Former minister Khaw Boon Wan to be chairman of new entity after SPH media restructuring

SPH's current management shareholders agreed that Mr Khaw Boon Wan is the right choice given the national importance of the task and scale of the challenge. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Former Cabinet minister Khaw Boon Wan, 68, will chair the board of the new not-for-profit entity to be set up after Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) restructures its media operations.

This decision to appoint him has been discussed with SPH's current management shareholders, who agreed that Mr Khaw is the right choice, given the national importance of the task and scale of the challenge, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said on Monday (May 10).

The not-for-profit entity will be a company limited by guarantee (CLG) and SPH's media business will come under its charge. Such CLGs are typically formed to carry out non-profit-making activities that have some public or national interest.

The restructuring of SPH's media business is subject to shareholder approval.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Iswaran said: "With his high standing and more than 25 years of public service experience in various senior appointments, Mr Khaw will be able to provide strong strategic leadership for the CLG."

He disclosed that Mr Khaw, who retired from politics in 2020 after 19 years of service and last served as Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport, has agreed to be the chairman.

Contacted for his comments, Mr Khaw said on Monday that he accepted this "heavy responsibility" with some anxiety, as he has no experience with digital media, but would do his best to ensure the project succeeds.

"I will see how we can adapt relevant experiences from successful transformation elsewhere," he said.

Mr Khaw added that while he has been "blissfully content" in retirement in the last year, "I cannot allow a Singapore institution to go into decline".

"I will see how I can help unleash the talent and the passion in our newsrooms. We will refocus on our primary mission of providing quality journalism to help build this young nation."

Mr Khaw entered politics in 2001 and earned the moniker "Mr Fix-it" after tackling thorny issues across various ministries.

As Senior Minister of State for Health, he contributed to Singapore's battle against the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, and was made Health Minister the following year.

He moved to the National Development Ministry after the 2011 general election, where housing affordability and supply came up as hot-button issues. There, he helped ramped up supply and increased subsidies for Housing Board flats.

In 2015, he was appointed transport minister and helped improve the reliability of the rail system, which had been plagued by service disruptions.

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Mr Khaw said he has led a structured daily life - including a four-hour morning routine for spiritual development - since his retirement from politics last year, and will try to protect this routine.

"I know my limitations and have started to read and consult widely. Fortunately, I know the breadth and depth of talents in SPH Media. My job is to support them to help realise their ambition," he said.

"Journalism is a profession, and a noble one which I respect. The lifestyle is ridiculous, the time pressure is unyielding. To these professionals, the least we can do is to acknowledge their sacrifice, support them, and show it. I will do my part."

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In his remarks in Parliament, Mr Iswaran said the success of the new company will be determined by three factors.

These are: Strong leadership to set the organisation's strategic vision and execute transformation; a robust business strategy that can be sustained under the new structure with the requisite resources; and a strong and capable team of newsroom professionals, who will maintain high standards.

He also said that the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) will apply to the news entities under the CLG.

The Act, introduced in 1974, imposes restrictions on the ownership and control of local newspaper companies. Among other things, such companies are obliged to issue two classes of shares - ordinary shares and management shares.

While ordinary shareholders can each hold no more than 5 per cent of a newspaper company's shares, management shareholders have 200 times the voting power on resolutions relating to the appointment of directors and staff of such companies.

The issuance of such shares is subject to government approval, with the intention being that these shares are held by "reputable and established institutions, so that the stewardship of the newspaper is entrusted to entities with an abiding interest in, and commitment to, Singapore's stability and success", Mr Iswaran said.

SPH's current management shareholders are OCBC Bank, Great Eastern, UOB, DBS Bank, Singtel, NTUC Income, Temasek via Fullerton Pte Ltd, the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University.

All of them have agreed to be the founding members of the new CLG, Mr Iswaran said.

"This will ensure that our local news media will remain in the hands of trusted institutions with a long-term stake in Singapore," he added. "In due course, the membership will be expanded to include newer and more diverse institutions as stakeholders of the CLG."

Mr Iswaran said that the CLG must maintain "the reputation and high level of trust that SPH has built with generations of readers, domestically and internationally".

To ensure the long-term viability of the enterprise, the Government stands ready to provide the CLG with funding in areas such as digital innovation and capability development. This is to ensure that it has the wherewithal to innovate, build digital and other essential capabilities, and confidently take on new challenges, he said.

"The new media company must have a long-term, sustainable business model with different revenue sources - including traditional advertising and subscription revenues, complemented by government funding, and contributions from its management shareholders and benefactors as other components," he added.

The expectation is that the CLG formulates detailed proposals on its strategic plan to build the business, which will form the basis for government funding and support.

Although the NPPA will apply to the new media company under the CLG - and not to the CLG itself - appropriate safeguards will be incorporated in the CLG's Constitution to ensure that the organisation's structure achieves its purpose and fosters the objectives of the NPPA framework, he said.

The Ministry of Communications and Information will lift shareholding controls imposed on the listed SPH entity after the restructuring is complete, subject to shareholder approval.

Read key highlights of the ministerial statement on SPH media restructuring here

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