On Monday (Jan 9), TheIndependent.Sg reported that several senior employees of SPH Media were taken to task or left the company after an internal review found issues linked to inconsistent circulation numbers. It spoke to a veteran ex-SPH editor PN Balji. TISG was following up on a Wake-Up Singapore scoop on the development
According to an SPH Media spokesman, lapsed contracts continued to be counted in circulation data. Some copies were printed, counted for circulation and then destroyed; double-counting of subscriptions across multiple instances.
“A project account was injected with additional funding over a period of time to purchase fictitious circulation,” the spokesman said. “Certain circulation numbers were arbitrarily derived,” she added.
These 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 spokesman added.
According to PN Balji, this has apparently been going on for over 30 years, where papers would be counted into circulation but destroyed even by “dumping in the river”.
He said: “This massaging of circulation figures has been whispered about for years. That was when SPH was a public listed company. Times have changed. Today it is a company that relies on public funding and with a former senior minister like Khaw Boon Wan in charge, public accounting has become important”.
TISG asked Balji: “At the heart of the issue is the integrity of SMT (SPH Media Trust). How or who the “official” or national media now regard its role if it cannot be trusted?”
To this, Balji added: “Trust and integrity are built up over a long period of time. As long as government controls media, trust and integrity will always be an issue”.
Circulation is a count of how many copies of a particular publication are distributed. Readership is an estimate of how many readers a publication has. Readership figures are usually higher than circulation figures because of the assumption that a typical copy is read by more than one person.
So was there or was there not fraudulent practices?
Bear in mind that three persons have already been reportedly taken to task or asked to go. Were collateral damage in a new broom sweep clean operation? Were they unfairly unpunished?
For the record, the period of review was from Sep 2020 to Mar 2022, which included a full financial year from Sep 2020 to Aug 2021, and two quarters – from Sep 2021 to Nov 2021, when the media business was still part of the listed company, as well as from Dec 2021 to Mar 2022, when SPH Media had become a Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG).
There seems to be something brewing in SMT. I para-quote someone: “It looks more like a clash between the expectations of CEO Teo Lay Lim and SPH/Audit Bureau of Circulation Bureau auditing standards. What does the Ministry of Communications and Information have to say?”
It might need someone with sufficient clout to settle the issue, to set the record right.
Why is there interest in the goings-on of SMT? It is, after all, the national paper group, supposed to have integrity, though its continual unquestioning support for the establishment says it is not. That is why it continues to get flak whenever it flexes its biases. It sometimes does not practise what it preaches. That quite a number of Singaporeans already know.
These observers who are no fans of the media group simply want to say the obvious – whenever they get the chance. Have all the darts been mis-aimed?
I wish all TISG readers Gong Xi Fa Cai. There will be no Sense column on Jan 22. See you on Jan 29.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.
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