SINGAPORE: New free-to-air TV channel solely for Indian-language programmes

Airtime of Indian-language programs will increase to 65 hours per week

The Straits Times
Saturday, March 1, 2008

By Li Xueying

Indian Singaporeans will have more viewing choices on television, with the setting up of a new free-to-air channel dedicated to Indian-language programmes.

Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Balaji Sadasivan announced this yesterday during the debate over his ministry's budget.

Speaking in Tamil, he said: 'We have received much feedback from the Indian community asking for the improvement of Vasantham programmes.

'We have thus decided to make Vasantham a separate channel for Tamil and other Indian programmes. Indians in Singapore can look forward to a much more improved Vasantham channel.'

Currently, Indian, children and arts programmes share one channel, called variously Vasantham Central, Kids Central and Arts Central.

With the new channel, the number of hours dedicated to Indian-language programmes will increase from 29 hours per week to 65 hours.

The news delighted retiree M. Rajasegeran, 61, who now pays about $100 a month for cable television to get his fix of Tamil programmes.

'They were shown only at night on weekdays and in the afternoons on weekends, so I had to subscribe to cable,' he said. 'Now I can cut down on those cable channels, and save about $40 a month.'

The announcement led MP Lim Biow Chuan (Marine Parade GRC) to ask if the new channel will have Hindi programmes.

Dr Balaji replied that currently, at least 75 per cent of the programming on Vasantham channel must be in Tamil, while 25 per cent can be in other Indian languages. This will not change.

Dr Balaji also answered questions on the issue of Chinese dialect programmes on television, an issue raised by MP Baey Yam Keng (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Baey said the ban on dialects on TV has 'deprived many elderly Singaporeans of their mother tongue programmes'.

After three decades of the Speak Mandarin Campaign, dialects today 'are no longer a threat' and would in fact 'very likely become extinct'.

He called on the ministry to give dialects 'a breathing space' and asked if it could permit airing of certain dialect programmes, but with the option of dual sound.

Dr Balaji replied that there is no 'outright' ban on dialects on TV and radio.

'Where practical, we allow some dialect programming to serve the needs of older Singaporeans and the arts community,' he said. He cited daily dialect news on radio, dialect operas on Channel 8, and Arts Central's leeway 'to show arthouse movies with some dialect if the films have artistic merit'.

But he warned that the success of the Speak Mandarin Campaign 'is an outcome that is not irreversible'.

'We should not inadvertently reverse the progress we have made through an uncontrolled liberalisation of our dialect policy.

'While dialect is not frozen, while it may be cold, we still want Mandarin to be cooler,' he said, in a reference to the Speak Mandarin Campaign tagline 'Hua Yu Cool'.