SMT logo and its publications sold in its vending machine.

SINGAPORE — It has been reported that several senior employees of SPH Media have been taken to task or left the company due to issues linked to the circulation numbers of its publications.

This comes after a scoop by Wake Up Singapore (WUSG) on Sunday (8 Jan) about the alleged departures of three senior executives in the media social enterprise over alleged discrepancies relating to circulation and/or subscription numbers.

Straits Times (ST), which is also a publication under SPH Media or SPH Media Trust (SMT), reported a spokesman saying, “We have immediately taken steps to strengthen processes.

“The staff involved had been taken to task, or had left the organisation.”

ST pointed out that the employees were not named, while TOC notes that two of the three senior executives that WUSG were reporting on still have their profile listed as being employed in SMT.

According to the report, some inconsistencies in the reporting of the data were discovered during a review of internal processes in March 2022 which looked at a period from September 2020 to March 2022.

This included the reporting of circulation data, lapsed contracts continued to be counted into circulation data and also copies that were printed, counted for circulation and then destroyed; as well as double-counting of subscriptions across multiple instances.

The spokesperson also shared that a project account was injected with additional funding over a period of time to purchase fictitious circulation.

“Certain circulation numbers were arbitrarily derived,” noted the spokesperson, which resulted in a discrepancy of between 85,000 and 95,000 daily average copies across all titles, which represents 10 to 12 per cent of the reported daily average circulation.

The media publications of the former Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) were incorporated as SMT, a Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG), on 19 July 2021 after being cut off from SPH due to its declining revenue. They include ST and The Business Times, as well as Lianhe Zaobao, Shin Min Daily News, Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu.

According to the report, the period of review was from September 2020 to March 2022.

This period included a full financial year, from September 2020 to August 2021, plus two quarters – from September 2021 to November 2021, when the media business was still part of the listed company, as well as from December 2021 to March 2022.

Peoples Voice call for a COI

Opposition party, Peoples Voice (PV), has earlier called for the establishment of a Commission Of Inquiry (COI) by the President on Sunday into the matter after WUSG broke the story.it.

The call for a COI on the party’s Facebook page which was penned by PV’s leader, Lim Tean, demanded transparency on the serious allegation, given that the public is funding SMT to the tune of S$900 million over five years or S$180 million per year.

In another Telegram post on the matter, Mr Lim said that the allegation strikes at the very heart of the integrity of SMT.

He wrote, “it should be remembered that what is now SMT was previously the media arm of SPH, which was a loss-making operation, despite the fact that it had a monopolistic position as far as print media is concerned in Singapore.”

“The profitable property arm of SPH which had assets close to $4 Billion and which generated revenue of reportedly around $300 million a year was sold off. Singaporeans were left with the thin end of the wedge and having to fund the loss making media arm of SPH.”

He added, “Josephine Teo said that the government had to provide “meaningful” financial support for SMT the Ensure the viability of the local media as Singaporeans needed a local lens to view International news. She said it was critical for a multicultural and multiracial society such as Singapore.”

“K Shanmugam said there was no choice but to provide the financial support in order to have journalistic quality of the highest level. He also said the local media needed to “foster” trust with the local population in order for government to function well. S Iswaran said the readership of SPH had increased 5% from 2017 to 2020.”

Mr Lim commented that the allegations, if true, debunk the statements made by these Ministers.

“There can be no trust between the public and a media which is not truthful on its circulation/ subscription figures.” wrote Mr Lim.

“Singaporeans were asked to support a media which could not sustain itself despite its monopolistic position. The figure of $900 million is almost 1/3 of what the government will collect each year from a 2% hike in GST. Singaporeans have been ordered to pay even more of a regressive tax in economically challenging times. They will not take kindly to their monies being used to support an entity if it has not been truthful over a fundamental issue such as its subscription/ circulation figures.”

Mr Lim commented that Singaporeans have every right to the truth of the matter and said a COI, if conducted properly, will provide troubling answers surrounding the alleged discrepancy.

In particular, Mr Lim raised the question of the subscription/ circulation figures that were reported to the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) when the decision was made by the People’s Action Party (PAP) government to bail out SPH’s media business.

Mr Lim opined, “It is the public’s money at stake here and it would be a betrayal of the public trust if SMT keeps silent on the matter and no COI is convened. In fact it would be a dereliction of the President’s duties and responsibilities if she does not convene a COI in such circumstances.”

“Singaporeans will definitely not stand or accept any “internal” investigation or review.”

It is unknown if the Ministers were aware of the issues revealed by the said review when they made their respective speeches or comments on SMT.

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