(L to R) Ng Yat Chung, Josephine Teo and Wong Wei Kong

by Joseph Nathan

When news broke yesterday that three senior executives at SPH Media have been inflating its circulation data, the whole saga very quickly escalated into becoming a national embarrassment as more Singaporeans started questioning the integrity of those media executives in the media group under SPH Media in whom the People’s Action Party (PAP) government has generously supported despite many objections from Singaporeans who see it as a desperate attempt by the PAP to perpetuate its own political propaganda.

To make matters worse, when Wong Wei Kong, the editor-in-chief of the publications under SMT, foolishly tried to subsequently narrate that SPH Media has taken a “painful but necessary decision to make public that its past circulation figures were inaccurate”, it gave a false impression that as if it was the one who had disclosed this deception on its own accord when the truth is that this whole saga came to light after Wake Up Singapore (WUSG) reported it.

This goes to show just how insincere its editor-in-chief has been and how SPH Media has no qualms in trying to bend the narrative to play down the whole incident as if Singaporeans and their advertisers are all fools.

Come on Wong, time to come clean and admit that SPH Media was caught with its pants down and stop trying to spin more lies or falsehoods.

If not for WUSG, we would all still be kept in the dark, no?

If the Chairman, CEO, senior executives, editors and journalists at SPH Media can still behave so insincerely and lack the moral courage to come clean, then the whole talk of setting up SPH Media Trust (SMT) is looking more like another desperate attempt by the PAP politicians to use tax-payers monies to prolong the longevity of their party rather than for the good of our country.

It is very probable that inflating the circulation data may well be just a part of a wider scandal, and it is best for Singaporeans to brace themselves for more bad news to come.

The Scandal

Before this latest scandal, we have seen many of the 4G PAP politicians actively singing praises of SPH Media so that they can then justify the use of almost a billion dollars of public funds to keep it from sinking into obscurity in the next five years while allowing its previous shareholders and institutional investors like Temasek to discard all their liabilities and walk away from this sinking ship with a handsome profit while the new buyer of its assets gets a “good buy” out of this absurd arrangement.

As the scandal slowly unravels, it is looking like those who had earlier taken Singaporeans for a ride may now find themselves being compromised by this latest scandal as if some bad karma had returned to taunt them.

Up to now, it is totally incomprehensible as to why the leadership at SPH Media has been silent on naming those involved in criminally manipulating circulation data to cheat not only advertisers from the private sector but also our government.

And as almost a billion dollars of public funds has been allocated to support SMT, shouldn’t the new Chairman, CEO and senior management be coming forward to hold a press conference and stop this scandal from escalating needlessly out of control?

Criminalities & Wider Implications

Given the criminalities involved in the deliberate inflation of circulation data and the cheating of advertisers and our government, why has no one from SPH Media lodge any police report so that the Police can act swiftly to prevent those involved from tampering or destroying critical evidence?

But if SPH thinks that they can simply fire those three veterans to avoid making a police report or informing the government, probably thinking that the whole scandal can stay hidden by allowing those three executives have walked into the sunset, then its Chairman and CEO will have a lot of explanation to do.

Besides our government and advertisers who got cheated, how is the authority going to address the manipulation of SPH’s stock price as a result of this scandal?

By keeping quiet for so long, aren’t they all complicit in the crimes that were committed and shouldn’t they be held as liable as those three executives?

Just how deep is the rot?

For failing to take decisive action, SPH Media has led some Singaporeans to speculate that the stepping down of ex-Lieutenant-General Ng Yat Chung in May 2022 as the former CEO of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) may have been connected to this latest scandal.

Such an allegation is not entirely baseless when one looks at the tremendous amount of effort and resources needed to regularly print so many publications and then subsequently destroying them.

As such, it is hard to believe that the previous senior management did not know or suspect something was terribly wrong at SPH unless everyone was sleeping on their jobs.

It is equally hard to believe that such an elaborate scandal can be pulled off by just three executives without the help of more employees of SPH.

If so, why wasn’t this scandal raised in parliament when Mrs Josephine Teo, the Minister for Communications & Information, was championing for the government to keep SPH Media economically viable by providing it with an enormous annual grant of up to S$180 million and is renewable after the first five years?

Was Josephine aware of this malpractice, or have the former Chairman and CEO kept all these disturbing developments from her?

