Singapore election: How COVID-19 is reshaping local political news coverage and campaigning
The dissolution of Singapore’s parliament triggered a two-week campaign period as the city-state heads for a general election on July 10. Here we discuss how digital platforms, social live broadcasting and virtual rallies may be the future of political coverage.
As Singapore begins to move out of its strict social isolation measures, its political candidates and news broadcasters have faced an unprecedented election period.
With lockdown measures still prohibiting large gatherings of people, candidates are now turning to digital platforms to reach their electorate, which has encouraged new ideas for political debate, new formats for younger audiences and much more multi-platform engagement than ever before. This is welcome news for local media but presents new challenges in providing coverage for local voters in real-time.
Support from afar
Remaining vigilant and pragmatic as the country emerges from Covid-19 challenges, Singapore’s Elections Department announced a raft of new campaign regulations for ensuring candidates and voters can remain safe and healthy throughout the election fortnight. With large gatherings of people prohibited, voters are being encouraged and advised to follow proceedings online with social media engagement at the heart of political party strategies.
The Singapore government also announced that all candidates will have significantly more time on its public free-to-air (FTA) TV and radio channels to reach voters and debate key issues as the country emerges from the greatest threat to its economic growth prospects.
Every day we are seeing more digital live production, hotly contested online conversations and brand new TV formats for senior ministers to debate key topics. The combination of people staying at home and increased audience demand has seen the rise of new content ideas, increased access to ministers and more accountability.
Without the opportunity to host large gatherings for their supporters, which has been part of the fabric of political campaigning for 50 years, Singapore’s candidates are spending much of their campaign producing video content to put their message across to voters across multiple platforms.
Increased political awareness, via digital platforms
With no public gatherings, how can candidates connect with their voters?
While TV broadcasts reach a broad demographic of people, social media and social live broadcasts can enhance it. They are an effective way of creating a very community-focused experience and have grown in popularity among Singapore’s political landscape in recent times.
Creating participatory content by using live polls and social comments is more compelling, as broadcast hosts can directly engage with Singaporean audiences and bring important political themes to life for younger demographics. For news organizations like Mediacorp or Singapore Press Holdings, this is helping to guide their election coverage and make important editorial decisions on the issues most important to audiences on different platforms. For candidates, it’s providing diverse opportunities to connect with voters and receive feedback in real-time, tracking their impact and shaping their messaging.
Hosting social live broadcasts can enable both news organizations and political parties to reach larger audiences than physical rallies or community gatherings without sacrificing the communal nature of these events.
In the current COVID-19 environment, political parties, local media, bloggers and influencers have adopted new technology and workflows. The rise in digital production and live streaming provides a safe and innovative way to disseminate information with the right tonality specific to each platform. Moving forward it is likely to remain a key weapon for political news coverage and campaigning beyond this election.
Digital video moves into the mainstream
In Singapore, free-to-air television remains highly popular and is an authority platform for local coverage. However increasingly, content is being curated and designed differently to be more engaging for digital audiences, as voters turn heavily to social platforms for news and more independent viewpoints.
For a country with smartphone penetration nearing 100%, social media is more accessible, across various devices, and more convenient even for older demographics as content can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Content consumption available in real-time is now a baseline expectation for people of all ages compared to previous elections.
Across social media platforms, which operate on an advertising-based model, impactful content varies from platform to platform. Singapore’s most used platforms include YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, and successful content strategies across these differ in subtle ways meaning local news publishers have been under pressure to adopt new technology and optimize their content for viewing on different platforms.
YouTube audiences are more likely to watch longer videos and live streams, while expecting high-production value, well-produced content. On Facebook, audiences want sharable content, shorter-form video clips and highlights, while retaining high-production quality. Instagram audiences look for more raw video content, shot in personal ways such as on a smartphone selfie camera, that brings them very close to the content.
The real-time, always-on nature of social media means that being first to market with live content positions a channel as the primary destination for news and is helping local media engage larger audiences across the country. In Singapore’s TV and radio broadcasters, this is more prominent than it ever and has increased voter participation via new content formats online. For political parties in Singapore, the key so far has been to focus strongly on grabbing the attention of all audiences with a well-executed multi-platform strategy.
Those outside Singapore will watch with a vested eye on how some of these new initiatives will work in a country with a multi-cultural backdrop and a louder than ever-younger demographic that want to have more say in political debates. More so than anything else, Singapore will showcase many digital-first strategies as a way forward for local political coverage.
Depending on how long social isolation or border measures are in place across Asia there may be valuable lessons for other regional news broadcasters and political parties on how best to reach local audiences who are gaining more confidence to debate key political issues in the right formats via the right platforms.
For more information on how we can help equip you with the tools to deliver digital and social live broadcasts, get in touch.
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