Building a connected society through quality Singapore content
RESPONSE BY SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION AT THE COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY DEBATE ON 10 MAR 2014
Madam Chair, the MDA works closely with our local media industry to boost its competitiveness, as mentioned by Minister earlier. This is not only for economic reasons; we also want to develop our talent to support production of local content that can resonate with Singaporeans. Let me elaborate on this.
2 Many of us would remember working our daily schedules around TV programmes; we would rush home to watch the evening news and perhaps a local drama or sitcom with our families. Some programmes like The Awakening in the 80s and Growing Up in the 90s continue to resonate with many Singaporeans. They are part of our shared memories, and they bond us as a community.
3 The media landscape today is very different. While free-to-air TV remains the dominant local media platform in terms of reach, the Internet is fast catching up as an alternative platform for information and entertainment, especially among the young. The media industry is also facing intense competition as our local broadcasters and producers compete for viewership with a diverse range of overseas content.
4 So it is all the more critical that we continue to encourage our media industry to produce good local content. Minister spoke earlier about MDA’s industry development efforts. Another important aspect of Government support for the local media industry is through Public Service Broadcast (or PSB) funding. Here, I would like to thank Ms Penny Low, Ms Irene Ng and Mr David Ong for speaking in support of TV and the quality of local PSB programmes. Indeed, the Government recognises the importance of PSB programmes and we have devoted a significant amount of funding support over the years. In response to Ms Penny Low’s query, I will now provide an update on new programmes supported through PSB funding in the past year.
Update on PSB
5 Last year, we announced $182 million of additional PSB funding support up to 2016 to improve the production quality of local programmes and to increase the number of current affairs and documentary programmes across our four official languages. In the last year alone, over 2,000 hours of PSB programmes have been produced. They include programmes like Mata Mata, which is a historical drama on Channel 5, and Veethi Varai, a social drama on Vasantham.
6 We have also seen a strong suite of current affairs and documentaries being produced. For example, IT Figures is a current affairs series which explains the interesting numbers and statistics behind everyday issues like transport, housing and education; and on Suria, we have #FORUMsg which discusses national issues from the perspective of the Malay community, and which also has interactive elements such as viewer participation through social media, email and phone calls.
7 I am happy to hear Ms Irene Ng’s positive comments on the documentary Days of Rage. This is a documentary series which combines dramatic reconstructions, eyewitness interviews, rare archival documents and state-of-the art computer graphics to take viewers on a journey through our turbulent history. All this means higher production costs and so is made possible only through PSB funding.
8 I agree with Ms Ng that the promotion of such compelling Singapore content can help profile our local TV and film talents both locally and overseas. The PSB Contestable Funds Scheme for instance, has been revamped to allow for media companies to pitch their ideas for funding to develop programmes with Singapore content which could also be marketed overseas.
9 As Ms Ng highlighted, we want to take an integrated approach in helping individuals and companies along the content value chain. MDA’s suite of grant schemes helps local media companies to develop compelling content showcasing Singapore stories and capabilities to the international audience at key content markets in Hong Kong and France, such as MIPCOM in Cannes, where international industry professionals in TV and film network and trade content rights, and profile their work to distributors. MDA also serves as a referral centre for both local and overseas content creators, by providing information on the local industry, as well as connecting interested parties, including those that would like to film in Singapore, with the relevant government agencies and entities. Ms Ng also spoke about the importance quality script writing and I agree fully with her, and this is something that MDA is hoping to develop.
10 Ms Penny Low has suggested that more can be done on TV to profile passionate Singaporeans in the charity, arts and sports sectors, and I agree that this is important, and this is something we are already doing. We have many such examples in PSB programmes. For example, the Vasantham programme, Kalaimanigal, features Singapore Cultural Medallion winners from theatre, dance, and literary arts. The programme Off The Path on Channel U showcases talents in diverse fields, such as entrepreneurs, gourmet chefs, and even our very own Singaporean CSI agents. Mediacorp will continue to feature Singaporeans and share their inspiring stories of how they have overcome their challenges and pursued their dreams.
11 On sports programming, I would like to respond to Mr David Ong’s call for more airtime for our athletes on local PSB channels. In 2013, Channel 5 televised major sporting events like the SEA Games, the FINA Swimming World Cup, and the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, all of which featured Team Singapore athletes. MediaCorp will continue to support sports this year. For example, our S League teams are featured ‘live’ on OKTO on Friday evenings when matches are on. And later in the year we can look forward to MediaCorp’s coverage of sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the Youth Olympic Games.
12 I agree it is important for Singaporeans to be able to cheer on and celebrate the achievements of our local athletes who train hard to do our country proud. So let me assure Mr Ong and the House that the Government will continue to provide PSB funding support for the telecast of sporting events that feature Team Singapore athletes. And next year when we host the SEA games, we will ensure that there will be adequate live coverage of our Team Singapore athletes.
