PM Lee Hsien Loong at opening of Mediacorp Campus at Mediapolis@one-north on 8 December 2015.
Mr Teo Ming Kian, Chairman, Mediacorp, Mr Shaun Seow, Chief Executive Officer, distinguished guests ladies and gentleman. Very happy to be here this evening to open Mediacorp’s new campus at Mediapolis @ one-north.
First of all, I would like to congratulate Mediacorp for winning the Terrestrial Broadcaster of the Year at this year’s Asian Television Awards. Mediacorp has now won this award for the 12th time, which is more than anybody else. I would also like to congratulate Channel NewsAsia, which won the Terrestrial Channel of the Year Award.
Mediacorp’s success today goes back a long way. The first radio broadcast in Singapore was in 1936 when we were a British colony. The first TV transmission was on 15 February 1963 when we were a self-governing state, before merger into Malaysia. The first person to appear on television at 6pm that day, was Mr Rajaratnam, our then Minister of Culture. He said,
“Tonight might well mark the start of a social and cultural revolution in our lives. If used intelligently and responsibly, television can, far more than any other medium of communication, broaden the intellectual horizons of the ordinary man.”
So much has changed since Mr Rajaratnam spoke 52 years ago. We have gone through merger, we have gone through separation and we have travelled a long road to SG50. Mediacorp has grown with Singapore, broadened our horizons, and provided us with an essential perspective on the changes happening all around us. As our national broadcaster, your TV and radio stations enabled the whole nation to experience major nation-building milestones together. In 1961, thousands tuned in weekly to listen to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Battle for Merger radio talks; more than many soap operas in those days. On 9 August 1965, the whole country watched the emotional press conference where Mr Lee announced our separation from Malaysia. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans watch the National Day Parade on TV, and now Singaporeans overseas tune in online too, to celebrate National Day as one people. This year, when we mourned Mr Lee’s passing and when we celebrated SG50, Mediacorp was instrumental in helping to express how we all felt, and helping us understand the context and the significance of these moments. In these moments we became one people, in large part because of Mediacorp.
But it is not just news and serious current affairs that is Mediacorp’s business. Mediacorp’s entertainment and cultural programmes in all languages, have also done much in shaping our Singapore identity.
Over the decades, all of us have laughed and cried with, sung along and grown up with Mediacorp’s actors and actresses, news presenters and radio hosts. We listened to Brian Richmond on Gold 90.5FM and Liang Ping (梁萍) on Capital 95.8 FM while driving to work and in the office. Our children woke up to Yoyo and Yaya in the hit children’s show Mat Yoyo in the mornings. Wang Sha (王沙) and Ye Feng (野峰), the great comedians, often regaled us with their 相声 (Cross talk) and skits, along with Jack Neo as Liang Po Po (梁婆婆) in the longest-running Chinese weekly variety show. In the evenings, we watched television serials with our families. “Uncle Jayaram” who has been in the industry for 40 years and is the lead in Vasantham’s top-rated drama, Kudumbam United. Huang Wenyong (黄文永) and Xiang Yun (向云) in The Awakening (雾锁南洋), a drama series commissioned to mark our 25th year of independence. Chen Liping in Good Morning, Sir! (早安老师) and her famous “Ai yo yo”. Li Nanxing and Zoe Tay in The Unbeatables (双天至尊). Gurmit Singh in Phua Chu Kang or Moses Lim in Under One Roof. We remember them all and we remember the great entertainers like Najip Ali, Rahimah Rahim and Anita Sarawak, plus many more who have been part of our lives throughout the years, and left us with indelible memories.
Yet, having made such a major contribution, Mediacorp today operates in a very different media environment. Media consumption habits have changed drastically. In the 1960s and even 1970s, everyone would gather at the neighbourhood or the village Community Centre to watch television together, and the choice would be just one or two channels by Radio and Television Singapore. That is all you had to choose from. Now, Singaporeans are watching the latest shows from all over the world – Japan, Korea, and US. Local productions are competing with the most popular blockbusters in the world for viewer attention. Mediacorp is no longer just competing with other cable TV channels, which already have hundreds of options, but also streaming channels over the internet, like Netflix, YouTube and social media. At a public lecture two weeks ago, I asked a few hundred students how many watched the 9 o’clock news every night and only a few raised their hands. I then asked how many knew that the Indian Prime Minister was about to visit Singapore and everybody did. I asked them how did they know, and they said they found out through Facebook. I asked them how many were on the social media every day, and almost every hand went up. I am very interested to do this experiment tonight, but I think it is not just the young who are trending in this direction. Today’s audiences are still watching news and entertainment content that Mediacorp produces. But rather than faithfully tuning in to the News at 9pm every night, or waiting for programmes at designated times, they find content on their social media feeds, and watch at their own time. TV still has substantial viewership, but the younger generation are spending more time online and interacting with media in new ways.
It will therefore be a challenging environment for Mediacorp, as it is for most broadcasting companies in the world. Even the BBC is struggling with declining viewership and tight budgets. Commercially, Mediacorp will face greater competition for eyeballs and advertisers. Even more challenging will be for Mediacorp to maintain its place as the broadcaster of choice for news, current affairs and entertainment.
Yet, Mediacorp continues to play an indispensable role as the national broadcaster, helping to bring the whole nation together. It is not just another commercial entity, responding to market signals without caring about the value and significance of your content. You must continue to produce programmes that celebrate our culture and heritage, reflect our society and values, educate and entertain your audiences, as well as report news and produce current affairs content which matter for Singaporeans and which are compelling to watch. Many Singaporeans travelling in the region appreciate being able to catch up with Asian and home news on Channel NewsAsia. You are providing a valuable service and if you do not do all this, no one else will, and Singapore will be the poorer for it.
The Government is committed to supporting Mediacorp so that it can continue to fulfil its role. That is why we have doubled Public Service Broadcast funding over the last three years, and will work with Mediacorp over the long-term to develop its capabilities. How can you do so? Let me suggest three ways.
First, we must invest in local content and be proud of our own identity and culture. Singapore is not Hollywood, nor are we Bollywood. So it is impossible for Mediacorp to match production budgets of international blockbusters like the Game of Thrones – 10 million dollars an hour of a programme. But what we have is ours – our own perspective, our own culture, our own destiny and identity. And if we are proud of it and celebrate it, it will resonate with our audiences. You see this in Korea, in their famous soap operas Dae Jang Geum (大长今) or variety shows like Running Man: they are proud of who they are and are not afraid to show it. Or Denmark, which has its own West Wing, called Borgen, which has captured audiences worldwide. None of these shows are in English, which makes their international popularity even more amazing. Mediacorp has already had some regional success – The Chinese drama series The Little Nyonya (小娘惹), which chronicled the history of a Peranakan family over 70 years, has been broadcast internationally and is also the first Chinese drama series to be dubbed in Malay and aired on Suria. Being Singaporean is worth celebrating, as we rediscovered this year for SG50. So even though we do not have savannahs or vast jungles, a local company, Beach House Pictures, produced a wildlife documentary that was widely acclaimed and was shown on Channel NewsAsia. "Wild City" featured wildlife that made their homes in our urban landscape. Beach House Pictures is now filming the second series of this documentary and extending the idea to other cities. This year we also had a film, "7 Letters", the film anthology produced for SG50, commissioned by Media Development Authority (MDA), which was very well received by Singaporeans. Each a gem, they were personal, authentically local and uniquely Singaporean in sensitivity. They showed the talent that Singapore has, and our potential.
It is the same for News and Current Affairs. Audiences rely first on Mediacorp as a credible source of news and current affairs – not just locals, but foreigners too – and Singaporeans are interested in news and current affairs that matter in their daily lives. Many watch Talking Point on Channel 5, Insight on Channel NewsAsia, Detik and #ForumSG on Suria, Ethiroli and Puthiya Arangam on Vasantham, Focus (焦点) and the Tuesday Report (星期二特写) on Channel 8. So, Mediacorp must continue to invest in local content that resonates with local audiences across different age groups.
Second, we have to be ready for the digital age. You have taken encouraging steps. You are more active on social media, including pushing breaking news to readers. With your mobile app, Toggle, we can stream programmes anytime and anywhere on our mobile devices. But we have to do much more with Toggle and other online platforms. Mediacorp will have to adapt your operations, to find effective ways to connect with online audiences.
Third, you have to invest in your communities, i.e. your viewers, your partners, your own staff – producers, cameramen, journalists, everyone making up the Mediacorp family. Your success depends not only on what you do, but how well you build ties with the public and industry, so that you become a respected and trusted brand which all Singaporeans are proud of. You play an important nurturing role, raising standards and developing Singaporean talent for our production and media industry, because you are such a major player. Now that you are in Mediapolis with many other media companies around you, you are even better placed to foster collaborations. You also have to engage the public to build a relationship with them that goes beyond the screen. Suria and Vasantham have done this well through engagements such as road shows and the other channels will also do the same.
Therefore you have to invest in content, digital and communities, and I am glad that you now have a new home that will help you to do that – a state-of-the art campus equipped with the latest technologies and this handsome theatre. It is a major upgrade from Caldecott broadcast centre where you have been for almost 80 years. It served you well and you have done a good job there, so now that you have a better place, you can do an even better job.
With a new campus, you have the opportunity to re-design processes and systems. For example, you now have a digital newsroom, designed for seamless and efficient news-gathering and delivery that integrates the online with the offline. You have first-class production capabilities and this new theatre to stage world-class productions.
But ultimately, most critical to success is not having the best hardware or platforms, but having the right values and spirit in the organisation and among your people. Whether you embrace change and are open to new ideas and ways of working, and are prepared to experiment with fresh possibilities. Whether you are proud of being our national broadcaster, showcasing to the world the richness and diversity of our identity and culture. Whether you have the grit to endure and a passion for excellence, to give of your best for your viewers and for Singapore.
I have had the opportunity to work directly with Mediacorp and your team over many years, with management, production staff, television hosts, radio hosts and many others. I know that your production work is often punishing and backbreaking. Every year for the National Day Rally (NDR), you are hard at work for months, from the design, to actual stage set-up, and to the lighting and sound. It takes a huge amount of coordination to make sure everything runs smoothly. The public enjoys the shows and the performances, and the NDR is a super show and performance – that is the way you have to do it to get across – but they do not see the team frantically working behind the scenes. I do. You have been slogging for long and irregular hours – working through weekends and public holidays, pulling overnighters, meeting tight deadlines, missing your meals and missing iftar, breaking of fast, if National Day happens to be during the Ramadan season.
This year, your production schedule has been exceptionally intense. You have had many news events to cover: SG50, the general elections, the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. On the day of the State Funeral, despite a heavy downpour, your camera crews stayed in position in the heavy rain to get the footage for viewers and the whole nation was watching. In all these events, you delivered what was needed and more, and gave of your best to serve Singaporeans. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your hard work. I hope you continue to give of your best, and will long remain an important part of life in Singapore.
Congratulations on your new campus, Mediacorp. Thank you very much!
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