoured

Mr Basskaran Nair, Senior Vice President, Group Corporate Marketing and Communications at CapitaLand Limited was recently honoured for his efforts and contribution over the past seven years in the Publications Consultative Panel (PCP), a citizen advisory committee formed to encourage public participation in the regulation of publications. He was awarded the Public Service Medal or the PBM (Pingat Bakit Masyarakat) by the Singapore government for his contribution as Chairman of the PCP.

Besides his work in CapitaLand and his involvement in the PCP, Mr Nair is also Adjunct Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore; a board member of Certis CISCO Security, a Temasek-linked company; Chairman, Accreditation Board for the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore (IPRS); and Honorary Public Relations Advisor for the Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore (REDAS).

He previously served as a member of the Singapore Government's Feedback Supervisory Committee and was President of the East-West Centre Alumni (Singapore), a USA think-tank organization.

Mr Nair was nominated Fellow of IPRS in 1997. IPRS awarded him "PR Professional of the Year 2004". In 2008, he was awarded by IPRS the "Lifetime Achievement Award".

He has authored several books and the latest is "From Main Street to Cyber Street – Changes in the Practice of Communication" which focuses on the role of New Media in public communications. Besides a post-graduate degree, he has attended executive management courses including those organised by INSEAD.

Mr Nair’s winning of the PBM is a testament to CapitaLand’s commitment to creating a culture that supports social engagement and community work within the company and beyond.

INSIDE: Congratulations on winning the award. How do you feel?

NAIR: I am pleasantly surprised that I am awarded for a volunteer work that I enjoy doing. I suppose the Ministry appreciates the work of volunteers and the way to thank the Panel was to give its Chairman the National Day Award. I hope they had additional awards for all the wonderful members of the Panel.

INSIDE: How has your work in the private sector helped in your role as Chairman of the Publications Consultative Panel (PCP)?

NAIR: It is really an extension of my work in Public Affairs and Communication in the private sector as feedback and feedforward is part of our professional practice. I was approached and appointed by the Media Development Authority (MDA) in 2003 to serve on PCP while I was a Committee Member on the Government’s Feedback Supervisory Panel run by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. I accepted the invitation as I was keenly interested in being engaged in national issues and making a contribution, particularly in sensitive and difficult social areas while embracing strong divergent views. It is also a returning to my roots as I used to work in the Ministry when it was called by different names like Ministry of Culture; so I have a natural empathy towards the sensitivity of the cultural, racial and religious issues they face.

INSIDE: What are the major highlights of your tenure as Chairman of the PCP? Could you share with us some of the more high-profile decisions that the Committee made?

NAIR: Some of the more high-profile contributions by the PCP include the review of the Content Guidelines for Imported Publications in 2004 which saw the ban lifted on Cosmopolitan and the introduction of "Consumer Advice" to imported adult interest lifestyle magazines.

It is a pro-enterprise measure that benefits the industry by allowing a wider range of publications for retail distribution. Subsequently, the "Consumer Advice" was extended to adult interest comics in 2007 and to other genres of publications such as massage/sex manual, erotic fiction and arts publications in 2009.

PCP was also involved in the review of content guidelines for local publications in 2006, which saw the introduction of guidelines for publicity materials, chat line advertisement and web addresses.

PCP also strongly supported industry engagement and encouraged MDA to dialogue with the industry on a regular basis to explain regulatory policies. PCP also met and dialogued with the editors of lifestyle publications and newspapers as well as the Magazine Publishers Association of Singapore (MPAS) to understand industry concerns and at the same time provide feedback to the industry from the public perspective. PCP invited the MPAS to give their views on the guidelines for local magazines which we reviewed in context of our guidelines. At these meetings we also shared with the industry why and how PCP arrived at the decisions.

PCP started the Chinese sub-committee to review Chinese publications. The Chinese sub-committee was particularly effective in surfacing specific issues related to Chinese publications. The meeting with editors of Shinmin Daily and Lianhe Wan Bao (Singapore’s Chinese newspapers) was held by the Chinese Sub-Committee.

We had an average of 14 email correspondence per annum. The Panel itself, made up of members drawn from a cross-section of society, representing the different age groups, races, religions and professions, has strong personal convictions. It is an achievement to come to consensual decisions among members amidst strong personal convictions.

Moving forward, the PCP hopes to release a report which will highlight the major topics it had addressed in the course of a term of office. This will enable the public to better understand the committee's role and contributions.

INSIDE: In your view, how has the PCP contributed towards in being the voice of the community in content decisions? Do you think it has succeeded in its effort? What more can be done?

NAIR: The issue of publication content management is a dynamic one. The Committee deals with industry groups that want to push the boundaries; sometimes with articles bordering on pornography, while on the other end of the spectrum is the mainstream group which includes ultra-conservatists. The balance is to reflect the norm for a family-focused, religiously and racially guided Asian society.

As members of the PCP are representatives of the community, we share our views as individuals and members of the society. In addition, we hear the views of the other members of society as feedback and through the various surveys and focus groups conducted by the MDA.