PSB is supported by NLB’s and archive’s contents
13 To further enrich PSB programming, we can tap on rich Singapore content in our archives.
14 The National Archives is a rich repository of official and personal records, photographs, broadcast productions, and oral histories, among others. It contains stories of our nation and our people: they tell the stories of what we’ve been, and how we got to where we are today.
15 These records sometimes require laborious documentation work, especially for recordings that are transferred to the archives undocumented. Our archivists need to carefully work through such recordings to document and digitise them. One such recording is the first Parliamentary sitting broadcast over radio. In this recording was the first address for the opening of Parliament, delivered on 8 December 1965 by then-President Yusof Ishak. If you look carefully at the picture on Mr Yusof Ishak’s right, is a soldier who is a very young Winston Choo who of course later became our first CDF. Another recording on 14 December 1965, just six days after the first address, was delivered by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who expressed his hope for a new quid pro quo relationship with Malaysia.
16 Let me now respond to Mr Low Thia Kiang’s query on the National Archives. Since the transfer of the National Archives to the National Library Board (NLB), NLB has been working on a unified search platform that would allow users to access the different databases. This would enhance access to content from the archives as well as the National Library. The unified search portal will be launched this year and through the revamped portal, users would also be able to access oral history interviews. All this will help increase the usability and accessibility of the contents in the National Archives.
17 Besides the search portal, the National Archives also provides for public archives to be inspected by any person for purposes of research and reference. Any such request to research government records can be made at any of the National Archives’ reading room. TheNational Archives will then consult the relevant agency about providing access to their records. All unclassified information are made available upon request, and also released on various platforms, such as on the websites of public agencies and through periodic press releases.
18 But there are some government records which are not available for open access, including those relating to our national defence, foreign relations and internal security, as well as documents which may be bound by confidentiality obligations or personal privacy reasons. I would say that these conditions are also found in other countries. In the UK, for example, the government may refuse to disclose classified information whose release may harm certain public interest, or if it is too costly or time consuming to retrieve the information.
19 Having said that, I have sketched a broad approach with regard to the archives, and I would assure Members that MCI and the National Archives will continue to work closely with ministries and agencies to progressively make more information available to the public.
20 Our national heritage can also be found in film. Film is an important medium that captures our moments in time; whether showing us Singapore’s changing landscapes, or portraying simple, enduring traditions that are handed down to us.
21 Ms Janice Koh suggested an independent National Film Centre to facilitate audiences’ appreciation of film, as well as promote our stories, film culture and heritage. Ms Irene Ng also suggested a centralised film body backed by the Government. In fact, I had discussed this idea of a National Film Centre recently with several young film-makers, and I explained to them, many of the functions of such a film centre are already being undertaken by various agencies. For example, a National Film Centre would typically showcase local films and hold a film festival. In our case, we have the Cinematheque at the National Museum, and we also have the Singapore International Film Festival, which MDA is supporting, and which will make a comeback later this year.
22 There is also an archival function, and here we have the Asian Film Archive (AFA), which was recently made a subsidiary of the National Library Board. It has a holding of over 1,600 films made in Singapore and the region since the 1950s. Many of the films are classics and would be familiar to some of us, such as Moon Over Malaya, an old Cantonese film made in 1957. There are also iconic Malay Cathay-Keris films such as Mat Bond and Orang Minyak.
23 Many of these films and others like them are in need of restoration, and we will have them properly conserved and digitised. These films from the AFA will be made more accessible through screenings in libraries and other collaborations with film festivals.
24 The other key function of curation and promotion of local films is undertaken by the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) in MDA. For example, to profile local films, the SFC partners film organisations such as The Arts House and The Substation. MDA is now studying how it can beef up resources in the SFC so that it can do more to develop and promote local films.
25 In the longer term, the question is whether there is a need to amalgamate all of these different functions under a single entity. I think there are merits to such an idea, and it’s something that MDA is open to reviewing with the relevant agencies. But as Ms Irene Ng said, this is a long-term game that we are getting into. So for now, we will focus on building up each of the different areas so as to strengthen our capabilities across the entire value chain of film development, archival, curation and promotion.
Building national identity through the Singapore Memory Project
26 Finally, I will make reference to Mr Arthur Fong’s mention of the need for more to be done to build national identity through our libraries, especially as we approach our 50th Anniversary next year. One key initiative of the NLB is the Singapore Memory Project, which aims to put together a collection of memories with the help of the community. Such memories can help contribute to a more complete picture of our nation’s memories and history. Since its inception in 2011, the Singapore Memory Project has been working closely with community partners to create content. Last year, the focus was on the exhibition called, Hands: Gift of a Generation, which featured many of our Pioneer Generation. I think that was important because it helped to pass down the conviction and values of our Pioneers to a younger generation.
27 Madam Chair, let me conclude by reiterating my first point about the need to continue to support local content, whether through TV, or films, or in making Singapore content such as the archives, more accessible. We will support the production of content that speaks to us, that makes us proud, and that eventually forms part of our shared experiences and memories as a people. At the end of the day, all of these efforts will help bring us closer together, and build a more connected Singapore.