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Mind control over gov’t matters

Media used to raise awareness of issues

While outsiders may scoff at the city-state’s ban on chewing gum, first-time visitors can’t help but marvel at (and even envy) the cleanliness of Singapore’s streets. And the government makes no apologies for the way it’s able to get things done.

No sooner is an initiative announced than the media are utilized to raise awareness of the issue in hand.

Take public transportation. With car ownership a status symbol among the upwardly mobile — its prohibitive cost proving an incentive to conspicuous consumption rather than a deterrent — Singaporeans need to be encouraged to use the excellent and cheap public transport system. The answer, it would appear, is Chinese-language foodie show “Where the Bus Stops.” Featuring Singapore’s favorite topic — food — popular celebrities take public buses to food centers islandwide in order to sample local fare.

Similarly, Singapore is having difficulty recruiting for its massive maritime industry — which accounted for 7% of the country’s GDP in 2005. In an exercise in product placement of epic proportions, top local stars are placed within the product — a 21-episode Chinese-language drama series “The Peak,” set in the world’s busiest port and sponsored by Keppel Corp.

It’s a huge industry, but it lacks PR. “This 21-episode series is the first in Singapore’s television history to showcase this industry,” according to the show’s promo materials, presenting the individual life experiences of those who work at the port.

Its effectiveness in attracting talent into the shipping industry is as yet unmeasured, but its sexy cast of Christopher Lee, Qi Yuwu, Elvin Ng, Jeanette Aw, Dawn Yeoh and Ben Yeo helped pull in roughly 1 million viewers for the show’s primetime debut on MediaCorp Channel 8 on Jan. 8.

In some cases, government initiatives can even help push the boundaries of censorship, as charismatic Dr. Love (aka Dr. Wei) has found out.

A practicing gynecologist and fertility expert, Wei was responsible for Singapore’s first-ever latenight sexual health program. He also organizes singles and fantasy parties and holidays, and has launched adult magazine Love Airways. He famously sent scantily clad models on cool Vespa scooters into Singapore’s suburbs to conduct a sex survey, and was in talks with Fremantle to produce reality series “Dr Wei’s Super Baby-Making Show” in which couples race to get pregnant.

Wei’s rationale for such outlandish and saucy initiatives? He had the backing of the Romancing Singapore campaign — to help boost the city-state’s dwindling birth rate.

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