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Govt to provide SPH Media Trust with funding of up to S$900 million over five years

SINGAPORE — The Government will set aside funding of up to S$900 million over the next five years for the SPH Media Trust, with the non-profit media entity required to provide progress updates every six months, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said on Tuesday (Feb 15).

Govt to provide SPH Media Trust with funding of up to S$900 million over five years
SPH Media Trust was formally set up in December 2021.
  • SPH Media Trust will receive up to S$180 million a year for five years from the Government
  • It is expected to spend about 40 per cent of the funding on technological investments and digital talent in its initial years
  • The rest will be spent on building newsrooms capability and training, especially in vernacular newsrooms
  • The Ministry of Communications and Information will monitor SPH Media Trust's performance through key performance indicators 
  • It  will also review the funding amount after the first five years based on the progress that SPH Media Trust has made

SINGAPORE — The Government will set aside funding of up to S$900 million over the next five years for the SPH Media Trust, with the non-profit media entity required to provide progress updates every six months, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said on Tuesday (Feb 15).

This funding, which amounts to up to S$180 million a year, will provide SPH Media Trust with more capital to invest in the future while ensuring that it is able to sustain current operations during this critical transition period, she said.

Mrs Teo added that SPH Media Trust is expected to spend about 40 per cent of the funding on technological investments and digital talent in its initial years, while the remainder will be spent on building newsrooms capability and training, especially in vernacular newsrooms.

She was responding to questions by several Members of Parliament (MPs) who had asked about the level of funding support that the Government will provide, how it will ensure that this funding will be used to achieve digital transformation, the viability of vernacular media as well as editorial independence, among other issues. 

SPH Media Trust, a company limited by guarantee, was officially formed last December. The media operations of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) were restructured and all its media assets, including national daily The Straits Times, were transferred to SPH Media Trust.

Mrs Teo said that with such a significant amount of public funding, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) will monitor SPH Media Trust's performance through key performance indicators that track:

  • Total reach and engagement of SPH Media Trust's products, with a focus on digital platforms
  • Specific reach indicators for vernacular groups and youth
  • Resilience of SPH Media Trust's flagship products to minimise downtime and disruption

SPH Media Trust is also required to provide progress updates to MCI on a half-yearly basis.

“This allows MCI to track SPH Media Trust's progress and for the Government to help SPH Media Trust achieve its desired outcomes when necessary.

“We will also review the funding quantum after the first five years based on the progress that SPH Media Trust has made,” Mrs Teo added.

Asked by Mr Alex Yam, MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC), about how the ministry will ensure that editorial independence continues to be upheld in the newsrooms, Mrs Teo pointed to a recent report that showed a high level of trust among the audience of news outlets here.

She referenced the 2021 edition of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report, which indicated that 79 per cent of respondents expressed trust in the news outlet Channel News Asia under Mediacorp.

The same report indicated that The Straits Times, one of SPH Media Trust's key products, has garnered a similarly high level of trust among 77 per cent of respondents.

“Is such a high level of trust attainable without objective and balanced reporting?” she asked.

His question seems to suggest that he does not trust a journalist in our mainstream media to be objective in reporting, to apply their minds and to be discerning or to have a sense of responsibility to truthful reporting for the public.
Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo on Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh on Tuesday later stood up to ask a supplementary question on how the Government will ensure SPH Media Trust's content will not be “tainted with allegations of political interference”.

Mrs Teo said that she was not surprised the Leader of the Opposition was asking the question, adding that Mr Singh’s questioning of the Government’s influence on editors and journalists is “too predictable”.

“His question seems to suggest that he does not trust a journalist in our mainstream media to be objective in reporting, to apply their minds and to be discerning or to have a sense of responsibility to truthful reporting for the public.

“I hope I'm wrong in thinking that this is what Mr Singh is suggesting, but that's what came to mind when he spoke those words," she said.

"Now, regardless of what I say, or what Mr Singh may suggest, the true test is whether the public trust the media and how they exercise their choice on a day-to-day basis in consuming news media when so many alternatives are available to them at zero cost," Mrs Teo added.

“And fortunately for us, for all of us, our local mainstream media are trusted by people. And we have every reason to keep it so.” 

Mrs Teo also stressed that while the amount committed is up to S$900 million, the amount disbursed will depend on the investment that SPH Media Trust makes and whether they are assessed to be likely to produce good results.

Opposition MP Jamus Lim from Sengkang GRC also asked whether perhaps, the public does not entirely trust the media here and was therefore not willing to pay for media products, which in turn had necessitated the use of public funds to support SPH Media Trust.

Mrs Teo said that the situation for print media companies is not unique to SPH Media Trust and it has affected other firms worldwide, such as the New York Times in the United States and The Guardian in the United Kingdom.

“It's very hard to translate eyeballs into dollars. And without advertising revenue, these media companies will be loss-making.”

She pointed to The Guardian as a stark example of how it took two decades of transformation for the media company to be in the black. Yet, even then, it had to cut 12 per cent of its workforce to stay afloat last year. 

“The audiences can get news content free almost anywhere. You and I are beneficiaries of that… but we will choose where we spend our time in order to get trusted news.

“And that's most important of all and that's why our local mainstream media deserve to be supported,” she said.

Related topics

media news Singapore Press Holdings funding SPH Media Trust Josephine Teo

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