Singapore media has held companies to account for the haze with help from social media: MP Louis Ng

MP Louis Ng talks to the media at Orchard Gateway

Louis Ng addresses the media at the opening of a wildlife art exhibition

Singapore’s mainstream media has held corporations to account for their responsibility for the haze, with the help of social media, a Singaporean politician has said.

Speaking to Mumbrella at the opening of an art exhibition to raise funds for projects to fight the haze – poor air quality caused by burning Indonesian rainforest land to make way for palm oil plantations – Louis Ng, a PAP politician and founder of animal activism group ACRES, said that local coverage of the removal of Asia Pulp & Paper products from the shelves of a supermarket chain was an example of how the mainstream media’s reporting had informed Singaporean consumers of the role they play in what the UK’s Guardian newspaper recently described as a “crime against humanity.”

“I think if you look at the mainstream media now, they’ve covered it [the haze] from one angle. What complements it is social media,” Ng said in response to a question about how well the mainstream media had investigated the haze and its causes.

“Social media is covering the other angle, and if you add them together, you get complete coverage. I don’t think there’s anything that you can hide in today’s world,” said Ng, who co-founded ACRES 14 years ago and moved into politics as an MP for Singapore’s ruling party earlier this year.

When asked if the local press had done enough investigative journalism into Singapore-based companies that trade in and buy palm oil, Ng said: “I think they have, with Asia Pulp & Paper as an example,” said Ng, referring to the media’s coverage of three local supermarkets that removed APP products from their shelves after the paper giant’s right to use environmentally friendly labelling was suspended.

“It was the media that listed all the different products [that use palm oil, and so contribute to the haze]. So, the government took one stand, saying these are the companies that we’ll serve a letter to, to ask for information. Then the media played the investigative role to list all the different products, which then made consumers aware that, ok, if I buy this it has a direct impact on the haze,” he said.

“Which in turn with consumer pressure forces companies to say we’ll not sell this anymore, and voluntarily remove it from their shelves,” he said.

“And I think if you look at that whole cycle, that’s exactly the way things should happen. The government does one part, which is really always the grass routes part, and I’d said that is always the key.”

Legislation works only so fast, Ng added. “Grass routes work or activism usually works much faster,” he said.

“In this case we didn’t need to say Asia Pulp & Paper products are illegal to sell in Singapore. Consumers played that role. And companies responded very quickly. And I think it was NTUC [Fairprice, the supermarket chain] that was the first to say we’re going to remove them [APP] from the shelves and then Cold Storage followed.”

During his speech at the opening of a 10-day wildlife art exhibition at Orchard Gateway to raise funds for WWF Singapore and WildAid Shark, Ng highlighted the role of the consumer as the most powerful actor in tackle the causes of the haze.

Are Singaporeans aware of and care about the role they play in contributing to the haze by buying products that contain palm oil? Ng said that among generation Y “the absolute majority are concerned” and that awareness of the issue is at an “all-time high”.

Louis Ng's Facebook postTo illustrate his point about the role of the social media in creating change in Singapore, Ng used as an example a picture of a man using a fishing hook to bait otters he posted on Facebook. “I put his photo up online. Within a couple of hours he had surrendered to the police,” he said.

“That happened, number one, because people were aware and concerned. And that awareness and shared concern led to people finding this person. So there can be justice,” he said.

The challenge of tackling the haze and issues that surround it has moved on from raising consumer awareness, Ng suggested. “It’s now about giving people something to do.”

“We can say if you buy a painting this will help the wildlife in Indonesia. You can volunteer and make a difference. It’s a matter of channeling people to do something,” he said.

“Increasingly, I’m seeing that the minute we give people something to do – an action to take – change comes very quickly,” he said, then referred to what he described as a “turning point” in public opinion on sharks fin after a distributor for NTUC Fairprice wrote “Screw the divers!” in a social media post promoting a new sharks fin product to go on sale at Fairprice outlets for Chinese New Year. After the post went viral, the supermarket said it would take sharks fin products off its shelves.

The removal of APP products from NTUC Fairprice shelves came as a PR blow for the Indonesian paper giant, which in 2013 pledged to stop clearing indigenous Indonesian rainforest after years of pressure from green groups, a pledge that was greeted with cautious optimism.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing