Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the ST170 exhibition launch on 15 July 2015.
Mr Patrick Daniel, Editor-in-Chief, English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, Singapore Press Holdings
Mr Warren Fernandez, Editor, The Straits Times
Mr George Tanasijevich, President and CEO, Marina Bay Sands
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
I am very happy to celebrate with you on the actual day of The Straits Times’ 170th birthday today and to launch this very special exhibition “Singapore Stories: Then, Now, Tomorrow”.
The Straits Times has been the newspaper of record for Singapore for 170 years. It has reported many important events in Singapore, in the region and in the world around us. From the time when were part of the Straits Settlements, to the war and the Japanese occupation. To the post-War anticolonial struggles and merger with Malaysia. Then when Singapore separated from Malaysia, the Straits Times also separated into the Straits Times in Singapore, and the New Straits Times in Malaysia. Singapore has done well and I think the Straits Times in Singapore has also done well. From that time, the Straits Times reported on Singapore as we journeyed from third world to first. This year Singapore celebrates SG50, and we are proud of how far we have come. On your 170th birthday, I am sure you are also proud of how far the Straits Times has come. It is a remarkable achievement to reach such a grand old age.
If you want to know what happened in Singapore, or in the region around us, the Straits Times is an indispensable place to start because it has reported news reliably and objectively over the years. It has done so through Singaporean eyes, helping Singaporeans to make sense of the world, and our place in it. You can see this from front pages, and the photographs in the exhibition – how much the world has changed, how much we in Singapore have changed, and how the Straits Times has changed. The Straits Times story is one important strand of the Singapore Story.
The world is changing for Singapore. I think the world is changing for newspapers, and it is changing for the Straits Times too. Newspapers are consolidating and searching for a new model. Technology is disrupting the existing business models. People’s habits are changing. They are consuming news in new ways – not big meals but little snacks – especially through the internet.
The Straits Times is affected by these trends too, but it is adapting and modernising itself for the new age. It has made content more accessible in various forms of social media. It has adapted its operations to the changing patterns of news consumption. You must generate product all day and all night, and not once a day at off-stone time. It has to do this in order to retain its relevance and its viability. The Straits Times has to be of the new generation, by the new generation, and for the new generation of readers. At the same time, it still needs experienced hands in the newsroom, and it still has to look after its older readers and those who have stayed loyal to it for many decades. They are still around, they have not disappeared yet. I am sure these considerations must have influenced your latest redesign of the newspaper, in print and online.
While you are adapting and finding new ways to produce a high-quality and commercially successful newspaper, you must continue to be conscious of your important role in Singapore, and continue to maintain your hallmark of credible, balanced and objective reporting. As the newspaper of record, you have standing in our society. You are not a fly by night piece of paper circulated in dark alleys when nobody is looking. Everybody reads the Straits Times and surveys show that Singapore newspapers, including the Straits Times, enjoy high credibility and respect. So you are not just an observer and reporter of what happens, though that is your principle role, but you must also remember that what you report and how you report also inevitably influences people’s opinions, and the course of events in Singapore. Yes, there will be a place for eye-catching scandals and human interest stories, even in the most high-brow of newspapers, but I hope you will continue to maintain a balance, take a long-term perspective of Singapore’s interests, and report the news for Singaporeans through Singaporean eyes. Inform, educate and entertain – roughly in that order. In the process upholding the national interest, not campaigning for personal or corporate purposes, understanding our social and regional context when reporting and commenting on sensitive or emotional issues. As a Singapore newspaper whose past, present and future is intrinsically tied to this nation, your natural stance is to be pro-Singapore and I think that is the natural way for longevity for such a newspaper.
Congratulations to Straits Times on your 170th Birthday. May you have many more happy returns to come. I congratulate you and declare this exhibition open!
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