Minister Josephine Teo reassures continued trust in Singapore media, despite SMT circulation scandal

Minister Josephine Teo reassures continued trust in Singapore media, despite SMT circulation scandal

SINGAPORE — Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information, assured that the government funding to Singapore media will not alter the relationship of mutual trust and respect between the media and the Government, stating that the government “sees no value” in jeopardizing the trust built by legacy media with the public.

“Will the government’s provision of funding change this? We see no value in putting the trust that our legacy media has built with the public at risk, if the products they create lack credibility and are ignored by audiences. ”

“It doesn’t do anyone any good.”

Josephine Teo added that particularly in troubled times with external challenges expected to test Singapore’s model of governance, the 4G leadership will rely on the media to “play its role in nation-building and to help unite Singaporeans.”

She made this comment when she delivered a speech during the launch of Patrick Daniel’s book, “Stewardship of the Singapore Media: Staying the Course.” on Tuesday (16 May).

The book comprises three lectures delivered by Patrick as an IPS Fellow, showcasing his expertise in the field. As a seasoned news veteran, Patrick served as the editor of The Business Times for a decade and later held the position of editor-in-chief of the English/Malay/Tamil Media Division of Singapore Press Holdings.

Mr Patrick was appointed as interim chief executive officer of SPH Media Trust in May 2021.

The CEO position was subsequently assumed by Ms Teo Lay Lim in February last year, which ended a leadership succession process that lasted nearly nine months.

Mrs Teo said “mutual trust and respect” between the media and government will continue under the 4G leadership

In her speech, Mrs Teo highlighted the significance of mutual trust and respect between the media and government, stating that this relationship has played a vital role in Singapore’s development as an independent nation.

“Like all relationships, it is not without tension. It has to be constantly managed, but it has worked. ”

“At its heart, this relationship is built on the significant value that the government places on our local media’s role in nation-building. This will continue under the 4G leadership.”

She cited the government’s collaboration with the media during the COVID-19 pandemic as an example, where information was shared promptly, and tough questions from journalists were addressed candidly.

“This did not mean that journalists saw eye-to-eye with the government on all issues concerning the pandemic. On some occasions, they wrote op-eds expressing their disagreement. There was editorial independence, but the media and government operated on the same set of facts.”

Mrs Teo also stated the government’s expectation of successful digital transformation and effective media and news provision from media companies in exchange for government support.

“In return for government’s support, our ask of the media companies is to strive towards successful digital transformation and be effective providers of media and news, whether in print, broadcast or on the internet.”

“I urge our media companies, whether SMT or Mediacorp, to look closely at Patrick’s scenario and his assessment of the capabilities required to get there, in line with the process that he described as “backcasting”.

Minister Teo said the government is committed to supporting local media players to “stay the course”

Minister Teo acknowledged the disruption faced by traditional media outlets due to online platforms.

“Clickbait content vies for the limited attention of consumers. False information has become pervasive. We sometimes find ourselves in this awkward position of not knowing what to believe.”

She cited findings from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2022, trust in news media in Singapore has remained largely stable over the last five years, and is amongst the highest levels in the Asia Pacific region.

“Singapore’s level of trust in news media, at 43 per cent in 2022, is comparable to the global and regional average.”

She said local media has managed to preserve and build public trust throughout the years because they have always striven to provide accurate, objective, and timely reporting.

“As I have said before and will say again, the government is committed to supporting our local media players to stay the course. They continue to reach the vast majority of Singaporeans, even as the competition for attention intensifies.”

“We want local media to thrive and be able to provide high quality, credible local content to all Singaporeans. This is why we are funding both Mediacorp and SPH Media Trust in their transformation efforts.”

Singapore on funding SPH Media

Before selling off its assets and delisting from the Singapore Stock Exchange, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) craved off its publishing business into a nonprofit entity in December 2021, which is named SPH Media Trust (SMT) or commonly known as SPH Media.

This was said to be in light of the declining publications revenue.

Josephine Teo announced in Parliament last February that the Government will fund SMT, which publishes The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, among other newspapers and magazines, to the tune of up to S$180 million annually over the next five years, or S$900 million in total.

This year, SMT faced a scandal after Wake Up Singapore (WUSG) exposed firings and penalties imposed on staff for misrepresenting circulation figures on 8 January.

The scandal involved misrepresenting circulation data, counting lapsed contracts, printing and counting copies for circulation, and double-counting subscriptions across multiple instances.

SPH Media, through a report by the Straits Times, acknowledged that 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 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.

During her parliamentary replies to questions filed by Members of Parliament in February this year, Mrs Teo reaffirmed the Singapore Government’s commitment to fund SPH Media Trust (SMT) to develop local newsrooms despite the revelation that circulation data for its publications have been inflated, at least for the period between September 2020 and March 2022

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