Credible local media essential to country's interests: Iswaran

Government 'does not intend nor expect' SPH restructuring to change its mission

A high-quality and respected media with Singaporean journalists who are keenly attuned to the country's unique circumstances and report news objectively for Singaporeans is essential to "the fabric of the nation", said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran yesterday.

And while the proposed restructuring of Singapore Press Holdings' (SPH) media business will allow it to receive public funding, the Government "does not intend nor expect" this to affect the relationship between his ministry and SPH newsrooms, he added.

"The Government is mindful that our local news media must remain credible institutions that are trusted by Singaporeans, and that it remains the responsibility of the editors and journalists in SPH Media to report news and diverse opinions objectively, and from a Singaporean point of view," he told the House in a ministerial statement.

His speech follows an SPH announcement last Thursday on plans to transfer its media arm to a company limited by guarantee (CLG) that can seek public and private funding, to free it from shareholders' expectations and make it financially viable in the long term.

The move has raised questions about whether the editorial integrity of newspapers in SPH would be compromised by receiving government funding after the restructuring - a point several MPs, including Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, raised during the debate that lasted over an hour after the ministerial statement.


Mr Iswaran said the local media operate independently of the Government within the framework of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, which imposes restrictions on the ownership and control of local newspaper companies.

Mr Iswaran said the Act will apply to the news entities under the CLG.

He also announced that former cabinet minister Khaw Boon Wan will chair the new company.

Mr Iswaran had earlier set out the severe structural pressures on the global news media industry, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most publications are running deficits, and many newsrooms are shrinking or even closing, he said, adding that "there is no universal solution".

He noted that the overall reach and readership of SPH's newspapers has never been higher, with total circulation growing by 5 per cent between 2017 and 2020.

During that period, The Straits Times print and digital circulation grew by about 20 per cent, he added.

"These are not news platforms that are declining in quality or readership.

"On the contrary, like Mediacorp in broadcasting, SPH papers continue to be trusted and valued sources of news that are well read, which is a tribute to the professionalism of our journalists.

"Their challenge today stems from an inability to monetise their gains in attracting and retaining readers on digital platforms."

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.