Sep 28 2011
2011 has been a year that have seen the establishment of several milestones that points to a sea change enveloping across our tiny island nation. We saw political evolution at work in both the General Elections, as well as the Presidential Elections. It was clear that Singaporeans want alternatives, and are no longer prepared to unquestioningly adhere to the ‘the government knows best’ brand of governance.
However, change also holds true for me on a personal level; I have come full circle, having left Singapore four years ago to pursue my studies overseas. I was half expecting to resume life in Singapore as it was after this brief hiatus, how wrong was I to delve into such pre-suppositions. Things have been far from the same.
In the after dinner table talks with friends, where conversations of the past used to be about the latest celebrity scandal or the most trivial occurrences amongst our network of friends and acquaintances, the topics have evolved. Topics now ranged from the European debt crisis and the looming double tip recession, to the abolishment of the ISA in Malaysia and what it connotes for us in Singapore. Granted that my circle of friends have went from gullible pre collegiate teens to full fledged working adults, but there was no mistaking the change in tone and vigor of conviction amongst my peers. They believe they have a right to be heard and they will be heard.
So when the story broke on the Social Media about the abrupt cancellation of the award winning “Halloween Nights” by fiat, issued from the top level management of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) and how a team of Singapore Polytechnic (SP) students who were organizing the event for their final year project were left in a lurch, the Social Media Generation went up in arms.
Within hours, the Facebook page of The Online Citizen, a popular Socio-Political blog that posted a link on the cancellation garnered over two hundred comments. The story had begun to take a life of it’s own – with most comments disparaging the managements decision to cancel the event. Some alleged that there was a Christian Fundamentalist hand in the decision, quoting a supposed quote made by a WRS senior management staff to the SP team lambasting Halloween as “devil worship”, and that “we can be creative and turn the bad for good”. Then there was the issue of Isabella Loh, CEO of WRS quoting newly elected President Tony Tan that there should be more “family bonding and wholesome activities” in justifying the cancellation. These comments by Ms. Loh were interpreted by many netizens as suggesting that the decision to cancel Halloween Horrors were influenced by the President’s comments.
Without sounding too much like an apologetic for the management (which I am not), I think both suggestions are a little short on substance. The comment on “devil worship” was alleged by a third party as being made by a senior management staff, but his or her Manichean view of the world do not necessarily represent the views of the management of WRS as a whole. Moreover, President Tony Tan’s comments encouraging more “family centered events” was made in the context of Moon Nights, it is spurious to suggest that it was his comments which directly influenced Miss Loh and the top level management of WRS to scrap Halloween Horrors in its entirety. That said, these comments were symptomatic of individuals imprinting and weaving their personal perceptions into a collective discourse that puts to task the perpetrators of a perceived injustice.
In addition, the press release made by the WRS Management was made without appreciating the temper of our times in where people demanded accountability and flinch at the failure of reason. In substantiating the management’s supposed justification to cancel the event, she cited the reservations from the “Friends of the Zoo and Corporate Partners”. In response to such a justification, an online posting on WRS Facebook page by a user only known as Selamat commented, “this is an outright lie! Show us the negative feedback!” In another posting related to Miss Loh’s claim that she was trying to steer the Night Safari to “have relevance in relation to conversation”, a user only known only as Elna commented “come on, it’s not as if profits earned from the event can’t go into conservation”.
As such, WRS’s press statement instead of emphatically justifying the cancellation of Halloween Horrors has raised more questions than answers. It does not tell us with any good reason why the event was cancelled after more than $1 million was spend, and over a thousand tickets sold. Why, as many netizens reasoned, can’t the event go ahead this year since it was just three weeks away from the event itself? One could always place the event up for review thereafter where any cancellation even on grounds that were offered by WRS would have been more palatable – given that it does not entail the huge wastage in resources, and the efforts put in by the Singapore Polytechnic students would not have come to naught. As such, the failure of reasoning that lead to the cancellation of the event is further exacerbated by a failure in communicating the management’s decision.
Moreover, the WRS Statements offered little solace to the students effected by the cancellation, no backup plan was offered to host the event in an alternative location, nothing but an apology to the students for the abrupt cancellation, and a subsequent assurance that the WRS Management will be meeting with the students. (like who cares!) The only grain of solace came from Member of Parliament, Baey Yam Keng (who is btw unaffiliated with WRS) to host Horror Nights at his Tampines ward instead, a move that was subsequently rejected by Singapore Polytechnic administration.
In my opinion, while the failure in communicating their corporate message is an issue which WRS has to work out on it’s own, what to me is unacceptable is the treatment of the students and the impact it will have in shaping their perceptions towards the society they live in. Is it a perception that we live in a society where creativity and hardwork can be arbitrarily dislodged by corporate fiat, in favor of ‘corporate interests’? Thankfully, many Singaporeans have rallied around these students, and many feel a common sense of ‘disgust’ towards the student’s predicament. In this, the online community has communicated to all self perceive head honchos out there that they will be a communal outcry every time there is an issue that tramples upon their interests and sensibilities. They have a right to be heard, and they will be heard!
If anything, WRS has made a badly timed top-down decision that defies the bounds of logical reasoning. Moreover, it failed to anticipate the huge backlash it will encounter from a discerning public that has been rendered savvier with the availability of the Social Media. It has also failed to align it’s corporate communications with the temper of the times, where the public demands clarity and full disclosure behind management decisions, and will react adversely to spurious justifications and excuses. I believe the series of Corporate Communications released by WRS should be entombed in every Introductory Corporate Comms Textbook as a case in point on how sub standard communiqués result in very bad consequences.
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