The change in Singapore Press Holdings (SPH)’s media business model is not a “panacea”, but an “essential first step” to tackling challenges faced by the Singapore print media landscape, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran.
Delivering a ministerial statement in Parliament on Monday (10 May), Mr Iswaran said that SPH’s restructuring does not take place in a vacuum, but is rather a part of a global phenomenon of “fighting immediate and existential threats”.
This, he said, is a result of “an inability to predict a general economic model that will guarantee a future for quality professional journalism”.
Technological advances and the Internet have “severely disrupted the traditional business model that relied on print advertising revenue” in Singapore, he noted.
Even a successful newspaper is susceptible to takeover, as illustrated by Japanese media group Nikkei’s acquisition of Financial Times from Britain’s Pearson, said Mr Iswaran.
He noted that the French government has spent a considerable amount to support the country’s newspapers such as Le Monde and Le Figaro.
In Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Sweden, governments have been contributing to propping up their local media industries through direct subsidies and tax breaks.
“The Norwegian Media Authority gave press subsidies of €43 million, while Sweden rendered a €65 million aid package to buffer the impact of the pandemic,” said Mr Iswaran.
Similarly in Singapore through the national Jobs Support Scheme, the Government has been channelling funding support in over S$30 million dollars to Mediacorp for public service broadcasting, he highlighted.
Despite the government’s role in funding SPH media, Mr Iswaran said that the Government is mindful that local news media must remain credible and trusted.
Additionally, Singaporeans have already expressed their views on whether local media can be trusted, “quick to express” as seen in the relatively high trust in local media based on an Edelman Trust survey compared to the global average.
“Trust in (Singapore) local media is at 62 per cent above the global average of 51 per cent, and above the U.S. number, which is 45 per cent. And UK and France, which were both at 37 per cent,” said Mr Iswaran.
A survey by the British pollster YouGov last year, he added, showed that seven in 10 Singaporeans said they trusted the local media’s reporting on COVID-19.
“In the UK by comparison, YouGov found that only three in ten trusted information on covid in British newspapers,” he said.
Further, it remains the responsibility of editors and journalists to report the news objectively, in a diverse manner, and from the Singaporean point of view, said Mr Iswaran.
Mr Iswaran’s ministerial statement followed SPH’s announcement last week 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).
MCI earlier declared the Government’s support for SPH’s plan to restructure its media business, adding that it is prepared to provide funding to help it “build capabilities for the future”.
“It is in the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans that our local media continues to thrive and deliver quality journalism,” MCI said in a statement last Thursday.
“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.”
Mr Iswaran said 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.
“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,” he added.