As such, shouldn’t the former Chairman, CEO and directors be investigated and held liable for this scandalous crime too?

And where did former MCI Iswaran get his data from when he was singing praises of SPH Media’s performance in parliament in May 2022 when stating that “SPH’s overall reach and readership has never been higher as its total circulation rose by 5% between 2017 and 2020”.

In light of this scandal, are those data still credible, and if not, isn’t the parliamentary record also corrupted by this scandal?

Now that the cat is out of the bag, both Josephine and Iswaran ought to consider addressing parliament to retract their earlier glowing statements for SPH Media for otherwise, the whole purpose and function of parliament is nothing but a joke, no?

Who is going to pay for this scandal?

For Mrs Teo, she will have to also address how SPH is going to compensate advertisers who have been cheated, including the government of Singapore, as it does not make sense for SPH Media to own up while the government dip into our reserves to help SPH pay for its financial damages, penalties and liabilities.

So it will be interesting to see who will ultimately end up paying for this scandal.

Think about it – if those executives at SPH Media, past and present, can possibly manipulate its data to give a false impression that all is well at SPH, enjoy their lucrative remunerations and benefits all these years but end up cheating both the government and advertisers, by what authority does SPH Media have to fire those involved and not make a public disclosure or make a police report?

Are they above the law to be doing so?

Are they going to pay for all the mess they have created?

As such, pending police investigation, the current senior management of SPH should be held responsible and complicit and not be allowed to destroy or tamper with evidence that may materially implicate them.

It will be interesting to see if Mr K Shanmugam, the Minister for Home Affairs, will have the moral courage and integrity to put the law above the interest of his party by bringing all those responsible for this crime and those who condoned or tried to conceal it to court.

As much of our public fund is at stake, will Mr Lawrence Wong, the Finance Minister, be able to show his political impartiality by convening a public inquiry into this whole scandal and conducting a thorough review as to whether the government should continue to support SMT when its integrity and credibility have been so badly tarnished.

In light of this scandal, isn’t it “cheaper, better & wiser” to fund WUSG instead of SMT?

Importance of check & balance

This latest scandal at SPH is symptomatic of a large problem facing Singapore — the growing lack of transparency and accountability at many of our public and government-linked organizations and the rise of mediocrity over meritocracy.

Think about it – the former CEO of SPH has already sold off our once highly-prized NOL and is now holding the dubious honour of stripping away the assets of SPH and handling them freely to its previous shareholders while getting the government to pump in hundredths of millions just to keep the non-viable part of SPH going annually.

Seriously, what does an ex-paper general like Ng know about the complexities of the media industry where everything is dynamic, unlike the army, where everything can be stripped down to “command & order”.

For shareholders like Temasek, isn’t Ng a very obedient and lucrative asset to cultivate, but at the national level, isn’t he a very costly liability?

Singapore should get rid of all the ex-paper generals and mayors if we truly want to restore meritocracy and get rid of mediocrity.

Without “check & balance”, there is no transparency or accountability to keep mediocrity in check, and when this happens, corruption will very quickly permeate and perverse every facet of the organization and our society.

Question is, are we there yet?

In this aspect, Singapore cannot afford to be caught in one scandal after another but must put in real effort to restore meritocracy, transparency and accountability in every of our public and government-linked entities.

The Hard Truth is that if no real effort is put in to restore transparency and accountability across our public and government-linked entities, then it is only a matter of time before most of these entities will start rotting from the top, no?

In this aspect, the senior executives, past and present, must be held responsible and be charged so that the message is clear – Singapore will not tolerate or allow anyone or any entity to make a mockery of our country, our parliament or our government.

The ball is now in the court of the PAP-led parliamentarians and if nothing is done decisively, then this whole scandal will cause the PAP-led government to lose its integrity and credibility.

So the challenge is, can the PAP politicians implicated by this scandal be able to show their impartialities and put the interest of Singapore and the laws above those of their party?

Patriotic Singaporeans must scrutinize the development of this scandal and hold all those who dare perpetuate or make light of these falsehoods, manipulations and lies to accountability so that we can get rid of useless parliamentarians at the next General Election.

Until the PAP politicians walk their talk and are able to do what is right by the people in a consistent manner, then Singaporeans ought to wise up to the Hard Truth that Singapore deserves better…

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