ST must continue to be conscious of its key role

PM Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the opening of the ST170 exhibition at the ArtScience Museum on Wednesday. This is a transcript of what he said.

I'm 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 we were part of the Straits Settlements, to the war and the Japanese Occupation, to the post-war anti-colonial struggles and merger with Malaysia.

And 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're proud of how far we've come. And on your 170th birthday, I'm sure you are also proud of how far The Straits Times has come. It's a remarkable achievement to reach such a grand old age.

Everybody reads The Straits Times, and surveys show newspapers here, including ST, enjoy high credibility and respect, said PM Lee. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

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, and it has done so through Singaporean eyes, helping Singaporeans make sense of the world and our place in it.

And you can feel it from the 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.

So 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's changing for The Straits Times too.

Newspapers are consolidating, searching for a new model. Technology is disrupting the existing business models.

People's habits are changing, they're consuming news in new ways, not big meals but little snacks, especially through the Internet. And The Straits Times is affected by these trends, but it's adapting and modernising itself for the new age. It's made its content more accessible in various forms of social media. It's 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 offstone time.

And 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 needs to look after its older readers and those who have stayed loyal to it for many decades. They are still around, they haven't disappeared.

And I'm sure these considerations must have influenced your latest redesign of the newspaper, in print and online.

While you're adapting and finding new ways to produce a high-quality and commercially viable newspaper, you must continue to be conscious of your important role in Singapore, and maintain your hallmark of credible, balanced, 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're not just an observer and a reporter of what happens, though that's your principal role.

But you must also remember that what you report and how you report also inevitably influence 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 - and in the process upholding the national interest, not campaigning for personal or corporate purposes, understanding our social and our regional context when you're reporting and commenting on sensitive or emotional issues.

As a Singapore newspaper whose past, present and future is intrinsically tied to our nation, your natural stance is to be pro-Singapore, and I think that's the natural way for longevity for such a newspaper. So congratulations on your 170th birthday, and may you have many more happy and joyous years to come.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2015, with the headline 'ST must continue to be conscious of its key role'. Subscribe