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SPH Media circulation numbers found to be inflated by 10-12%; senior staff taken to task, Govt probe underway

SINGAPORE — The daily circulation numbers of SPH Media titles, which include The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, were found to have been inflated by between 85,000 and 95,000, including instances where copies were printed, counted for circulation and then destroyed.

SPH Media circulation numbers found to be inflated by 10-12%; senior staff taken to task, Govt probe underway
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SINGAPORE — The daily circulation numbers of SPH Media titles, which include The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, were found to have been inflated by between 85,000 and 95,000, including instances where copies were printed, counted for circulation and then destroyed.

There was also "double-counting" of subscriptions across multiple instances, and a project account was "injected with additional funding over a period of time to purchase fictitious circulation", The Straits Times reported on Monday (Jan 9).

Certain circulation numbers were also "arbitrarily derived", it added.

In the media industry, circulation figures are an important benchmark for setting the price of advertising.

A number of senior employees of SPH Media have left the news organisation or been "taken to task" after an internal review found problems in the reporting of its circulation data.

SPH Media did not state how long these practices have been going on.

The Straits Times reported that SPH Media Trust had in March 2022 initiated a review of internal processes. This was shortly after it became a company limited by guarantee (CLG) in December 2021, after it split from mainboard-listed company Singapore Press Holdings.

The review included the reporting of circulation data.

According to The Straits Times, the period of review was from September 2020 to March 2022.

This included a full financial year from September 2020 to August 2021, and 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.

A new chief executive officer of SPH Media Trust, Ms Teo Lay Lim, former chairman of Accenture Singapore, took over the helm on March 1, 2022.

Responding to TODAY's queries, a Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) spokesperson said the ministry has asked SPH Media to share its full findings and has recently received SPH Media's internal report on the matter.

"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,” said the spokesperson.

As a trust, SPH Media will receive public funding of up to S$180 million annually over five years and the company will be required to provide half-yearly progress updates to the Government.

INCONSISTENCIES

In response to TODAY's queries, SPH Media's spokesperson said that some inconsistencies in the reporting of the data were discovered during the review, which started from March last year.

"We have immediately taken steps to strengthen processes... The staff involved had been taken to task, or had left the organisation," the spokesperson added.

He did not name which staff members were involved.

According to The Straits Times, the data included contracts that had lapsed but had continued to be counted in its circulation numbers.

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

A project account was injected with additional funding over a period of time to purchase fictitious circulation, and "certain" circulation numbers were arbitrarily derived, the newspaper reported.

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.

Neither the report nor the SPH spokesperson confirmed which titles are affected by the falsified publication data.

The media organisation is the publisher of The Straits Times and The Business Times, as well as Lianhe Zaobao, Shin Min Daily News, Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu.

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SPH media SPH Media Trust

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