SPH has become an important part of Singapore’s nation-building



March 31st, 2009

Speech by President S R Nathan at Singapore Press Holdings 25th anniversary celebrations and launch of its new logo, 30 March 2009, SPH News Centre.

SPH’s new logo. Looks familiar? Click here to see an odd coincidence.

This commemoration of the SPH Group’s 25th Anniversary marks a special moment for SPH, beyond its 25 years. As a merged group, SPH 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. In fact, SPH newspapers have tracked closely our Nation’s history and generations of Singaporeans have grown up with SPH’s stable of English Language, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and other newspapers.

Through the lens of SPH, 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 multi-lingual capability is an important asset that you must continue to enhance so as to reach out not only to our multi-lingual and multi-racial 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 the SPH, following its merger 25 years ago, on 4th August 1984. I was then the Executive Chairman of Straits Times Press – a role I continued to play 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 alike. 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? Those were some of the questions asked. Despite such doubts and the odds, SPH emerged a successful and stronger media organization, 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.” I am proud to say that the bowl that was handed to me and passed on to successor leaders of SPH remains unbroken – in fact it has achieved a better glow with successive years.

In 25 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 worked day and night gathering and printing the stories that filled the newspapers and daily columns. Among them, we must include the printers and distributors who made sure of the timeliness of the publications and their distribution to anxiously awaiting readers. Working together, knowing that news gets old in a fast changing world, and despite competition from technology and competing new products, all in the SPH team continue with equal determination each day to see that we can read their newspapers with our breakfast. This tribute must apply to all who are part of SPH today but also of its past. For they too toiled notwithstanding the daily pressures on their time and energy.

The production of the daily copy, especially at the editorial management level, involves the making of judgments on news and views to be carried in the columns 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 a devotion to the service of their newspapers and a preparedness to stay and produce the daily newspaper each day, notwithstanding the gripes, grouses and brickbats they may have to face.

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

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