by Joseph Nathan
When Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced their restructuring yesterday, concerned Singaporeans were unconvinced by their self-justification in turning our national broadsheet into a “not-for-profit” organization.
For forty over years, SPH has benefited from the near monopoly in the Straits Times (ST) as a result of our Newspaper and Printing Presses Act of 1974, and also from the endless governmental grants & transfers, concessions and spending.
For SPH to surrender the media business back into the public domain as a “not-for-profit” organization when it has become so toxic means our Government will now have to use our hard-earned reserve to socialize away their latest colossal failure for good.
This is not only financially untenable in the use of our reserve but is also not desirable as it means that we are actually rewarding corporate incompetency and failures across our government linked entities.
It is like the clubhouses in the Premier League telling the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to allow them to transfer away their football obligation, such as in the upkeep of the football team, while they get to enjoy the benefits and income from their game-machines, betting outlets and past assets that were acquired.
It is unethical of anyone to be using our government and our reserve to socialize away cost while profiting privately the profit.
Such absurdities, or free-riders, must be stopped before they manifest into the new norms.
To add salt to the indignant felt by Singaporeans, it does not help when the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) sequenced its announcement, like a well-rehearsed orchestral, that it is supportive of SPH’s restructuring and that S. Iswaran, its minister, will deliver a ministerial statement in Parliament on 10 May (Monday).
Why is our government putting itself at risks of being accused of being supportive of corporate incompetency and failures instead of holding the senior executives at SPH to account for their failure to keep SPH commercially viable despite all the supports it has been getting?
Is our government setting up unwarranted precedents in rewarding corporate failures across our government-linked entities, and is this the way forward on how our government plan to use our hard-earned reserve?
Guess it will be helpful to see how many politicians in Parliament, who had previously advocated prudent use of our reserve even when it comes to helping hard-hit Singaporeans in the current pandemic, will be voicing their concern or objecting to the proposed statement by MCI on Monday.
Umbrage – The New Annoyance:
It does not help when its CEO Ng Yat Chung explicitly took “umbrage” at a reporter from CNA when asked if “the media business will now pivot to emphasize editorial integrity, for example, ahead of advertisers’ interests.”
Ng’s display of anger towards the reporter is clearly unwarranted as she was just doing her due diligent as a journalist and has every right to be asking some hard questions on behalf of her readers.
His latest outburst has exemplified what could be fatally wrong at SPH – the failure of their journalists to be asking hard questions with courage and integrity in their pursuit of editorial integrity on behalf of their readers.
In this age and time, who will be bothered to pay to read what TST is printing when its contents are largely just copies of press releases, advertisements or lifted off other sites without value-adds?
Is the toxic editorial culture at SPH a result of senior executives like Ng who may be intolerance towards being asked hard questions?
As such, senior editors in SPH are now drawn into the saga and it will be good to see how many of them will have the courage to stand for up in defence of the right of their journalists to be asking what need to be asked, even if the person is their CEO.
Even netizens were actively circulating one of Ho Ching’s latest Facebook posting of an image that carried a Pythagoras’ saying “In anger, we should refrain from both speech and action”.
How much more damages can Singapore Tolerate?
Ng is notoriously known for the sale of Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) after it became a loss making investment under his stewardship. Singaporeans were naturally upset when the French buyer turned the business around profitably within months of their acquisition.
For years, concerned Singaporeans have been raising their concerns that Ng will bring SPH to its knee, the way he has brought NOL to its knee.
Well, that day has come true but who is going to take responsibility for it now?
Can the person who placed him at SPH despite all these warnings please raise your hand?
Should Singapore allow Ng another chance to try his luck with another profit-making entity to see if he will be third time unlucky?
To be fair to Ng, I don’t think the 4G PAP politicians can even name one ex-general who had done well in either our public or private sector since their retirement from the forces.
As such, the larger blame in this latest saga should fall on the one who started the recruitment of all these retired ex-generals instead of allowing them to retire.
Will PM Lee listen to the ground and end this horrible ideology before Singapore gets bankrupted by these ex-generals?
The best gauge of market sentiment for listed SPH is to look at its latest stock price. It closed previously at S$1.79 and has since fallen by more than 15% to S$1.52 at time of writing. Even investors are selling down on SPH.
If our government were to allow this saga to continue as planned without hauling the senior executives at SPH to accountability, and also those senior public servants at MCI for implicating their ministry with this highly contentious saga, then it will lose its further credibility in its governance.
Singaporeans will also want to know if our government has the right to keep using our reserve so casually to rescue money-losing entities like SPH.
Guess concerned Singaporeans will be watching closely how our government will be responding to this whole saga in Parliament on Monday as it will shows if they still truly believe that Singapore deserves better…