Senior SPH Media staff taken to task or have left company after review finds issues with circulation data

A spokesman said the company had in March 2022 initiated a review of internal processes. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Several senior employees of SPH Media have been taken to task or left the company after an internal review found issues linked to circulation numbers.

An SPH Media spokesman said on Monday: “We have immediately taken steps to strengthen processes.

“The staff involved had been taken to task, or had left the organisation.”

The employees were not named.

The spokesman said the company had in March 2022 initiated a review of internal processes.

This included the reporting of circulation data.

“Some inconsistencies in the reporting of the data were discovered,” said the spokesman.

These resulted in a discrepancy of between 85,000 and 95,000 daily average copies across all titles, which represents 10 to 12 per cent of the reported daily average circulation, the spokesman added.

SPH Media cited several examples of these inconsistencies, in reply to queries from The Straits Times.

Lapsed contracts continued to be counted into circulation data.

There were also copies that were printed, counted for circulation and then destroyed; as well as double-counting of subscriptions across multiple instances.

“A project account was injected with additional funding over a period of time to purchase fictitious circulation,” the spokesman said.

“Certain circulation numbers were arbitrarily derived,” she added.

SPH Media publishes The Straits Times and The Business Times, as well as Lianhe Zaobao, Shin Min Daily News, Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu.

The review was initiated shortly after SPH Media was spun off in December 2021 from mainboard-listed company Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) to become a not-for-profit entity – a company limited by guarantee (CLG).

The period of review was from September 2020 to March 2022. 

This period included a full financial year, from September 2020 to August 2021, plus two quarters – from September 2021 to November 2021, when the media business was still part of the listed company, as well as from December 2021 to March 2022, when SPH Media had become a CLG.

SPH had first expressed intent in May 2021 to transfer its media business to a company limited by guarantee, to help secure funding from public and private sources.

The move was approved in September 2021 by shareholders of SPH which, like other media companies globally, had struggled with falling advertising revenue and losses in recent years.

Following the move, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said in February 2022 that SPH Media would get government funding of up to $180 million annually over the next five years, and the company would be required to provide half-yearly progress updates.

On Monday, an MCI spokesman said the ministry is aware of reports on SPH Media’s discovery of inconsistencies in circulation data reporting.

“MCI has asked SPH Media to share its full findings and has recently received SPH Media’s internal report on the matter,” the spokesman said.

“MCI will undertake our own review to determine if these inconsistencies in circulation data affect the decision to fund, and the amount the Government committed to fund SPH Media. MCI expects SPH Media to fully cooperate with our review,” she added.

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