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SPH shake-up: ‘Extremely important’ to maintain public trust in media and Government, says Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — Even as governments in many countries are coming to the aid of media companies amid a collapse of advertising revenues, it is "extremely important" to maintain public trust in the media, Mr K Shanmugam said on Saturday (May 8).

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

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  • Cabinet Minister K Shanmugam said it was "extremely important" to maintain public trust in the media
  • He was commenting on Singapore Press Holdings’ move to restructure its media business into a not-for-profit entity
  • He pointed to overseas governments that are giving financial support to struggling news organisations
  • Mr Shanmugam also said SPH chief Ng Yat Chung’s reaction to a journalist’s question was “very unfortunate”


SINGAPORE — Even as governments in many countries are coming to the aid of media companies amid a collapse of advertising revenues, it is "extremely important" to maintain public trust in the media, Mr K Shanmugam said on Saturday (May 8).

If this is lacking, the Law and Home Affairs Minister said that it would inevitably lead to a breakdown in trust in the Government and political leadership, and “we are all finished”.

Mr Shanmugam was responding to questions from reporters on the sidelines of a community event at Chong Pang Community Club, two days after the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced that it would be hiving off its media business into a not-for-profit entity.

The business will eventually be restructured into a company limited by guarantee, allowing it to receive funding from private and public sources, including extra financial support from the Government. 

The move, expected to be completed by October, has raised questions about editorial independence, given the prospect of direct government funding.

After the announcement, the Ministry of Communications and Information said that it supported SPH’s proposal and was prepared to provide the not-for-profit entity with funding support.

Mr Shanmugam was on Saturday asked why it was important for the media to gain the public’s trust.

To this, he replied to say that it was of vital importance, not just for the media but governments and institutions.

He added: “In Singapore, we take great pains — if you look at the Government — to retain, maintain the trust of the people because, if there is no trust, we can't govern well, we won’t be able to take long-term measures.

"If there was no trust, for example, we would not have been able to manage the Covid-19 crisis the way we did… (and if) the media is not trusted, it would inevitably lead to a government and political leadership that is not trusted, and we are all finished if that happens.”

Governments, Mr Shanmugam said, have no choice but to step in and support news organisations if they want high-quality journalism.

He pointed to France, Scandinavia and Australia. 

The French government has, for instance, “provided hundreds of millions of euros in support, both direct and indirect, to the press every year”. It also commissioned a report in 2010, which said that the country’s press was being kept in a state of “permanent artificial respiration”, Mr Shanmugam noted.

He added that media businesses in most countries have been under pressure, with falling advertising revenues and many undergoing restructuring.


At a press conference on Thursday to announce the restructuring exercise, SPH chairman Lee Boon Yang fielded questions from the media about the proposed new entity’s editorial independence with direct government funding as a possibility.

He gave the assurance that its reporters would be charged with the mission of practising responsible, objective and accurate journalism. SPH publishes national dailies The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, among other titles. 

Following more questions about maintaining editorial independence, SPH chief executive officer Ng Yat Chung appeared to lose his cool and said that he was upset with such questions. 

His comment about taking umbrage at a CNA journalist’s question later went viral online.

Giving his take on Mr Ng’s reply, Mr Shanmugam said that the journalist had “asked the right question” and that it was fair.

“Both the reporter who asked the question and her editor Walter (Fernandez) know that taking money from an advertiser doesn't automatically mean that independence is compromised,” he added.

“Mr Ng’s reaction, and the way he answered the question,... was very unfortunate. His outburst can be described in stronger terms. 

“But I want to be careful and understated, because SPH is a listed company (with) shareholders, management, and I need to be careful.”

Mr Ng apologised for his remarks on Saturday.

He was quoted by The Straits Times as saying: "I had stood up for SPH Media's long-cherished editorial integrity and will continue to do so. Being a direct and blunt-speaking person, I apologise for any offence I might have caused and regret any distraction from the merits of the proposed restructuring."

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