Glaring conflicts of interest and opaqueness in SMT’s review of mispresented circulation figures

Glaring conflicts of interest and opaqueness in SMT’s review of mispresented circulation figures

During a parliamentary question session on February 22nd, Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song, the Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, posed a question to the Minister for Communications and Information, Mrs Josephine Teo.

Mr Giam inquired whether the Ministry would be requesting the SPH Media Trust (SMT) committee to share its full investigation report with the public, and when the report would be expected to be completed and released.

Mrs Teo responded that the events under investigation took place before SMT was formed and before the government provided funding to SMT.

She also explained that SMT’s internal review of circulation data from September 2020 to March 2022 had no impact on public funds, as the data was not used to decide how much to fund. As such, the decision on whether to share the full investigation report with the public resides with SMT, which has its own executive team and board.

This parliamentary exchange follows a scandal that was exposed by Wake Up Singapore on January 8, where SMT fired and imposed penalties on staff for misrepresenting circulation figures.

Following the expose by WUSG, Straits Times reported that inconsistencies in the reporting of data were discovered during a review of internal processes in March 2022.

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

The government will be providing S$180 million annually to SMT for five years, yet it is allowing SMT to make the decision on whether to share the full investigation report with the public.

Isn’t this arguably, in a way, like an “ownself check ownself”?

The inital review was conducted by an independent external party that discovered the fake subscriptions, but the organisation’s internal audit and risk committee is now conducting further investigation on the matter.

What kind of logic is this? Shouldn’t it also be an independent external party?

Aren’t the audit and risk committee members — people who may have been paid to serve for years — and who arguably, in a sense, did not do a good job in the first place?

What is the meaning of “audit” and “risk”?

Isn’t there a conflict of interest?

SMT should release its full investigation report to the public, to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the matter.

Failure to do so risks further damage to the reputation of SMT and undermines the public’s trust in the organization, especially since public monies will be used to fund the organisation of up to S$900 million for five years.

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