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SPH Media goes not-for-profit, Singapore goes back to Phase 2

Covid-19 update

An elderly patient at Tan Tock Seng Hospital—the site of our first hospital cluster—died due to complications from Covid-19. As of Thursday, there were 40 cases linked to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and some hospital staff have reported discrimination, such as private hire drivers cancelling on them or people not wanting to be around them.

Apart from the hospital, there are nine other active clusters. With a spike in community cases, we’re back to Phase 2 restrictions from today until the end of the month (at least). Gyms have shut, and social gatherings have gone back down to a maximum of five. People are also advised to keep social gatherings to a maximum of two per day. Hospitals are deferring non-urgent surgeries and admissions to conserve resources.

A big change underway at Singapore Press Holdings

Singapore Press Holdings’ media business (which includes dailies like The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu, alongside other titles) has had a miserable year: for the first time ever, it was S$11.4 million in the red for the financial year that ended at the end of August 2020. If it weren’t for the Jobs Support Scheme from the government, it would lost a whopping S$39.5 million.

It’s been known for some time that SPH’s media arm has been floundering, particularly with print advertising and subscription revenue on the decline. Now, they’re making a big shift: while SPH will continue with its investments in things like malls and real estate, the media-related stuff will be spun off into SPH Media, which will be a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. (A company limited by guarantee is a public company that does not have share capital, and don’t pay dividends and profits to its members.)

Interestingly, this means that the coming SPH Media actually won’t meet the definition of newspaper company under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, which defines “newspaper company” as “a public company limited by shares which has complied with section 10 [of the Act]”. It’s therefore not entirely clear at this stage how some provisions of that law are going to apply to SPH Media.

I don’t want to squish anyone's hopes, but this doesn’t mean the liberation of Singapore’s mainstream news provider. It’s going to take more than a corporate restructuring for SPH to suddenly care about press freedom and independent reporting. Instead, what we’re seeing here has been described as the effective nationalisation of Singapore’s main newspaper company. The Ministry for Communications and Information has already said that they’re willing to fund SPH Media.

Public funding doesn’t necessarily mean that a news outlet is compromised. But as Cherian George points out, the PAP government doesn’t have a strong track record of arms-length funding; it’s quite likely that this money will come with strings (regardless of whether these conditions are put in writing, or left as a tacit understanding between the government and SPH Media).

[Related: a special topic, put together by Cherian, on on public funding of the media.]

We’ll have to wait and see what happens next, but this restructuring news wasn’t the only SPH thing that has caught public attention. Ng Yat Chung, SPH’s chief executive officer, “took umbrage” to a question about editorial integrity and independence from the demands of advertisers, and decided to scold the reporter with a “how very dare you”, finger-wagging response. “[SPH’s] Chairman [Lee Boon Yang] is a gentleman. I am not,” he said. Yeesh.

You can watch the video in the tweet below:

It’s understandable that the CEO of a media company (or what is currently still a media company) would be eager to defend its newspapers’ editorial integrity. But (1) the angry, scolding tone of a powerful man getting upset because he was asked a question he didn’t like at a press conference is a perfect example of Singapore’s press freedom problems, and (2) please lah, no one in Singapore needs to get lectured about editorial independence by SPH.

The Ng Yat Chung memes have already come flooding in. But if we end up in a situation where our own tax dollars are going towards helping the PAP control the newspapers even more, then then joke will turn out to be on us after all.

Got some more…

Gilbert Goh is under investigation under the Public Order Act for standing outside the ICA Building with a placard calling for all flights from India to be banned. Contrary to what his placard said, he is racist, with a history of racism and enabling/dog-whistling racist comments from others. But that doesn't mean he should be investigated for just holding up a placard.

The ComfortDelGro Driving Centre has turned away people who have been in close proximity to others who tested positive for Covid-19, even though those people hadn't been contacted by contact-tracers or told to quarantine. Apparently, they're finding this out through the "Covid Health Status" or "history" tabs of the TraceTogether app, even those that's only for personal reference. What's not answered in the article is this: how did the driving centre access those parts of the app? Did they force people to show it to them? Either way, this is going beyond the way Singaporeans were told things would work.

Ready to light up in pink?

Pink Dot will be back (online, anyway) on 12 June this year. Here they are with a new video to tug on our heartstrings:

Thank you for reading! Feel free to forward this on to anyone you think might be interested. 🙏🏼 Once again, a reminder that becoming a Milo Peng Funder is an awesome thing to do! You can also make a one-off contribution via my Ko-Fi page.