Culture of editorial independence already exists in Singapore media: S Iswaran

S. Iswaran wearing a suit and tie

SINGAPORE — The culture of editorial independence already exists in Singapore’s media industry and this will continue as Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) revamps its business model, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran on Monday (10 May).

Iswaran was responding after delivering his Ministerial Statement on the restructuring of SPH’s media business to several questions posed by Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh on the issue in Parliament.

The Workers’ Party chief had asked questions including the type of structures that the government will put in place to ensure the independence of SPH’s media business after it is restructured as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee (CLG), and the level of funding it will provide for the new entity.

Iswaran replied, “The member asked about structures for editorial independence or ensuring a culture of editorial independence. I would venture that that culture already exists in Singapore in the news media. And I think we do a disservice to our journalists and editors to suggest anything to the contrary.”

The minister said that Singaporeans have a high level of trust in local media, as indicated in the results of surveys conducted by British market research firm YouGov, public relations agency Edelman and the Institute of Policy Studies.

This level of trust is attested by how SPH has managed to grow its readership base for its physical and digital media products amid huge challenges in the industry, said Iswaran.

“That would not be the case if Singaporeans did not feel that they could trust (the) news organisation. So I think the people have spoken and I think it's our job now to make sure the object of their trust continues to succeed,” he added.

On government’s funding of the CLG, Iswaran said it is premature to discuss the issue as the restructuring of SPH’s media segment is pending approval by shareholders, and that the CLG management has to formulate long-term plans to sustain its business.

Khaw Boon Wan will be the chairman of the CLG following discussions with the SPH’s management shareholders, Iswaran said in the House.

At a press conference last Thursday, SPH announced plans to restructure its media business as a CLG. Such a model will allow the media business to receive funding from private and public sources, including financial support from the government.

The move to restructure SPH's media business comes as its core segment's revenue and profit continued to plunge amid falling advertisement revenue.

But the announcement was overshadowed by SPH CEO Ng Yat Chung’s flustered response to a reporter’s question about the company’s goal of editorial integrity in relation to shareholders’ interest. Ng’s now infamous “take umbrage” answerhas inspired memes and even business advertisements. He later apologised for his comment, according to a report by The Straits Times.

Earlier in his Ministerial Statement, Iswaran addressed the importance of “a high-quality, professional and respected media, reporting news by Singaporeans for Singaporeans”.

Among other objectives, local media helps to “interpret global events through a distinctively Singaporean lens” and “express our identity, values and priorities, so that the world gets a perspective from Singapore itself, and not through the filter of others”, Iswaran said.

Due to the importance to the national interest, the government has been an “active steward” in the evolution of the local media industry as it adapts to changing trends and meets commercial goals, the minister added.

He cited the examples of the government facilitating the merger of the English, Chinese, and Malay-language papers in 1984 and introducing greater competition between the print and broadcast industries between 2000 and 2005.

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Culture of editorial independence already exists in Singapore media: S Iswaran