An article from The Straits Times April 16th 2008
A gag order on the winner of Contender Asia after the finale in this Internet age makes everybody look stupid
Tay Yek Keak
I WENT to watch a very exciting Muay Thai boxing match last Saturday night and I am dying to tell you who won. But I simply cannot reveal the winner in the final of The Contender Asia, the reality TV series shot in Singapore.
The show is a take-off from The Contender in the United States, the reality boxing series created by Mark Burnett, and there’s a gag order from the producers imposed on me as a member of the media.
I signed a non-disclosure form, and if I were to reveal the winner, I think I might be sued until my trousers are reduced to boxer shorts.
The media is embargoed for 12 eternal days until April 24, after the final show of the series – meaning the battle I saw – is shown to TV audiences the night before.
The series is currently running weekly on cable’s AXN channel and will reach its final episode only next Wednesday.
Here’s the ridiculous thing: I wasn’t the only one privy to this super secret because there were about 6,000 other people around me, all presumably fight fans, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
And since Saturday, they’d probably have told their pals, their colleagues, their families, basically anybody interested to know, until that result is now ancient history.
And if people want to see the bout with their own eyes, versions of it from multiple angles, are probably available on YouTube, blogs, chat rooms, or whatever nook, cranny and hole in the Internet anyone feels compelled to log on to.
A friend of mine shot a minute’s footage of that grand final between Thailand’s Yodsanklai Fairtex and Australia’s John Wayne Parr (I can tell you who fought who, but not who won) and posted it on YouTube. She received six hits in a jiffy, with some begging for more action.
I’m guessing here but I believe somebody somewhere is bound to have shot the entire thing with his camera phone and may already have turned it into a personal music video.
Here’s the point of my grouse regarding this silly act of non-disclosure.
In today’s free-wheeling, no-control, anyone-can-shoot circus of the new media this day and age, where even distant wars can be filmed and uploaded into cyberspace for instant broadcast, gagging the traditional old media is like Adam covering up Eve with a fig leaf. It’ll drop off the minute he turns away.
In journalism, there are two great unchained wolves – the truth and the result – which people just want to know immediately right now, ideally yesterday.
Now, I can understand the anxiety of The Contender Asia people to keep their grand final result under wraps until the absolute last episode for ratings purposes.
But this condition they’ve imposed is just plain dumb and clumsy.
To satisfy my curiosity, I checked and found out that in the US, the big finals of The Contender series were apparently staged at arenas and shown live on TV there.
People, it would seem, weren’t told to shut up over there.
I didn’t see it but I was informed that the finale of the second season was shown live by AXN here.
I also learnt that in the taping of the pre-recorded shows of The Contender Asia, where elimination bouts were held to smaller groups of spectators here who were later seen on TV, those folks were committed to non-disclosure agreements too.
So, okay, there is a consistency to the method. But here’s the big difference. About 250 people in a warehouse is not the same as a gathering of 6,000 people in a stadium.
You can’t ignore the fact that the elephant is infinitely bigger than the mouse and has space for more camera phones, video cameras and mouths that just talk and talk.
Here’s the problem of the concept of the reality show which relies on the result being kept secret until screening day – it has a schedule to follow but it also wants to have a live audience to rev up the excitement.
So it makes the media take an unworkable vow when the producers want to have its cake and eat it too.
Telecasting “live” would burst the budget and kill crucial editing time which would make the show slicker. I realise that. But my thinking is that it’s better to let everybody know and build up the anticipation and mileage for the series in a different way instead of hoping nobody notices that everybody knows.
One cannot turn away from or imagine the speed, efficiency and the uncontrollable wreck which is the express train of today’s news.
It is instantaneous and it doesn’t stop. It can stop wars, start conflicts, bring down dictators and end tyranny.
What’s a little fight between two fellows to this information onslaught?
Asking a guy with a pen to censor himself in the face of the obvious and the already known is like the ostrich sticking its head into the sand.
It makes everybody look stupid.