Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) CEO, Ng Yat Chung, has apologised for "any offence [he] might have caused", adding that he "[regrets] any distraction from the merits of the proposed restructuring". According to The Straits Times (ST), Ng explained that he defended SPH Media's "long-cherished editorial integrity" and plans to continue doing so. Ng also said he is a direct and blunt-speaking person, ST added.
The apology follows the online furore that Ng caused after he responded to a question posed by a Channel NewsAsia journalist in a stern manner. The journalist had asked about how the goals of the new constitution company and how the revenue will be used. "Does this mean that the media business will now pivot to emphasise editorial integrity, for example, ahead of advertiser interest?" she asked.
To this, Ng said he "took umbrage" at the journalist's question, adding: "The fact that you dare to question an SPH title for, in your words, conceding to advertisers, I take umbrage at that comment. Because I don't believe that even where you come from, you do not concede to the needs of advertisers." SPH recently announced that it is transferring its media business to a newly incorporated wholly-owned subsidiary, SPH Media Holdings. The exercise involves transferring the entire media-related businesses of SPH including relevant subsidiaries, relevant employees, News Centre and Print Centre along with their respective leaseholds, as well as all related intellectual property and information technology assets.
Meanwhile, home affairs and law minister K. Shanmugam said the business model of SPH's media arm "does not work", adding that several media companies globally would have been pressured to seek new funding sources, including government support, amidst a decline in ad revenue. According to Channel NewsAsia, Shanmugam said The Straits Times, Zaobao and other SPH newspapers are also encountering similar headwinds faced by media outlets in other countries, especially regarding the decline in ad revenues.
SPH's media business recorded its first-ever loss of SG$11.4 million for the financial year ended 31 August 2020. If not for the Jobs Support Scheme, SPH said the loss would have been a deeper SG$39.5 million. For the six months ended 28 February 2021, pre-tax profit before tax fell 71% to SG$3.1 million compared to the same period last year. Again, if not for the JSS grant, the media business would have incurred a pre-tax loss of SG$9.7 million.
Under its restructuring proposal, SPH Media will eventually be transferred to a not-for-profit entity for a nominal sum. The not-for-profit entity will be a newly formed public company limited by guarantee. Following this, SPH will no longer be subject to shareholder and other relevant restrictions under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. SPH will provide the initial resources and funding by capitalising SPH Media with a cash injection of SG$80 million, SG$30 million worth of SPH shares and SPH REIT units, as well as SPH’s stakes in four of its digital media investments.
Additionally, the Singapore government will provide funding support to SPH to help build up capabilities for the future. Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, said in a statement that a professional, capable and respected local news media is critical to Singapore's national interest. According to the minister, the SPH Board and its management said the current media business model within a listed company structure "is not viable" due to global technology and industry trends, as well as the need for "significant investments in digitalisation and capability development".