Merger will nurture media scene - Dec 11, 2004 (ST)

BackDec 11, 2004

The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

Merger will nurture media scene

By Vivi Zainol
Dec 11, 2004
The Straits Times

LABOUR leader Lim Swee Say foresees the media industry, especially its export potential, getting a boost from the merger of some of the TV and newspaper operations of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and MediaCorp.

Looking beyond what he called a 'painful' but 'unavoidable' development, Mr Lim said yesterday that he believed the new focus of the two companies would bring greater opportunities for them as well as media professionals.

Mr Lim, who is Deputy Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), noted in particular that, in giving approval to the deal on Monday, the Media Development Authority of Singapore had required MediaCorp TV to outsource at least 285 hours a year of local content production work to independent production companies.

He also expects both companies to no longer be intent on what he calls value-destroying competition, but on value creation.

'Through this process, we can actually nurture the growth of the media industry,' he told reporters after he handed $20,000 worth of gifts to disabled people at the Moral Welfare Home in Bukit Merah from NTUC and 12 of its affiliated unions.

Mr Lim, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for National Development, was responding to reporters' questions on the merger, which both companies sought to help stem losses.

He said continued competition between the two companies was detrimental to the media industry.

'We have to recognise that with Singapore's population of four million, the demand for programmes and content is limited. So, we should focus our minds on capturing the market in the region outside of Singapore.'

He gave the thumbs-up to the way the workers were handled, saying it was well-handled, with the two managements working with their union officials to set up task forces to decide on fair retrenchment packages, re-training and job matching. More than 200 people were laid off.

On the subject of raising the official retirement age beyond 62 years, Mr Lim believes legislation may not be the best approach to take as the first step.

He prefers that initially, Singapore adopts the best practices from other countries and brings a change in mindset of employers and employees.

Last month, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had said that he was in favour of raising the retirement age.

It's a prospect the labour movement will welcome, said Mr Lim, given Singapore's ageing population and higher life expectancy rate.

However, legislation could backfire as companies may shy away from employing older workers, put them on contract or target them for retrenchment, he said.

'Before we decide if legislation is the way to go, let's learn from the experiences of Europe, the United States and other parts of Asia.

'We can start a series of pilot projects with 10, 20, 30 companies and if it works, multiply this.

'Over time, we can come up with our own best practices and evolve a culture where growing old does not mean you become a burden to the organisation, as having experience and expertise are strengths.'

Meanwhile, a mindset change is also necessary.

'The first step is to prepare the mindset of older workers to keep healthy and embrace life-long learning, and for employers to realise that older workers can be productive,' he said.