SPH implementing measures in wake of code of conduct breaches

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is setting up a task force to implement recommendations by a disciplinary panel in the wake of investigations into improper conduct by two senior staff members.

The task force will look at ensuring that policies on relations between superiors and subordinates are set out clearly, and that staff are aware of the code of conduct they are expected to abide by.

It will also look to add informal avenues for staff to seek advice and help if they encounter inappropriate behaviour. This includes access to counsellors and mentors in the company, and is on top of existing whistle-blowing channels, employee hotlines and reporting lines to supervisors and the human resources division.

The task force will also address concerns among staff about stress, and raise awareness on how to recognise early signs of distress so as to seek early intervention.

Announcing these steps yesterday in an e-mail to staff, SPH chief executive officer Ng Yat Chung stressed that the company takes a serious view of any transgressions on fraternisation, sexual harassment and other breaches of its code of conduct. "We will not hesitate to take firm action against anyone - and I mean, anyone, who has been found to have breached our code of conduct," he said.

Two Straits Times editors were taken to task last week after a disciplinary panel found they had breached SPH's code of conduct by entering, in separate instances, into a relationship with a subordinate.

Both were removed from their positions. One editor was demoted and redeployed, and the other was given a written warning, had his salary docked and was redeployed.

Last Wednesday, after both men were told of the decisions, ST editor Warren Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of the English/Malay/ Tamil Media Group of SPH, addressed the ST newsroom.

After explaining the reasons behind the panel's decisions, he said: "We want to make clear that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable in the ST newsroom. This is not who we are, or who we want to be."

Yesterday, Mr Ng told staff that the incidents had raised concerns within the company and harmed SPH's reputation.

"We need to draw a line under these incidents by addressing questions about norms of acceptable behaviour on matters such as office romance, fraternisation and sexual harassment," wrote Mr Ng.

While romantic relations may develop between colleagues, he said relationships between a superior and subordinate need to be made known so arrangements can be made to minimise potential conflict of interests and adverse impact on the work environment.

"An undisclosed relationship between a superior and subordinate is not acceptable. When discovered and investigated, it will result in disciplinary action," he added.

Mr Ng also addressed the issue of sexual harassment, saying: "It is not only about superiors and subordinates, but also covers all employees regardless of seniority or position.

"We will introduce appropriate training following feedback that some of our colleagues 'just don't get it' when it comes to what constitutes sexual harassment and inappropriate language."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2018, with the headline SPH implementing measures in wake of code of conduct breaches. Subscribe