So many questions stemming from the impending transfer of Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) media business into a Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG).
Were shareholders consulted on the move to do so? From what I heard from shareholders, that does not seems to be the case. From what was said at the press conference, the only consultation with the shareholders seems to be on what will be the new name for the listed company.
Both its Chairman and CEO, Dr Lee Boon Yang and Mr Ng Yat Chung respectively, argued that the move to transfer the media business would ultimately benefit the shareholders due to the declining revenue which has been a burden to them.
Furthermore, the shareholders do not seem to agree with that argument.
Following the resumption of trading after yesterday’s sudden announcement and cease in trade, the stock price of SPH dropped from 1.79 to 1.52 at the very start. Although the price picked up to 1.63 at a point, it then fell back down to 1.53~1.54.
Immediately on the same day of the announcement, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said that the Government is supportive of SPH’s proposal to restructure itself and transfer its media business, SPH Media, to a CLG.
The Ministry added that the Government is prepared to provide funding support to the CLG to “help it build capabilities for the future”.
From MCI’s speedy response to the move, it seems discussions have been carried out and decisions have been made even before shareholders are made aware through the announcement on Thursday.
Just on this point itself, can we trust the new entity to be transparent on any influence from the Government on its editorial stance as both the Chairman and CEO try to portray its media publications to be?
It would sound from Mr Ng’s tone that SPH would have loved to close its media publication to cut its losses and focus on its money making property businesses. However, it is impossible for the incumbent ruling party to allow the media publications that have served them so well over the past 60 over years to close down.
To separate the media business from its listed company entity, into a not-for-profit entity, would mean that the Government will then take up the burden of financing the publications.
So, given that the Government is positioned to provide funding to the sinking media publications of SPH, how would editorial independence be assured?
Now, if SPH media publications cannot be trusted to maintain editorial independence in a private company setting, what to expect when it becomes reliant on government funding for operation sustainability?
What we might see is taxpayers funding a government propaganda programme masqueraded as support for quality journalism.
Bear in mind that Singapore is ranked 160 in the World Press Freedom Index for a reason.