SPH restructures its media business: What does this mean?

Read the update: SPH Restructures Its Media Business: What Does This Mean For Shareholders And Potential Investors?

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced this morning (6 May) that it is transferring its media business – that is, Straits Times and other newspapers – into a not-for-profit company, amid the newspapers’ declining ad revenue.

According to the SPH media release, this means SPH itself will no longer subject to the shareholder restrictions under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA), after the restructuring.

The CLG, on the other hand, can seek “funding from a range of public and private sources with a shared interest in supporting quality journalism and credible information…

Why it matters?

The NPPA was set up to protect newspapers like The Straits Times from foreign influence, by implementing an exclusive special class of share ownership. According to academic Cherian George, these SPH management shares are currently held by “Great Eastern (22%), OCBC (17%), NTUC Income (16%), Singtel (13%), DBS (9%), UOB (8%) and NUS (5%).”

With the transfer to a not-for-profit entity, SPH’s media business appears to be opening itself to source and receive from more financial backers.

Based on the post by Cherian, he argues that this move just means that SPH Media is ultimately paving the way for ‘nationalisation’ since the potential financiers – organisations with deep pockets – are usually state-linked.

Juicy bits

Mediacorp-owned TODAY just couldn’t resist throwing this fun piece of reporting!

Following more questions about maintaining editorial independence, SPH chief executive officer Ng Yat Chung appeared to lose his cool and said he took umbrage at such questions. 

Pointing to reporters present at the press conference, he said that their media outlets “receive substantial funding from various sources”, but they do not describe themselves as “bowing to the needs of advertisers in doing your job”. 

“For SPH, we have always had advertising and we have never, never conceded to the needs of advertisers… The fact that you dare to question (the editorial independence) of SPH titles… I don’t believe even where you come from, you concede in doing your job,” Mr Ng said.

“I must call this out… Chairman is a gentleman. I’m not.”

SPH to restructure media business into not-for-profit entity
(Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/sph-restructure-media-business-not-profit-entity)

It’s quite telling of the CEO as a person. Why jump at a perfectly legitimate question? As the head of a media business (or property business I should say), he must have some idea how this kind of reaction will be like, if it went out to the public. Perhaps he doesn’t care either.

Parting words

I had shared in a previous post about how SPH is that one of the few relatively reliable voices to report on the government. (READ THE OPINION PIECE)

Based on the reactions from prominent former ST journalists, this move is nothing positive and a step further from the independent voice that SPH newspapers can be.

READ MORE: How Singapore’s media giants, SPH and Mediacorp, evolved in the face of digitalisation in the book, Navigating Disruption: Media Relations in the Digital Age.