I am not sure how we measure success in PCP’s work. But certainly, it is a pro-active panel. PCP, for example, highlights public concerns to MDA and the industry. It has provided the public perspective for the review of content guidelines for publications and had advised MDA on controversial content in Publications which include adult interest magazines, books and religious books.

PCP reviewed the detained song “Mary Jane” by Rick James, which was disallowed in 1979 for drug reference, namely the words “yellow submarine”. On the request from Universal Music, the detention on the song was lifted after majority of the members felt that modern listeners were not likely to understand “yellow submarine” as a reference to drugs. MDA subsequently allowed the song with the “Consumer Advice” label.

PCP also discussed a complaint on a Carl’s Jr Advertisement found in MRT trains and found it offensive and unacceptable for their overt sexual imagery. Based on PCP's feedback, MDA worked with the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) to issue an advisory to the advertiser and advised SMRT and SBS Transit on the public sensitivities surrounding the advertisements.

As feedback to publishers, PCP would express concerns over reports, for example, in Shinmin Daily and Lianhe Wanbao about prostitution, inappropriate behaviour of teenagers and articles on gambling and black magic which were conveyed to the editors who took note of the feedback. MDA would convey PCP’s concern to the editors while allowing the controversial newspaper articles.

INSIDE: The publications industry is largely self-regulated. Why do you think self-regulation is an important pillar of content regulation?

NAIR: This is a creative industry. It employs a large number of people who have a cosmopolitan and international outlook. Consequently, there will be a tendency for an overseas “sub-culture” content to be imposed prematurely on Singapore’s societal norm.

This is where the self-regulation intersects: allow niche and the sub-cultures but not at the expense of pushing out mainstream values. Looking ahead, protection of the young and the vulnerable is necessary and the best option is through education of consumers and industry. Industry self-regulation and co-regulation are also viable options in nurturing a socially responsible publication industry that would contribute to the progress and social well-being of Singapore. At the same time, it would also enable a vibrant publishing industry with greater freedom in creativity and flexibility which in turn would translate into wider choice for the consumer.

INSIDE: Why is content self-regulation especially important in an Internet Age?

NAIR: A favourite argument is that niche and sub-culture content are found in the public domain via the Internet. So why not make the same content available in publications? There is a distinct difference. The difference is that you “pull” the content in the privacy of, say, your home. It is not “pushed” to the public by distributing via public outlets like the bookstore, which are visited by families, especially young children.

INSIDE: You mentioned protection of the young. How does the PCP help balance the interests of this young and growing generation known as Generation Y, who would most likely want these overseas “sub-culture” content, and the need to protect family / societal values?

NAIR: The PCP believes that it is important to continue to uphold strong traditional family and moral values. But the Panel, which comprises some 50 members from a cross section of society, presenting various races, religions, age groups, also recognises societal changes. The calls for greater choice in media content from the public, in particular the Millennials or Gen Y, have seen the MDA making moves to relaxing its rules and schemes to do just that. So for example in 2004, MDA consulted the PCP in its move to allow adult-interest magazines like Cosmopolitan. The PCP therefore viewed Cosmopolitan in the light of societal change.

The PCP believes that it is important to continue to uphold strong traditional family and moral values. But the Panel, which comprises some 50 members from a cross section of society, presenting various races, religions, age groups, also recognises societal changes. The calls for greater choice in media content from the public, in particular the Millennials or Gen Y, have seen the MDA making moves to relaxing its rules and schemes to do just that. So for example in 2004, MDA consulted the PCP in its move to allow adult-interest magazines like Cosmopolitan. The PCP therefore viewed Cosmopolitan in the light of societal change.

Actually the distinction on balance is between private and personal values or interests. Whatever is private should stay private and within the small group, and should not migrate to the mainstream, influencing community and societal values.

On distribution, PCP differentiates between the public domain (bookshops, petrol stations and so on) from the privacy of a club or a home. So, we recommended that these publications be shrink-wrapped when they are in the public domain but once opened at home or distributed to friends, it is a personal option, a private decision.

INSIDE: In your seven years of involvement with PCP, how has the experience been and what else will the PCP be working on?

NAIR: My experience has been very fulfilling and I think I learn a lot more from my Panel during my tenure. They are very articulate, well attuned to different publications and often divergent in their views. So it is challenging to take these views, arrive at a consensus and submit our views to MDA.

Earlier on, we did have individuals who disagreed and made personal comments on other people’s differing views. But I put a stop to that, ensuring that there should be personal attacks. Over the years, we have a healthy respect for one another’s differing views.

Together with very capable Vice-Chairmen, Mr Charles Ho Nai Chuen, CEO of On Cheong Company Pte Ltd and Mr Edward D’Silva, Architect/Director of SAA Architects, we share deep and meaningful discussions within the Panel and with external parties.

The work at PCP highlights the delicate balance between progress, modernity, creativity with traditional and deeply embedded cultural values. Essentially, we are an Asian Society with a cosmopolitan outlook.

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