MCI says it has not disbursed funds to SPH Media; Parliament to address questions on circulation data

MCI had previously stated that SPH Media Trust will receive public funding of up to S$180 million a year over five years. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has not disbursed any of the $900 million in funding support it had committed to SPH Media Trust (SMT) over the next five years.

MCI is also conducting its own review to see if the inconsistencies in circulation data, which SPH Media announced on Jan 9 and gave further details of on Friday, would have affected the decision to fund SMT and the amount the Government committed to fund, a ministry spokesman said.

The ministry was responding to SPH Media’s announcement on Friday that the company’s board had tasked its audit committee to look more fully into overstated circulation data.

The MCI spokesman noted the media company’s statement on its internal review of the data, as well as the steps it has taken to deal with the matter. The spokesman also noted that the SPH Media Holdings Board has tasked its audit and risk committee to further investigate the issues more fully.

“MCI has requested for SPH Media Holdings Board to share these findings when ready and expects full cooperation on this,” the spokesman said.

“MCI is undergoing its own review of whether the inconsistencies would have affected the decision to fund SMT, and the amount the Government committed to fund. We have not disbursed any of these funds to SMT to date. We will share our findings in due course,” the spokesman added.

The overstated circulation numbers were discovered in an internal review covering the period between September 2020 and March 2022, to assess data that SPH Media had taken over from its predecessor Singapore Press Holdings Limited.

MCI had previously stated that SMT will receive public funding of up to $180 million a year over five years, with the company required to provide half-yearly progress updates.

In a statement on Friday, SPH Media, which has come under public criticism after announcing the discovery on Jan 9, said its board’s audit and risk committee will focus investigations on the preliminary findings that circulation figures had been overstated by up to 90,000 average daily copies in some months.

The committee will also commission legal advisers to assist in the probe, and report its findings directly to the SPH Media board.

Several MPs have filed questions on the matter for Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo for the next Parliament sitting on Feb 6.

People’s Action Party MP Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) has asked whether the Government could provide some insight from the internal report received from SPH Media regarding the alleged inconsistencies in its circulation data, and how these could possibly impact the Government’s commitment to fund the company. Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC) has asked if the Government will adjust the grant given to SPH Media.

Workers’ Party MP Dennis Tan (Hougang) has asked how the inconsistencies in circulation data will impact the Government’s commitment to fund SMT while fellow WP MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) asked whether individuals involved in initiating and perpetuating the inflated circulation figures in SMT have been referred to the police for further investigation. 

WP MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) has asked about the total number of copies that were printed, counted and destroyed and the environmental impact of these actions.

The Progress Singapore Party has called for an independent inquiry to be conducted and said its Non-Constituency MPs will pursue the matter in Parliament.

Asked about the issue in an interview with Singapore media in Davos, Switzerland, Mrs Teo said similar questions have been raised, and will be addressed in Parliament when it sits.

“We are taking the matter seriously,” said Mrs Teo. “The appropriate place to answer these questions is Parliament, so that will come up at the next sitting.”

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