SINGAPORE — Minister for Communications and Information, Mrs Josephine Teo, has stated that the decision on whether to release the full investigation report on SPH Media Trust (SMT)’s misrepresentation of circulation figures to the public resides with the company’s executive team and board because the data was not used to decide if and how much to fund the media organisation.

In a parliamentary question on 22 February, Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, asked the Mrs Teo, whether the Ministry would be requesting the committee to share its full investigation report with the public and when the report is expected to be completed and released.

In response, Mrs Teo clarified that the events in question 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 if and how much to fund.

Mrs Teo said that with no direct impact to public funding, the decision on whether to share the full investigation report with the public resides with SMT, which has its own executive team and board.

Mrs Teo reiterated that the Ministry expects SMT to act responsibly and maintain the public’s trust in their newsrooms and journalists.

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

Following the expose by WUSG, Straits Times reported that some 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 percent 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.

Speaking in Parliament on 6 February in response to questions filed by concerned MPs over the scandal, Mrs Teo reaffirmed the Singapore Government’s commitment to fund SMT for up to S$900 million over five years.

Mrs Teo emphasised the importance of local news outlets and the need to preserve them in the public interest amid severe disruption in the media industry.

In her defence of the media organisation, Mrs Teo stressed that local news outlets provide a voice to the Singapore identity and perspectives, and also provide information that people can trust to be accurate and objective.

SMT handed over internal review only on 9 January

While Mrs Teo painted a rosy picture of SMT of them being upfront with the review results, it would appear that SMT might not have shared the info with the Government.

This is supported by the revelation by Mrs Teo of SMT handing over details of its internal review on 9 January after WUSG broke the story on the scandal on 8 January.

This is somewhat supported by whistleblowers who shared that staff from selected departments at SPH Media were allegedly told to “let the matter rest” at a town hall meeting by the Chief Executive Officer of SMT.

According to the whistleblower, the town hall meeting was held some days after several executives were “taken to task or left the company after an internal review”, and was hosted by the CEO of SPH Media Trust, Ms Teo Lay Lim.

In it, she informed the members who attended of the actions taken by the company and asked them to “let the matter rest at that” — referring to the departure of the executives.

The CEO was said to be concerned about the matter coming to the attention of the Ministry of Communications and Information and being debated and questioned in the Singapore Parliament.

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