NAC: Today's article on LGBTQ arts performance 'misleading', quotes CEO 'out of context' for own 'assertions'

NAC said that it is "deeply disappointed" that the article was not corrected even after NAC clarified its position.

Syahindah Ishak | October 05, 2023, 10:33 PM



An "unplanned doorstop interview" with National Arts Council (NAC) chief executive officer Low Eng Teong by Today about a queer-themed arts performance has led to a back and forth between the statutory board and news outlet.

NAC released two statements in one week, claiming Today's article on Sep. 30, 2023, which carried the interview, "misrepresented" comments made by the NAC CEO.

In its latest statement on Oct. 5, 2023, NAC even characterised the article as a "blatantly misleading piece of journalism".

What happened

Original article by Today (Sep. 30, 2023)

Today published an article on Sep. 30, 2023, reporting on a queer-themed arts performance commissioned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Nanyang Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art (NTU CCA) Singapore.

The article was originally published with the headline, "LGBTQ-themed arts performances in public spaces in line with the times: National Arts Council Chief".

The body of the article quoted some comments from Low to allude to the public that they can expect more art performances that touch on LGBTQ themes.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

  1. "In line with the times, the public can expect arts performances that touch on themes relating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. This is because artists naturally explore a wide range of topics and will always produce work that 'speaks to our times', said National Arts Council (NAC) chief executive officer Low Eng Teong, who was attending the anniversary event as a guest of honour. He was speaking to TODAY on the sidelines."
  2. "Asked by TODAY about the significance of having arts performances with LGBTQ themes in public spaces and educational institutions, Mr Low said that regardless of where such performances are held, 'artists explore all types of topics and themes and issues in their work, so I think that is something that is to be expected, in (that) artists will always want to make work that speaks to our times.'"

The article's headline has since been amended to "LGBTQ-themed arts performances in public spaces in line with the times, says arts community".

An editor's note is also appended at the end of the article, stating, "This article has been amended to better reflect the views of those interviewed."

NAC's first statement (Oct. 1, 2023)

A day after the article was published, NAC released a statement saying that Today's article "misreports the comments" given by Low.

"[Low's] responses were taken out of context by the journalist and juxtaposed with other parts of the article written by the journalist. As a result, the article is misleading, at least in relation to the portions which quote or refer to Mr Low."

NAC also clarified that Low, who was guest-of-honour at the NTU CCA event, was approached at the sidelines by the Today journalist and was "asked expressly" if there will be more LGBTQ pieces in Singapore's educational institutions and public spaces.

"Mr Low did not answer this question. Instead, Mr Low observed that artists are continuously exploring and making works in response to different topics and themes that speak to our times, and the present context of our society.

It is thus misleading for the article to cite Mr Low as basis for one of the main points of the article, that 'LGBTQ-themed arts performances in public spaces in line with the times'. This attribution also appeared in the headline of the article, which was misleading."

NAC added that it takes a "measured and calibrated" approach to performances that "touch on issues that are not widely accepted as the norms of our broader society, or might serve to create conflict or misunderstanding in our multicultural and multi-religious society".

NAC also said that it had sought clarifications with Today and noted that the article's headline was amended.

"Notwithstanding, NAC has issued this statement to make clear its position as it remains important for NAC to express its intentions clearly and independently," it said.

Today's response to NAC's first statement (Oct. 2, 2023)

The following day, Today published a separate article with the headline, "TODAY responds to National Arts Council statement on article about LGBTQ-themed arts performance".

According to Today, NAC reached out to the news outlet several hours after publishing the original article, asking for the headline "to be changed so as not to angle on Mr Low".

Today said it agreed to use a headline that "captured a broader set of views" and added an editor's note to the original article to alert readers to the change.

Today also released a transcript of the interview between its journalist and Low to "allow readers to judge for themselves".

The transcript can be read at the bottom of the article.

NAC's second statement (Oct. 5, 2023)

On Oct. 5, 2023, NAC and NTU each released statements on the matter.

NAC said that Today's response article, along with the interview transcript, "underscores" the point made in its earlier statement.

"Mr Low was the Guest of Honour at NTU CCA's 10th Anniversary celebration. The TODAY journalist approached him for an unplanned doorstop interview at the sidelines of the event.

Mr Low was asked about the work in question, Queer-tai. He replied that he had not seen this performance."

NAC added that the Today journalist asked Low a series of "leading questions" on "having more LGBTQ-themed art pieces".

NAC said that Low's reply did not refer to LGBTQ issues and instead made broad observations that "artists will want to create work that speaks to our times", said NAC.

"This typically characterises the work of contemporary artists, and the event at hand was a contemporary arts event. It also bears noting that the NTU CCA's 10th anniversary celebrations included a series of other performances over a three-day period. Other than Queer-tai, none had LGBTQ themes.

Pressed further specifically about the event being held at NTU CCA, Mr Low did not answer and referred the journalist to the Director of NTU CCA."

"All this is clear from the transcript of the interview," NAC added, reiterating that Today's original article is "entirely misleading".

"After the NAC clarified its position, TODAY changed the headline, but the text of the article continues to cite what Mr Low said, taken out of context, as the basis for asserting that the public can expect more arts performances that touch on LGBTQ themes.

This is entirely misleading and completely misrepresents Mr Low's position."

NAC clarified that its statement is "not an objection to arts performances with an LGBTQ theme per se".

It said that it has a "clear and consistent position" on how such performances can be staged, which was reiterated in its earlier statement.

"What we cannot accept is TODAY seeking to use Mr Low’s responses as the basis of its own assertions.

We are deeply disappointed that the article misrepresented NAC’s position and misled readers on the matter, and that this was not corrected even after NAC clarified its position, and that NAC has needed to take further steps to correct the public record and rebut a blatantly misleading piece of journalism."

NTU's statement (Oct. 5, 2023)

In a statement on its website, NTU said that it "maintains its policies and position to reflect widely accepted social norms and practices in Singapore".

The university will also review its internal processes following this incident.

Here is NTU's full statement.

"As part of its 10th anniversary celebration, the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA Singapore) commissioned five performances to bring together its past Artists-in-Residence and other stakeholders over several days.

On 29 Sep, there were two performances. During one of the performances, Queer-Tai, one performer was on stage in drag attire. Given the sensitivities associated with the said performance, it should not have been staged as a public event.

As a higher education institution, the University maintains its policies and position to reflect widely accepted social norms and practices in Singapore. NTU will review its internal processes after this incident."

Today declined to comment when Mothership reached out to them.

Top images via Today & NAC's websites.