Undermining independence of newsroom will impact success of SPH Media Trust: Khaw Boon Wan

SPH last week announced plans to restructure its media business.
SPH last week announced plans to restructure its media business.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An independent newsroom is one of the crucial factors that will determine the success of the new SPH Media Trust, said the company's chairman, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, on Wednesday (May 12).

"If you undermine that, you undermine what we are trying to achieve," he added. "That is my position. It is, to me, crystal clear."

Addressing reporters at a press conference, the former Cabinet minister said the aim of restructuring SPH's media business is to make sure the company continues to have products which people trust, and that are credible, professional, fact-based and have Singapore's interests at heart.

"I think there are many ingrained success factors to achieve that outcome," he noted. "The quality of the newsroom is one, but equally important... is the independence of the newsroom."

Last week, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced plans to restructure its media business by transferring all media-related assets to a company limited by guarantee (CLG). This will enable it to seek funding from public and private sources, with the aim to put it on a more sustainable financial footing in the long term.

About 2,500 media and media-related staff will move to SPH Media Trust, with the transition planned for Sept 1 at the earliest, pending approval from shareholders.

At a separate press conference last week, current SPH chairman Lee Boon Yang said he was confident that what has upheld editorial integrity for SPH Media over the years will continue. Editorial integrity will have to come ahead of pure financial consideration, he added.

Asked on Wednesday how he would uphold editorial independence, Mr Khaw reiterated that this independence is critical to achieving SPH Media's wider goals.

"But you should not just listen to a person's words, but also watch his deeds," he added, quoting a Chinese idiom.

He added that readers have the freedom to choose what they wish to read. "If a newspaper turns into a government or even a party mouthpiece, readers can tell you sayonara. If it's digital, it's even faster - one click and you're out."

The former transport minister was also asked about comments he made in 2017, when he publicly criticised the media for its coverage of the MRT resignalling project.

Mr Khaw had said then that the media "think it's so easy... like holding a pen and writing a few articles, and get the signalling done".

Asked if the comments reflected that he did not understand how journalism works, Mr Khaw replied: "Yes, I don't know how to be a journalist and I'm not a journalist. I'm out of my depth here; and therefore, how can I interfere in the newsroom when I don't know what I'm talking about?

"I know what I'm coming in here for and I have a certain value-add that I bring to the CLG, and I will make sure I deliver on what I can deliver."

His main contribution will be to help SPH Media reflect and reconstruct its products so that the company can improve its brand, Mr Khaw said, adding that he will leave the management of each newsroom to its editor.

"It's as simple as that."