The debut edition of the Media Investors’ Summit conference in Singapore on Thursday made morals, not money, its centerpiece.
“A failure to address the lack of ethics can come back to bite us commercially,” said noted Singapore producer Chan Gin Kai, who was also one of the co-organizers, along with lawyer Ling Teo and producer Justin Deimen.
The event was put together in recent days by Southeast Asian Audio-Visual Association and held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Center, on the sidelines of the Singapore Media Festival. Attendees included 20th Century Fox’s Kurt Rieder, Astro Shaw’s Najwa Abu Bakar Reliance Entertainment’s Druv Sinha, and Hooq TV’s Jennifer Batty.
Moral weakness has been highlighted in recent weeks by the rolling Harvey Weinstein scandal, and expanding waves of other sex harassment revelations in the U.S. and European media and entertainment industries. Chan suggested that Asia has numerous other areas to address, as well. They include: stuntmen dying on set, a culture of overwork, animals tortured for the sake of entertainment, sexist jokes, racist jokes and glorified violence.
In the weeks following the Weinstein meltdown, Asia has yet to throw up a full-blown entertainment sex scandal of its own. That is mostly because of the Asian culture of sweeping scandals under the carpet in the interest of societal harmony, rather than an absence of abuse. “All quiet in Asia? The problem is as bad, if not worse,” said one speaker.
The centerpiece was a treatise on sexual harassment, given by Sreyashi Sen, founder and MD of Singapore-based film distributor Darpan. She began with the example of being woken up by a business partner at 2am asking what color underwear she was wearing. She continued with a list of gropings and lewd photo messages.
“As the only woman in direct hands-on distribution in Asia, in a very, very male part of the business, I have lost count how many kinds and ways it has been a violation of my being,” she said.
Sen and others made it clear that abuse goes beyond unwanted sexual contact, and extends into a male-dominated structure of doing business. “I have been excluded from major decisions in consultancies the deals and connections were mine. Meetings and coverage carefully had my name missing. I have told by people within the Singapore industry, why as a woman, I am looking at buying and distributing the mainstream, big films. I should let the male distributors do that,” she said. “Discrimination goes way beyond the skin beneath the clothes.”
Sen also introduced the concept of “sticky floors.” “Women don’t just face glass ceilings to advancement, but are also stuck to domestic images and day to day normative behaviors,” she said. “I want us to help women, not punish men.” Her speech drew warm applause from an audience that appeared momentarily to have been plunged into thought.
Other speakers included Abhi Restogi of 100 Media and Sherman Ong from Salt Media. Having joined the entertainment industry from other investment disciplines, they suggested that film and TV have in-built structures which emerge from a culture of glitz and glamour, but which should be questioned. They include excessive expenses, unwarranted up-front fees, narcissm, disproportionate perks, and IP theft.
On the other side of the deal, media investors are often lazy or unwilling to ask too many questions. “We are morally complicit. We cannot pretend that we don’t know what is going on,” said Chan.
Despite the catalog of wrongs, Chan and others suggested that media investors have the ability to affect change for good. “Power lies with companies in how we spend and how we invest,” said Chan.