Info-communications Media Development Authority Bill – Speech by Png Eng Huat

(Delivered in Parliament on 16 August 2016)

Madam Speaker, the Digital Age has certainly arrived.   The convergence of infocomm and media sectors in the digital realm has transformed the way we live, interact, learn, teach, travel, shop, and more.

When I first dabbled in digital technology more than a quarter century ago, I would have not imagined that the painfully slow 14.4k dial-up modem that I had then could transform the internet to be so pervasive years later, and that the clunky cellular phone in my hand could stream live video and do so much more now.

The author of the article, “The dawning of the Digital Age”, wrote, “We are no longer on the cusp of it. We have all – to a greater or lesser degree – become Digital Citizens, which means we are both witnessing and participating in seismic change which permeates every aspect of our daily lives from work to play, education to commerce.”

If we look around us today, we are certainly experiencing a seismic change in the way we live our lives with the advent of the digital age.  Information, media, and services are readily available, anytime, anywhere, and on demand.

The formation of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), as stated in its press release, is to recognize the importance of the Digital Economy, and seize new opportunities.  The Authority will regulate a converged infocomm media sector, and safeguard the interests of consumers as well.

The digital world moves at unprecedented speed.  Indeed, we must seize new opportunities lest we will be left behind.  But we must also regulate the Digital Economy with a light touch so that innovations and creativity can thrive and grow in a fast moving and ever changing environment.

I wish to seek some clarifications and make some suggestions on the bill.

Although Section 12(1) of the bill does not preclude the Minister from appointing suitable candidates from the information, communications and media industry to be members of the Authority, I am of the opinion that such appointments should be seriously considered.

This is important because the Authority must possess the depth to understand the opportunities lurking in the converged infocomm media sector, and to enact laws and regulations not just to accommodate the evolving sector, but to accelerate the development of the sector as well.

IMDA has regulatory and promotional functions.  How the Authority intends to carry out both functions in a converged infocomm media sector, where change is the new normal, will depend on the members it appoints.

The Infocomm Media 2025 plan states that it wishes to ‘nurture an infocomm media ecosystem that encourages risk-taking and continuous experimentation’.  Perhaps, IMDA should also take some risk and experiment with the composition of its members, so that the voices of practitioners in sectors like publishing, video and film production, and online news media, are not just heard but represented in the regulatory decision-making process.

Next, in terms of support for local content creators and to promote Singapore as a place to create content, I would like to seek clarifications on whether the funding model for these initiatives would be different under the merged and enlarged entity as opposed to when MDA was a separate agency.

Last, I urge the IMDA to look into enabling more public-private partnerships (PPP) so as to encourage and ensure contents with little or no viable commercial values, but of immense public interest, to be made available for the benefits of the masses.  Example of such contents will be the live broadcast of the Olympics.

Under Sections 5 and 6 of the bill, the Authority has to facilitate ‘the provision of an adequate range of media services that serves the interests of the general public’, and has the power to ‘collaborate with other organisations (in or outside Singapore) for the purposes of promoting information and communications services and media services’.

Singaporeans almost missed out watching history being made live from Rio de Janeiro last Saturday, when Joseph Schooling won the first ever Olympic gold medal for our country, had the impasse in the broadcast rights for the Rio Olympics not been resolved at the very last minute.

The reality is, Singapore has a small domestic market.  The decision to have live broadcast of events like the Olympics cannot be solely based on commercial consideration.  This Government has continued to support Formula One year after year. Can it not do something for events that happen only once in every four years, and of which Singaporean athletes are participating, and winning as well?

I urge IMDA to look into facilitating more public-private partnerships in bringing services and contents that may not attract viable commercial interests, but may bring immeasurable benefits to the nation as a whole.

Madam, I support the bill.