MPs raise concerns about future of vernacular newspapers

Vernacular newspapers have an important role in giving a voice to different communities, no matter their size, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.
Vernacular newspapers have an important role in giving a voice to different communities, no matter their size, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - As Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) prepares to restructure itself and transfer its media business to a company limited by guarantee (CLG), several MPs raised concerns in Parliament on Monday (May 10) about the future of Singapore's vernacular newspapers published by SPH like Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu.

They were speaking after Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran delivered a ministerial statement on SPH's proposed restructuring, in which he outlined the Government's approach to local news media and explained its support for the plan.

Ms Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC) and Ms Nadia Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked whether the Government would take steps to ensure that vernacular newspapers are retained and continue to develop capabilities.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) wanted to know if the high standards of these newspapers would be maintained under the new CLG.

Mr Iswaran replied that while it is important to ensure vernacular newspapers remain a key part of the CLG's media operations, how this is to be done is not something the Government can answer.

"We would want to be very clear about this aspect, but how they achieve it is, I think, a different matter," Mr Iswaran said.

"What are they going to do? How are they going to do it? Who are they going to do it for, and what price are they going to impose in the financial model?

"All of these are very important questions, but they're not questions that the Government should be answering, because ultimately we have to put it to the board management, and for them to come back and tell us exactly what they have in mind."

Mr Iswaran said vernacular papers have an important role in giving a voice to different communities, no matter their size.

They will also have to adapt to the needs of the community and their readers, and the CLG will have to work out a model that sustains their trust and interests.

He added that the Government should be focused not only on giving vernacular newspapers resources, but also the motivation and ambition to be more.

The Chinese media, for instance, has significant potential to present a perspective on international affairs, which will be a valued one as it represents Singapore's objective point of view, he said.