Govt ads guided by public interest & impartiality, not political end: Tan Kiat How


Government ministries commission ads in public interest — not for scoring political points.

This was Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How’s response to questions about Government ad spending which Opposition MPs raised during Day 3 of the 2023 Committee of Supply debates (Feb 28).

An abridged version of SMS Tan’s answer follows.


Government ads must reach every Singaporean, regardless of his or her language

The Government is not unique in spending on advertising to promote awareness to the public. Many companies advertise to ensure that their brands reach their intended audience.

However, unlike private companies, which can choose their target segments for marketing, the Government has to ensure that our messages reach out to all Singaporeans.

And the Singapore public also expects the Government to do its utmost to reach them via the channels and languages which they are comfortable with, such as vernacular languages, including dialects.

Many Singaporeans like our parents and grandparent’s generation don’t speak English, but they are just as Singaporean as all of us.

And we want to make sure that they fully benefit from all the Government programs and initiatives that we roll out.

But the Government does this prudently. We have used established industry metrics including impressions, click-through rates, cost-per-clicks, and number of views for digital media advertising. For print, radio, and Free-To-Air television advertising, surveys are conducted to measure metrics like message recall.

Last year, the Government spent between S$175 million and S$200 million dollars, or around 0.2 per cent of total Government expenditure on advertising and Government’s advertising spend increased during Covid-19. This was necessary to keep the public informed on the pandemic crisis as it unfolded and the Government’s responses. Members may recall the Covid-19 vaccination campaigns like Get your shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi featuring Phua Chu Kang and Pak Jiam Buay?, by our getai celebrities.

Factual information, not feel-good intermissions

Mr Perera referred to MND’s print advertisement on accessible and affordable BTOs. Ms He Ting Ru also asked whether such ads are necessary, and are they evaluated for effectiveness.

First, let me say that we appreciate that during this period, coming out of Covid-19, that Singaporeans are feeling anxious about the availability and affordability of BTOs. And I fully empathise with these Singaporeans.

And that is the reason why MND proactively puts out facts and figures, including BTO launches; the median prices of BTO flats, so that all Singaporeans — especially young Singaporeans — know about the pipeline of BTO flats coming up and make the best decision that they can based on available information. 

These ads show factually, for example, the median price of a 4-room BTO flat in a non-mature estate is around S$347,000 before grants. This information helps our Singaporeans make the best decision that they can, and will reassure them that public housing is available and affordable.

This is in the public interest. There is no point made in the MND infographic to get Singaporeans to feel good about the government.

Government ads educate Singaporeans, make a difference

Covid-19 has taught us that public communications is crucial to maintaining high public trust in the Government.

This made a difference for all Singaporeans and we take this public trust seriously.

I would like to emphasise that government ministries’ spending on advertising is guided by impartiality. Campaigns by government agencies offer a purpose of informing or educating the public. 

Government ministries are mindful that their advertising must not be towards a political end in Singapore. And we take this seriously.

Cover photo credit: MCI, MND FB, govsg/ YouTube