SINGAPORE: In his speech on proposed budget cuts during the Committee of Supply debates for the Ministry of Communications and Information on Tuesday (Feb 28), Workers’ Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) argued that taxes should not be used in funding government advertising aimed to make people “feel good” or think positively of the government.
The funds allocated by the government should instead be spent on driving behaviours, for example, adopting healthier habits or using schemes, Mr Perera said.
Noting that the amount the government spent on advertising “may have been well over $100 million,” Mr Perera brought up two points: the concerns expressed over an SGAG Instagram post that had only been labelled “#sp,” and that while there’s the public interest served in government advertising, this is not always the case.
The Aljunied GRC MP was likely referring to a report in January from Wake Up, Singapore, saying that SGAG does sponsor posts for the government, but the only hashtag to show this had been an #sp hashtag at the tail-end of the caption, which did not clearly show who had sponsored the post.
As for his second point, Mr Perera wrote that when government advertising nudges citizens to do beneficial things, such as taking up health habits or applying for a useful scheme, the public interest is served.
“But some advertising seems to not embody a nudging intent. Some ads seem to be aimed more at fostering ‘feel good’ vibes towards an agency; and some even seem aimed at persuading the public to see the government in a good light, with no clear public interest served in terms of ultimately nudging positive behaviours,” he added.
He referred to an example given by Progress Singapore Party NCMPs Mr Leong Mun Wai and Ms Hazel Poa, an advertisement aimed to persuade people that “We are committed to keeping HDB flats affordable and accessible for Singaporeans” and presents various factoids about BTO launches and prices.
Mr Perera questioned the public interest served by the ad, saying it seemed to be more aimed to persuade people that “the government is doing a good job keeping housing affordable and accessible, which is an opinion about public policy and politics.”
“Surely the best way to establish trust is good service delivery and surely that trust cannot be bought with advertising,” said Mr Perera, adding, “So as to free up more revenue for the Budget, I would suggest that ads be run only where there is a measurable behavioural pay-off.
A return on investment test should be applied. Revenue should not be spent on ads that generate feel-good vibes or which aim to persuade people that the government is doing a good job. The latter is more akin to political advertising and should not be funded with public money.”
Mr Perera’s speech, where he also argued for stronger action to be taken against “greenwashing” or exaggerated environment claims in advertising, may be viewed in full here. /TISG
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