Power list 2014: Passion and power

Power list 2014: Passion and power
Two of the three titles taken off the shelves by the National Library Board.

Some earned their position through wealth, new properties or takeovers. For others on the Power List 2014, it was about soft power or even people power.

Created in 2005, the annual list is our take on the year in review - those who have grabbed the public's attention, strengthened Singapore's position on the world stage and inspired others to act.

Many of these movers and shakers have their name in lights for their prominence in their respective industries and their ripple effects well beyond Singapore shores.

Helmed by chief executive officer Melvin Ang, mm2 Asia (No. 7) is the first local film production company to be listed on the Singapore Exchange this month. L Capital Asia (No. 2) - the private equity arm of French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton - has gone on a shopping spree of sorts, adding Singapore companies such as Ku De Ta and Crystal Jade to its ever-growing portfolio of brands.

Influential businesswoman Christina Ong of Como Hotels and Resorts (No. 4) also had a banner year, opening three new hotels across the region.

While they glitter on the Power List, one cannot ignore the vox populi that has rubbed up against public policy and public institutions and swayed them in different directions.

Right on top is the public response to the National Library Board saga (No. 1), after three children's books were removed for references to gay couples and alternative family units.

The furore turned everyone's eyes on Singapore's shifting cultural identity - liberal or conservative? - and swept all the way to Parliament, prompting a re-thinking of how libraries ought to handle controversial material.

Then there was the artist network Arts Engage (No. 16), which lobbied against a proposed scheme for arts groups to self-regulate according to existing Media Development Authority guidelines, on the grounds that it encouraged self-censorship. The media authority later dropped the scheme.

About half of those selected are first- timers on the list. They include Arts Engage, acclaimed photojournalist Sim Chi Yin (No. 13), internationally sought-after bag designer Ethan Koh (No. 15) and Mandopop queen Stefanie Sun (No. 9), who made her third successful comeback this year.

And while the list has numerous bright bursts of fame, there are also those that have made the slow-burn rise to the top.

They include the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (No. 6), which celebrated its 35th anniversary by performing to rave reviews at London's prestigious BBC Proms, and composer Dick Lee (No. 10), who rang in his 40th year in the entertainment business and has been tasked with writing the theme song for the country's golden jubilee next year.

Strength in numbers

Who would have thought a trio of penguins would get so many of you a-flutter?

Feathers flew in July when three children's books, including a real-life tale of how two male penguins adopted a baby penguin in New York's Central Park Zoo, were yanked off the National Library Board's shelves for references to homosexuality and alternative family units.

You were one of thousands who signed petitions for or against the board's decision to pulp the books and expressed your views online and in the mainstream media. You were one of 400 parents who turned up at the National Library Building to read copies of the withdrawn titles in a "read-in".

Or you were a writer or cultural figure who, in protest against the board's decision, boycotted library-related events and stood for a minute of silence in support of single-parent or non-traditional families at a writing and translation conference.

Your actions prompted a rare reversal of a decision by a government agency and a review of the library's process of handling controversial titles.

For that, you, as a member of the public, take the top spot on the Power List.

Few episodes garnered this amount of heated debate this year. Some lauded the board's response to books not deemed "pro-family", while others criticised the institution dedicated to promoting learning for censoring and pulping books.

By August, Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim had instructed the board to return two books to the shelves - albeit in the adult section - though the board said the third title had already been disposed of.

The three titles were: And Tango Makes Three; The White Swan Express, which discusses child adoption by different types of families, including gay, inter-racial and single parents; and Who's In My Family, which looks at various family structures - including gay couples.

Political observer Eugene Tan, associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University and a former Nominated Member of Parliament, says the NLB saga was "a very enriching experience for Singaporeans", who were discussing matters affecting the "Singapore soul" rather than bread-and-butter issues.

He felt the incident "showed the power of public agency", with Singaporeans "actively putting forward their views, using a whole variety of platforms to reach out... and to canvass support", which prompted MPs to file parliamentary questions on the matter.

The library board is setting up an advisory panel to help with its book-review processes. A spokesman tells SundayLife! in an e-mail: "NLB is committed to promoting reading, information literacy and learning in our community.

"The withdrawal of the children's books was a learning point for NLB to continually review our processes and strengthen our engagement with writers and partners."

This article was first published on Dec 14, 2014.
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