Following Singapore Press Holdings (SPH)’s announcement on Thursday (6 May) on moving its media business under a non-profit funding model due to declining advertising revenue, some staff members have expressed their apprehension regarding editorial independence within the new framework.
Speaking to TODAY, a staff member who has been with one of SPH’s newsrooms said that the source of the company’s funding “would dictate the direction SPH is taking”.
“That’s the clarity people are asking for right now,” said the employee.
TODAY reported a staff member as saying in one of the town hall meetings held by SPH on Thursday evening with its employees: “Would we still be looking to readers first, where what they want is our first port of call and what we report? Or would we be looking to the Government, since the Government is likely going to be the largest source of public funding?”
Netizens commenting on TODAY’s Facebook post on the issue, however, questioned whether there was any editorial independence in any of SPH’s titles to begin with, particularly when the company has already been receiving funding from the Government and government-linked entities through subscription and advertising.
Other commenters raised the issue of the SPH chief executive officer Ng Yat Chung’s ineffective leadership, which they perceive to have been a significant factor in SPH’s decline.
They criticised his “lack of business acumen” as a “paper general” who has “no industry expertise”.
One commenter highlighted how homegrown shipping carrier line Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) had accumulated over S$1.5 billion in losses during Mr Ng’s five-year tenure as CEO there.
One commenter opined that taxes should not go to funding SPH, and that ministers “can put up their own pocket money if they so willing to support this funding”.
However, one commenter disagreed with the idea, citing how the BBC is funded by TV license and “manage their editorial independence, mostly”.
Another commenter replied that in the UK, “their ruling party changes every decade or two”.
“This puts the ruling party in a weaker position to strongarm the BBC. Not so in Singapore,” they said.
Govt supports SPH’s plan to restructure media business, prepared to provide funding support: MCI
The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said on Thursday that it is supportive of SPH’s proposal to restructure itself and transfer its media business, SPH Media, to a company limited by guarantee (CLG).
The Ministry added that the Government is prepared to provide funding support to the CLG to “help it build capabilities for the future”.
SPH earlier announced that it will be transferring its media business to a not-for-profit entity as part of its strategic review.
This restructuring exercise will entail transferring the entire media-related businesses of SPH including relevant subsidiaries, relevant employees, News Centre, and Print Centre along with their respective leaseholds, as well as all related intellectual property and information technology assets to a newly incorporated wholly-owned subsidiary, SPH Media Holdings Pte Ltd.
SPH will provide the initial resources and funding by capitalising SPH Media with a cash injection of S$80 million, S$30 million worth of SPH shares, and SPH REIT units, as well as SPH’s stakes in four of its digital media investments.
The transfer will take place at a nominal sum. The not-for-profit entity will be a newly formed public company limited by guarantee CLG.
Following the transfer, SPH will thus no longer be subject to shareholder and other relevant restrictions under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA).
In a statement on Thursday, MCI said that the Government is prepared to provide funding support to help SPH build capabilities for the future and accelerate its digital transformation.
“It is in the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans that our local media continues to thrive and deliver quality journalism,” the Ministry wrote.
“After SPH Media is transferred to a CLG, MCI is prepared to provide it with funding support to help it build capabilities for the future.”
It added that Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran will also be delivering a ministerial statement on the matter in Parliament on 10 May.
Mr Iswaran said in the statement that having a “professional, capable and respected local news media” is critical to Singapore’s national interest.
“They report through a Singaporean lens, so that our citizens have a good understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing our country, the choices we need to make, and our place in the world. The Government therefore supports high quality, credible journalism in our local news media,” he remarked.
Mr Iswaran went on to say that SPH had concluded that the current media business model within a listed company structure is not viable, given global technology and industry trends, and the need for significant investments in digitalisation and capability development, to which the Government agreed.
He continued, “We are supportive of SPH’s proposal to restructure and transfer SPH Media to the CLG. Our goal is to help the local news media and our journalists adapt and thrive in the digital era while maintaining the high professional standards we expect and value.
“The Government is also prepared to provide SPH Media with funding support, with fiscal discipline and accountability for outcomes in areas like digital innovation and capability development, as part of a long-term sustainable business plan.”