Zee TV and the Creation of Hindi Media Communities in Singapore

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Background to Local Broadcasting of Indian Programmes and Hindi Speaking Indian Communities

Indians form the third significant ethnic community within the multiracial fabric of Singapore. They constitute 9.2 per cent of the Singaporean population out of which 75 per cent are Tamils. Although Hindu influences have been evident in South East Asia since ancient times, Indians are not regarded as indigenous people of Singapore. Indians have migrated and contributed to the Singapore story since its founding days by the British in the early nineteenth century when they arrived as merchants, traders, coolies, auxiliaries to the colonial masters, and plantation workers further north in Malaya. Their presence is marked by the location of Indian ethnic enclaves in Serangoon Road and High Street, acceptance by the state of Tamil as one of the official languages, and their representation in every profession and residential estate in Singapore.

The Indians in Singapore are a heterogeneous community consisting of various sub ethnicities; apart from the Tamils, there are the Bengalis, Gujaratis, Punjabis, Sindhis, and other South Indian communities such as the Malayalees, Telugus, and Kannadigas. Each subethnic group has their own places of worship and social organizations which have been established for decades. Indians are represented as the "I" within the CMIO--Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others--the multiethnic model that has served to classify Singapore's multiracial communities since Independence. Since 1991, a professional pool of Indian nationals, who have been welcomed to Singapore as part of an initiative launched in the early 1990s by the Singapore government to transform the city state into a talent capital amidst the global war for talent, has joined them. These Indian nationals are of the middle class strata and come from a mixed ethnic background. They are not necessarily Tamils and are mostly Hindi speaking since Hindi is the principal official language of India. They might have taken up permanent residency in Singapore but remain largely unassimilated with the Indians who have been in Singapore for generations. They exhibit differing consumption patterns and a unique cultural ethos from the Singaporean Indians.

Since the inception of broadcasting in Singapore, Indians, primarily Tamils, have been given slots or time belts on local channels for Tamil programmes. Television arrived in Singapore in 1963 (Kuo 1999). Radio and Television Singapore (RTS), under the purview of the Ministry of Culture, launched Channel 5 which televised English and Malay programmes and Channel 8 featuring Mandarin and Tamil programmes. In 1980, RTS was revamped into the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, SBC. The transformation into SBC meant the beginning of locally produced programmes. In October 1994, SBC was corporatized to become Singapore International Media out of which Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS) formed a section. TCS operated Channel 5, the English language channel, and Channel 8, the Chinese language channel, while Television Twelve owned and managed Premier 12 consisting of Malay and Indian language programmes. Currently, Media Corp handles local television programming and it has allocated a channel, Vasantham Central, for the televising of Indian programmes consisting mainly of local Tamil productions and Tamil films from India.

Although it seems that 75 per cent of the Singaporean Indian population is represented in local media, the non Tamil speaking Indian communities of Singapore, primarily in reference to the North Indian communities, remain alienated from the broadcasting of local Indian programmes. They do not understand the Tamil language and do not relate to the South Indian cultural ethos depicted in Tamil programmes. They may have viewed Tamil programmes, reading the English subtitles where they were available, to fill the gap or lack of Hindi language programmes, but preferred English programmes for entertainment if they were English educated. …