DPM Lawrence Wong at CNA's 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner

PM Lawrence Wong | 19 March 2024

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at CNA's 25th anniversary gala dinner on 19 March 2024.

Chairman and CEO of Mediacorp
My Parliamentary colleagues,
Excellencies and Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

I’m very happy to join all of you this evening to mark CNA’s 25th anniversary.

CNA’s Journey

When I started work as a government economist in 1997, the Asian Financial Crisis was just starting to unfurl. One of my first assignments was to look at the emerging crisis, and assess what the impact on Singapore would be.

Naturally, I had to get real-time updates on the developments. Back then, we relied on the western broadcasters, like BBC and CNN.

Not surprisingly, they reported on the crisis from a western perspective. And it was not just Financial Crisis.  These international news outlets did not always cover news in Asia comprehensively.  When they did, they often did not capture viewpoints and assessments relevant to our regional context.

So I was happy that the Television Corporation of Singapore decided in 1999 to launch CNA. It was a bold move then. Demand was uncertain as the business environment was recovering from the Asian Financial Crisis. In fact, many international broadcasters had held back on their expansion plans.

But TCS pressed on – and that proved to be the right call – and CNA was launched on 1 March 1999 as planned. It proved to be a success. CNA quickly became popular with business executives, who depended on it for business news and information. Within a year, CNA expanded out of Singapore into the region.

Today, CNA has established itself in 29 territories, bringing the Asian perspective to tens of millions of viewers across the region. CNA has also expanded into the digital space, and grown its online following. In today’s media landscape, success is not only about reach; it is also about the quality of the reporting. You have done well in this area too, winning international awards for your impactful programmes and journalism.

All in all, it has been a remarkable 25 years.  All of you in the CNA team – past and present – have contributed to these achievements. Everyone can take great pride in contributing to this crucial national endeavour. Congratulations on your Silver Jubilee and a big thank you to everyone!

Changing Media Landscape

Of course, the media landscape has changed dramatically over these last 25 years. 

With the growing weight of Asia in global affairs, more international broadcasters are stepping up their Asia-focused programming. New regional broadcasters have also entered the market.  CNA might have had a first-mover advantage, but the landscape has become more contested.

The much bigger change comes from the emergence of the internet.

News outlets everywhere around the world must now compete for advertising revenue with the likes of Google and Meta amongst others. And these social media companies are very good at audience targeting.

They also have to compete for attention with everything from Netflix to TikTok.

I think about how my own experiences have changed over the decades:

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, the TV was our main source of information, and in Singapore, we only had two channels – 5, and 8.  And channel 12 came in a bit later. We all watched similar programmes on TV, be it for news or entertainment. I still remember in my class, someone would have a copy of the Radio & TV times to check out the programme listings for the coming week.

Besides watching TV, I spent a lot of time back then listening to music and playing the guitar.

I did not have the chance to take formal lessons.

So I looked for every opportunity to learn and improve. Back then, the must-read publication for any aspiring guitarist was called “Guitar Player”. It still exists today. If you really want to play guitar , not classical guitar, but blues guitar, then you have to read “Guitar Player”.

I would go to the national library to borrow every new monthly issue of the magazine. I would photocopy the interesting articles and lessons, and I would compile them into a folder, and that became my self-taught bible to playing the guitar. 

Today the landscape is completely different.

TV is being replaced by streaming.

Newspapers everywhere are struggling. Many major publications are a shadow of their former selves.

The internet and social media have enabled much more competition – so much alternative great content available online, powered by very creative content creators, and distributed directly to audiences around the world.

We sometimes worry that attention spans are getting shorter – that all audiences want are short one-minute videos, and they are not prepared to pay for good content.
I do not think that is entirely accurate.

In fact, there is still strong demand for excellent content, and audiences everywhere are prepared to pay for such content.

For example, if I want to make sense of geopolitical changes around the world, I do not have to be confined to reading the news from media outlets. I can also access, for a fee, quality analysis from international experts through platforms like Substack or Medium.

If I want to learn to play the guitar, I can still read magazines like before. But I can learn much more by taking lessons from amazing teachers from around the world. Some of their video content is free on YouTube, but they also have paid content delivered through platforms like Patreon.

