Singapore Government Media Release

Media Division, Ministry of Information and The Arts,

140 Hill Street #02-02 MITA Building, Singapore 179369.

Tel: 837 9666

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SPEECH BY DPM LEE HSIEN LOONG AT THE ASIAN LAUNCH OF CHANNEL NEWSASIA AT THE RAFFLES HOTEL BALLROOM

28 SEPTEMBER 2000, 10.00 AM

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to join you this morning for the Asian launch of Channel NewsAsia.

Channel NewsAsia started services in March 1999. The regional environment was then still unsettled. Asia was just beginning to recover from the regional crisis. Many other national broadcasters were holding back their expansion plans. Even established global names like BBC World, CNBC Asia and CNN were stretching their existing resources to provide coverage of the region.

The operating environment was also rapidly changing. Dramatic advances in technology were causing IT and telecommunications to converge, and progressively making multi-media a reality. Traditional broadcasting was being challenged by intensive narrow-casting, where individuals could increasingly seek out and personalise what they saw or read on TV, the PC or other distribution media.

This has altered the competitive paradigm. Companies compete to control both Internet portals and audio-visual contents. In the US and Europe, Internet and media companies have merged to form media mega-giants, offering easy and affordable access to both information and entertainment.

These changes mean a more challenging operating environment for our local media. Competition for the attention of Singaporeans has grown stronger, particularly among younger audiences, who are better educated and net-savvy. This competition comes not only from foreign media, but also from new entertainment channels and particularly from the internet. Our local media has to gear up to meet this competition or risk losing market share, influence, and commercial viability.

Notwithstanding these bracing conditions, Mediacorp proceeded to launch Channel NewsAsia last March. It saw a role for a new station covering Singapore and the region, providing reliable, unbiased news that reflected regional realities, and maintaining a balance and ethos which would distinguish it from Western media reporting of Asia.

Today, one and half years later, Channel NewsAsia is well on the way to establishing itself as a respected news source, and a viable business proposition. In February this year, a Gallup poll found that more than two-thirds of PMEBs (professionals, managers, executives and businessmen) in Singapore rely on the channel as an important source of business information. About a third of PMEBs watch Channel NewsAsia every day.

This initial success has encouraged Channel NewsAsia to take the plunge and venture into the region. This is a bold move by the station to find its own niche in the regional broadcasting industry, but is a step in the right direction.

The potential is large. The cable and satellite sector in the Asia Pacific is relatively young and set to grow. Excluding China and India, cable subscribers are expected to increase from the current 13 million to about 35 million by 2006. Going regional will give Channel NewsAsia a chance to compete in the regional pay TV industry. Beyond any commercial gains, this will allow Channel NewsAsia to reach larger audiences, offering quality reporting of what is happening around them.

But it is a big step, and the path will not be easy. First, there is the sheer size of the region, its population and its immense diversity. Every country has its own language and culture, and its own unique broadcasting system and domestic political sensitivities. Channel NewsAsia will have to find an approach which covers the expanse and diversity of the region, maintains high standards of journalism and objectivity, and refrains from imposing its own preconceptions and values on countries with very different norms and cultures.

Secondly, Channel NewsAsia will not have the field all to itself. CNBC Asia already exists as an Asian News channel, while CNN and BBC World also cover Asia, using their own particular brands of American and British journalism. Channel NewsAsia has to compete against them, and carve out a niche for itself in the market. Its unique selling point is that it is the first English language, Asian owned channel offering an Asian perspective. It has Asian correspondents in cities all over the region, and can deliver value by providing news with a deeper, more sensitive understanding of events in the region, going beyond what meets the eye. Its reporting will reflect the balance and values relevant in Asia, distinct from the Western media.

Thirdly, some might harbour doubts about Channel NewsAsia´┐Żs editorial independence, given that it is a subsidiary of Mediacorp, which is wholly owned by the Singapore Government. We plan to list Mediacorp soon, and subject it to the discipline and rules of a private company. This should dilute any perception that Channel NewsAsia is a government operation. But the ultimate test is not ownership per se. It is whether Channel NewsAsia can provide truthful, insightful reporting which can hold the attention of its viewers. The BBC is also government owned, but it has established itself as a reliable news provider with a large following all over the world. This is the standard which Channel NewsAsia must aspire to.

Television is how most people today experience history. The tragedies, disasters, as well as the triumphs of mankind are brought almost instantly into the lives of people through vivid television images. Channel NewsAsia has thus far done an excellent job in reporting history as it is made, to viewers in Singapore. With its venture into the region, I am confident that it will be able to now share this with the peoples of Asia.

I wish your venture every success.

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