Speech by RADM (NS) Lui Tuck Yew at the Committee of Supply Debate on Enhancing Government Communications and Fostering an Informed and Open Society

06/02/2009

SPEECH BY RADM(NS) LUI TUCK YEW,

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR INFORMATION, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS,

AT COS DEBATE (MICA), 06 FEBRUARY 2009, 4.55 PM IN PARLIAMENT

Enhancing government communications and fostering an informed and open society

1.      Madam Deputy Chair, the Honourable Members have raised questions on public engagement and broadcasting. Let me first address Dr Fatimah Lateef's question on future plans and funding for Suria and Vasantham.

Minority TV Programming

2.      Suria and Vasantham are important channels that reflect our multi-cultural heritage and way of life, and provide relevant local programmes for the communities. Therefore, MDA provides funding support for the production and acquisition of quality programmes such as News, Current Affairs, Children, Information and Drama. MDA will sustain its support for both channels during this economic downturn.

3.      Competition from other TV channels and cable TV has actually incentivized improvements, this is amply demonstrated by an increase in the average ratings for both channels, especially during the prime time belt of 8 - 11pm.Particularly for Vasantham - we had announced at last year's COS that it will become a full-fledged standalone channel to offer a wider variety of programmes with more hours of broadcasting, and it became so on 19 October 2008. Since then, average ratings over the past three months have increased by more than 50%. These results affirm that Singaporeans support and enjoy watching local programmes on local channels.

Enhancing E-engagement through New Media

4.      Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked about MICA's plans on e-engagement. The Government agrees with AIMS' recommendation to adopt an evolutionary approach and has begun engaging on the REACH portal and the online letter fora of local mainstream media. As I have responded in this House two days ago, we are not closed to the idea of engaging on other objective and credible sites in future.

5.      Given the nature of the Internet, the Government has to be focussed and selective on what platforms to engage netizens.As Mr Tong Hisen-Hui pointed out in his letter published in ST's forum today: "An unreasonable expectation is to be able to respond to or challenge all contributions."He added that "it is also useless to enter into discussions on sites which are obviously anti-establishment". These are his words.

6.      As a relatively new mode of communication, the Government will require time and resources to build up additional manpower capacity and skills to facilitate better e-engagement.To this end, MICA has been recruiting Information Officers, conducting new media training and sharing relevant knowledge with other agencies.

7.      Over time, e-engagement will augment the wide range of channels the Government uses to communicate and reach out to the public. Let me assure the House that MICA is committed to develop the reach and richness of government-citizen communications.

8.      I would also like to take this opportunity to address some comments on my reply to Ms Penny Low about self-regulation on the Internet.

9.      They seem to have misconstrued my remarks as "a desire for more regulation on the Internet".Let me say clearly that I am not advocating this position.

10.     In fact, self-regulation is what some bloggers themselves have asked for.In responding to the AIMS committee, a group had proposed for community moderation to replace the Government's promised lighter-touch regulatory approach.

11.     It is for the online community to decide if there should be self-regulation or not.Likewise, it is for them to deliberate on how online postings could be self-regulated or moderated.

12.     The Government will continue with its promised lighter touch regulatory approach, and will engage netizens in a constructive and beneficial way.

Cyber Wellness and Media Literacy

13.     New media opens up new frontiers and exciting opportunities for some but also has the potential to cause others to stumble. In line with AIMS' recommendation that education remains the key in combating the risks, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) has worked with the public, people and private sectors to organize and support media literacy public education outreach activities targeting students, parents, educators and the public.

14.     Mindful of the greater risks posed to minors and as recommended by the AIMS report, a new Inter-Ministry Task Force on Cyber Wellness, chaired by the Deputy Secretaries of MICA and MOE, will be set up. MICA and MOE will collectively contribute a total of $10 million over the next 5 years, for the taskforce to coordinate national efforts and develop strategies and programmes for protecting our young, as well as work with the private sector.

Conclusion

15.     In conclusion, MICA remains fully committed to improving public engagement and communications and will continue its efforts to foster an open and inclusive society.

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