New climate, new challenges - Mar 31, 2009 (ST)

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The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

New climate, new challenges

President S R Nathan says SPH is equipped to succeed in the face of change.

Mar 31, 2009
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE Press Holdings may be only 25 years old, but its flagship newspapers have a far longer history than independent Singapore itself. Not many newspapers in the world can claim a 164-year history, as can The Straits Times.

In fact, SPH newspapers have tracked closely our nation's history; generations of Singaporeans have grown up with SPH's stable of English-language, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and other newspapers.

The news, stories and commentaries that its newspapers and publications bring across in the different languages have enabled our people to keep abreast of the happenings in Singapore and around the world. You have become an important part of our effort at nation- building, helping us in forging a Singaporean identity and reminding us of happenings abroad.

SPH's multilingual capability is an important asset that you must continue to enhance so as to reach out not only to our multi-lingual and multiracial population but also to readers beyond our shores. Often, your news and stories become conversation pieces amongst people of different races and different places, which help promote bonds among our people and others.

I have been fortunate to have been personally involved in SPH, following its formation 25 years ago on Aug 4, 1984. I was then the executive chairman of Straits Times Press, a position I continued to hold until 1988. At the time of the emergence of SPH, there were many concerns about the new company, not only among the staff but also the general public.

Would the newspapers be able to compete with each other now that they were under the same management? Would they be able to keep their own independence and identity, yet at the same time, share a common bond and company culture? Despite the odds, SPH emerged as a successful and strong media organisation, meeting all the challenges head-on.

The six years that I spent at Straits Times Press and also in SPH were a unique experience for me, coming as I did from the civil service. When I accepted the job of heading Straits Times Press, I had no prior experience with the workings of newsrooms and other aspects of the production and distribution of newspapers.

The day before I started work, the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, told me: 'Nathan, I'm giving you The Straits Times. It has something like 150 years of history. It is like a bowl of china. You break it, I can piece it together again, but it will never be the same. Try not to (break it).' I am proud to say that the bowl that was handed to me and passed on to the succeeding leaders of SPH remains unbroken - in fact it has achieved a better glow with the passing years.

SPH has made a name for itself as a leading media group and an authority on news and information in the Asean and the greater China region. It offers high quality content not only through the print media, but through online and mobile platforms as well. All this could not have been achieved without the people who toil to produce its publications.

They work day and night to gather and print the stories that fill the newspapers. Among the workers, we must include the printers and distributors who make sure (the publications are out on time) and distributed. Working together, knowing that news gets old in a fast changing world, and despite competition from new products, all in the SPH team continue with equal determination each day to see to it that we are able to read their newspapers with our breakfast. This tribute must apply to all who are part of SPH today as well as in its past.

The production of the daily newspaper, especially at the editorial management level, involves the making of judgments on the news and views to be carried each day. They face each day's uncertainty not knowing whether their judgment will stand or fall in the eyes of their readers, newsmakers, board and the authorities. Yet all toil with devotion, notwithstanding the gripes, grouses and brickbats they may have to face.

SPH now faces a new climate in the publishing industry. There is competition from the electronic media and there are the new lifestyles, preoccupations and demands of a more critical reading public. I am confident SPH with its 25 years of track record is well equipped to succeed in this new climate.

President Nathan was executive chairman of Straits Times Press from 1982 to 1988 and an SPH director from 1984 to 1988.