The Art of Communication

Effective communication is said to be the pillar of everything we do. Miscommunication has more than often resulted in chaos and unnecessary panic. To ensure Singapore doesn’t suffer such a fate, MICA ensures that the Government conveys its key priorities to its people through a variety of communication channels.

By Eliza Hamizah

When I walked into Bey Mui Leng’s office, she was busy sending out an email to one of the divisions at the Ministry of Health (MOH). After a cheerful hello and a hasty apology, she promised to devote her full attention to us to share more about the Information Service (IS).

“There is so much to share that I wouldn’t do justice to the IS in just half an hour!” Mui Leng laughs.

Smiling, Mui Leng explained that she had been kept busy over the past two days as the Ministry had to conduct a technical briefing on tuberculosis (TB).

“Good information management is key in managing public expectations as rumours and half-truths can lead to unnecessary panic, particularly for issues which impact people’s daily lives,” she notes.

“Information Officers (IOs) like me work closely with the media to educate the public so that they better understand important issues, which in this instance, is health-related,” she adds.

Mui Leng was happy that the media had picked up on the main messages that MOH had wanted to drive across – that TB is a curable disease and early detection and full compliance to treatment will lead to a successful TB control programme.

Such matters are part and parcel of Mui Leng’s job as an IO with the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA). She is currently doing a second stint at MOH where she is concurrently Director of Corporate Communications and the Press Secretary to the Minister for Health.

Despite being in the service for over 15 years, Mui Leng has not lost her enthusiasm and commitment towards the profession. Thanks to her lively disposition and her keen interest in communication work for public issues, she now assembled an impressive and diverse portfolio in public and strategic communications.

Eager to Contribute
Hoping to match that portfolio some day is 22-year-old Matthew Chia who admires the public service and wants to live up to its ethos. “MICA holds an important job of communicating policies to the public and yet, it has a very ‘under-the-radar’ quality which piqued my curiosity and interest. Overall it was a good fit for my inclinations,” quips the Goldsmiths, University of London student.

Eager to start early and get his hands dirty, the Media and Communications major decided to do a short attachment with the Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee. “I spent my time in the PR & Communications department creating publicity materials like posters and torchbearer profiles for the torch relay. During the Games itself, I was posted to the Youth Olympic Village at NTU to assist in on-the-ground media management,” he recalls.

Matthew shared that experiencing the unseen hard work of addressing and mailing out hundreds of letters under the stress of tight deadlines was not easy but worth the effort in the end.

“To actually see all our preparation and publicity efforts come to fruition, and getting to meet athletes and the media, really stood out for me. I was soaking up the buzz in the village and enjoying it all!” he reveals passionately.

Life-Defining Experience
In fact, communication plays an extremely important role in every sector, as Mui Leng would attest to. She has been posted to a few ministries throughout her career, but it was her first posting at MOH that cemented her belief and passion for communication work.

“The year was 2003. It was the year that SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) broke out. My role was to make sure that the public health messages went out in the right manner and that the information provided was accurate,” Mui Leng says.

“The whole situation was rather hectic and chaotic; phones were ringing off the hook and everything was moving rather rapidly. Time was a luxury I did not have. I had to make quick decisions, be independent and most importantly, be accountable for what I did,” she adds, leaning back on her sofa.

The situation was compounded by the uncertainty surrounding the disease information on SARS was quite scant in the early days. Throughout the whole crisis, the Government adopted an open and transparent approach domestically and internationally – keeping the local population and foreign media well-informed and calm.

Mui Leng leans forward and breaks into a smile, “Despite the ambiguity of the situation, Singapore managed to get the ‘all clear’ signal, which meant the disease was under control. I remembered receiving a call from one of the foreign journalists who told me that they were also rooting for Singapore to get the ‘all clear’. I was very touched as it shows how much they really appreciated the open communication.”

New Journeys
In 2009, Mui Leng had the opportunity to further expand her horizons when she attended the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

“This exposure taught me that decision making was not about who speaks the loudest or who donates the most money. It is about finding a solution for the benefit of the world. Managing diplomacy and coming to a consensus is undoubtedly an interesting and intricate process,” Mui Leng says with a laugh.

The most memorable part of the trip was the speech she had to deliver. “My stint at UNGA happened during my secondment to REACH (Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home), the Government’s feedback unit. As REACH had initiated our foray into social media then to better reach out and solicit views of new media-savvy Singaporeans, I decided to share with the Assembly our experiences,” Mui Leng shares.

In fact, new media is a frontier in communication that Matthew wants to capitalise on. Speaking as a representative of Generation Y, which has frequently been associated with the boom of new media, Matthew urges the positive use of alternative media.

“Many netizens often hold strong opinions on issues they would not express through traditional channels and I believe we need to engage with them directly so their views can be heard. I hope to be able to use this and play a role in improving the relationship between the government and the people through better communication practices,” the future media practitioner muses.

Matthew, who is raring to start his career, is excited by the varied nature of communications work and diverse dynamic environments.

“You get to play an integral role in the important task of ensuring policy and messages are communicated clearly within government and to the public. It won’t be monotonous at all!” he concludes.

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