This bottom-up creator economy is booming rapidly.

Take the example of Mr Beast in the US – one single individual living in Greenville, North Carolina.

He has over 240 million subscribers on YouTube, and the pace of growth of his subscription base continues to increase, which seems to defy all logic.

This one individual is picking up more new viewers in a single month than the major US cable networks have in total after decades! It is completely mind-boggling.

Adjusting to New Realities

Some may say that the examples I have just cited do not involve the production of erudite news content, so they are not so relevant. But I think they are missing the point.

The traditional media model worked well because it involved a bundling of different services – some low margin ones, as well as some high margin ones. News, was frankly a low margin business but there are high segments in media too like lifestyle offerings. They are all combined as a package and delivered through a common distribution platform.

They used to work but competition from the internet and social media has broken this model. That is why media companies everywhere are under so much pressure to adjust to these new realities.

But the search for a new business model will not be easy. Just look at what has happened with some of the most established media companies overseas.

In 2022, CNN launched a streaming app called CNN+ to great fanfare, and had to shut it down within a month when it failed to deliver results.

Washington Post was purchased by Jeff Bezos, who aimed to make it profitable. They invested heavily in digital transformation. But success has been limited, and it has had to lay-off many of its staff.

Mediacorp and CNA embarked on its digital transformation journey more than 20 years ago. You may not have a millionaire business tycoon, but do not worry, the Singapore Government got your back.

I was involved in some of these efforts more than 10 years when I was serving at MCI, and I can see the impact of these changes.

You have refreshed your digital presence to reach new audiences.

You have launched mobile apps to deliver news faster to consumers. CNA is now one of the most used news apps in Singapore.

You have launched MeWatch and made your TV content available online – both live and on-demand.

You have also developed data analytics tools to understand how audiences view digital content to draw better insights for advertisers.

These are some of the transformations you have made. Through these efforts, CNA has grown its reach, and increased its value-add to advertisers. Coupled with efforts to provide impactful and interesting content, CNA has managed to stay relevant and to maintain a high level of public trust.

I am confident that CNA will be able to build on these strong foundations to do even better in your next phase.

It will be a challenging journey, but I know the team is fully committed and determined to succeed.

In this highly-contested and fragmented media landscape, there will be pressure to compromise somewhat – create click-bait, sensationalist content just to attract eyeballs. You have to resist that and continue to uphold high standards.

In particular, at a time when people everywhere are increasingly identifying themselves in narrow ethnic terms, living in echo chambers and forming their own “tribes”, it is even more important for CNA to tell stories that bridges divides, that educates us of different points of views and ultimately keeps our society together, strong and united.

Crucially, you have to hone your craft to tell your stories well; and to create content that captivates and informs audiences, without comprising your commitment to truth and objectivity.

More and more, we are being inundated with half-truths and misinformation, which unfortunately spread more quickly than plain, boring facts. The spectre of online falsehoods will only become more challenging to tackle over time, especially when it is super-powered by AI.
The Government will do our part to guard against these threats.  We have put in place the necessary laws and safeguards – POFMA for online falsehoods, and FICA for hostile information campaigns.  We will also continue to educate the public on how to be vigilant against falsehoods.

Media outlets like CNA also have a role to play. Rigorous and robust fact-checking remain our best defence against misinformation and falsehoods.  We should also harness technology to help us in this work. I am glad that CNA is doing just that, by developing AI interactive bots for journalists to fact-check and enhancing the accuracy and effectiveness of your detection tools.


To conclude, CNA's work is tough but it is also a deeply fulfilling one. The work you do is important and vital to our society. It is vital to Singapore’s future.

To stay relevant, you will need to continually evolve, build new capabilities, and invest in your people. The Government will continue to support you, as you pioneer transformations in the industry, and deliver your distinctive brand of trusted, compelling, and relevant programming.

Congratulations once again to CNA on reaching this 25th anniversary milestone, and my best wishes to you for your continued success and growth as you embark on the next phase of your journey – to engage, entertain and enrich audiences, and to advance our understanding of Asia.