The board of SPH Media Trust has tasked its audit and risk committee to take the investigation further relating to cases of inflated circulation numbers and suggest the steps needed to be taken.
SPH Media, the media company, which publishes news handles such as The Business Times, The Straits Times, and Lianhe Zaobao, came under inspection earlier this month. This was after it was disclosed that daily circulation numbers were inflated. The numbers were exaggerated between 85,000 and 95,000, that is, about 10 to 12 percent of the alleged daily average circulation.
SPH Media gave a breakdown of the deviations, which were revealed during a review that covered the period from September 2020 to March 2022.
Introductory findings showed that 5 percent of total daily circulation or around 49,000 average daily copies of news handles were recorded as circulation numbers but not distributed.
In a statement given on January 20, SPH Media said that this is a matter “of particular concern”, adding that the majority of these were digital copies.
Another 5,000 average daily copies were recorded after the tenders had been discontinued. In addition to this estimate, 17,000 average daily copies were listed as a result of a failure to check that reported circulation numbers were accurate in comparison to actual usage tracked in the system.
There was also a possible inconsistency of 19,000 average daily copies, which included a barter arrangement with another publisher. SPH Media did not specify the publisher.
SPH Media also stated that the inspection committee will look into the issues “more fully” and assign legal advisers to assist in the investigation.
FUNDING STRUCTURE OF THE COMMITTEE
The chairman of the committee is Mr. Max Loh, who is also the former managing partner of EY ASEAN & Singapore. The other members are Mr. Philip Lee, vice-chairman of global banking for Southeast Asia at HSBC Singapore, and Ms. Lim Mei, co-head of corporate mergers and acquisitions at Allen & Gledhill.
The findings of the investigation will be directly reported to the board.
The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has asked the SPH Media board to proclaim the findings of the inspection committee and expects “full cooperation” on the investigation matter.
The MCI said in a statement that it is undergoing its review of whether the inconsistencies in the daily copy reporting would have affected the decision to fund SPH Media Trust (SMT), and the amount the Government is committed to funding.
SPH Media Trust (SMT) began its operations in December 2021 after it was separated from Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) to become a not-for-profit organization.
The Government then said it would lay aside up to S$900 million in funding support over five years, to help the newly formed entity make essential investments and continue its operations during the transition period.
QUESTION OF DATA ACCURACY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
SPH Media mentioned in its statement on Friday that it had taken necessary action in December against the employees involved. As a result, four of the involved staff have since left the company, and rest three were given warning letters, according to the company.
To guarantee data accuracy and accountability, SPH Media will strengthen the distribution of duties among employees, with improved checks and balances.
The company will ensure that staff members who are recording circulation numbers do not have the right to create or manipulate entries in the customer database. It will also make sure of frequent internal audit reviews, as well as, improve the authenticity of customer details.
SPH Media stated that circulation data recorded in previous annual reports, when it was still identified as Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPHL) and listed on SGX, was abiding by the rules laid out by the Audit Bureau of Media Consumption Singapore.
The audit bureau halted its operations in 2019 when advertising and digital media grew, and estimating print circulation became less crucial.
It added that keeping in mind the changing media environment with every passing day, the company is doing its best by reevaluating the methods for reporting the circulation of data.
SPH Media also said that they are carrying on with other modification efforts, reviewing, and updating its rules and practices to ensure accountability.
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