ASEAN Chairmanship: Behind The Scenes With The MCI

Find out how a team of officers from the Ministry of Communications and Information made it smooth sailing for visiting media to cover the ASEAN summit.
Illustration of four Public Service Officers
From left to right: Officers Luai Han Jing, Nurul Sufina Adam, Regina Tan and Chandel Lim from the MCI ensured foreign media had easy access to information.

A country’s reputation is built in many different ways. During the 33rd ASEAN Summit in November 2018, it was up to the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to give visiting media a good experience in Singapore.

Held twice a year, the ASEAN Summits bring together all 10 ASEAN member countries and other world leaders to discuss regional and international issues.

The 33rd ASEAN Summit was the culmination of Singapore’s Chairmanship year, an event to showcase ASEAN’s progress on many fronts, such as regional economic integration, cybersecurity and digitalisation.

The MFA, as the lead agency, coordinated the programmes, security, hospitality and logistics for key ASEAN meetings held here. Together with the MFA, the MCI managed almost 1,000 foreign media professionals travelling to Singapore to cover these key meetings.

Multiple channels of information

Preparations began in 2017. The main priority was to keep the media well informed. To anticipate and address the concerns of the media, the MCI team drew from their own experiences travelling to other countries for similar large-scale events.

Ms Nurul Sufina Adam, the overall coordinator for media liaison officers, recalled an incident overseas: affected by a roadblock, her team was late to their destination (but thankfully, missed no media events). On another occasion, the media team’s vehicle lacked the accreditation to enter a conference venue, and they had to continue on foot.

To prevent such issues, the MCI team created multiple channels for the media to get important information: a media handbook, a Telegram channel to broadcast updates, and even a video with directions to and within the media centre.

Each visiting country was also assigned its own Host Media Liaison Officer (who could speak the country’s national language, if possible) to address any queries. This is an uncommon practice for similar events in other countries, the MCI team said.

We learned to be a lot more flexible and innovative. Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it has to be the same now.

Seeing from another point of view

Ms Chandel Lim, who handled media and communications engagement, said putting themselves in the media’s shoes helped them better anticipate and address the media’s requirements.

No detail was left unturned. The MCI team considered the technical aspects at event venues, such as audio equipment and camera angles, working closely with the MFA on infrastructure requirements at meeting venues.

Before each meeting, the MCI team briefed the visiting media on the sequence of events and where country leaders would stand – the media found such details useful for preparing their stories and for accurate photo captions, Ms Lim said.

The same thinking process led to the media centre being “co-located” with the ASEAN Summit conference venue.

Location matters

Placing the media centre and conference venue so closely meant more security considerations had to be overcome. But the MCI team found from past ASEAN events that doing so would be valuable.

Earlier in the year, other events with the media centre far away from the conference venue created several logistical and security concerns.

“With road closures, the media had to report very early, sometimes up to three hours before,” said Ms Regina Tan, who handled media operations. This significantly cut into the media’s time to work on their stories, and could complicate media movements if there were delays in the day’s programme.

A previous event with the media centre placed near the conference venue relieved several pain points, but media crew struggled to bring large pieces of equipment through security.

The MCI’s push for co-location paid off. The media were happy to be close to the centre of the action, said Mr Luai Han Jing, who oversaw the media accreditation and media centre set-up.

Rethinking procedures

After a year running different events, the MCI team’s biggest learning point was to strive for a common consensus among various parties with differing perspectives, to reach a “win-win” solution for all.

“We learned to be a lot more flexible and innovative in our approach. Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it has to be the same now,” said Ms Sufina. Micro-managing the movements of different groups, for instance, proved to be unnecessary.

Empathy was also important. After all, “the media work really hard and travel so far to come to Singapore, do you want to make life difficult for them?” said Mr Luai.

He was particularly grateful for the can-do spirit from his team, no matter the challenges. For example, corresponding with the Chilean media team was challenging due to language differences. By the time the Chilean media sent over their documents for accreditation, the media team was already on a plane to Singapore. However, the documents were completed entirely in Spanish.

Thankfully, one of MCI’s media liaison officers could read Spanish, and could translate the documents within an hour to get the Chilean media accredited in time, to everyone’s relief.

This was outside the officer’s job scope, said Mr Luai, but “Singapore’s reputation has always been set at a certain standard”, which visiting media have come to expect.

It will be another decade before Singapore becomes ASEAN Chair again and a new team of public officers rises up to the challenge. The needs will likely be different, Ms Tan said. Nonetheless, she hopes that “the next group will find some of our lessons useful”.

    Mar 5, 2019
    Fiona Liaw
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