SPH CEO Ng Yat Chung 'takes umbrage' at reporter's 'editorial integrity' question

Singapore Press Holdings CEO Ng Yat Chung address reporters at a media conference on 11 October, 2017. PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore
Singapore Press Holdings CEO Ng Yat Chung. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) chief executive officer Ng Yat Chung took offence to a reporter's question about SPH's goal of "editorial integrity" at a news conference on Thursday (6 May) to announce plans to spin off the conglomerate's ailing media business.

Ng, who became CEO in 2017, was responding to a question fielded by a CNA digital reporter who asked if the plans would mean the media business would pivot to emphasise editorial integrity ahead of advertiser interests.

The move to restructure SPH's media business comes as its core segment's revenue and profit continued to plunge amid falling advertisement revenue.

Ng, who was with the Singapore Armed Forces for almost 30 years previously, said, "If I may just interject, I honestly, I take umbrage at your first question. There are reporters from here who received substantial funding from various sources, and I don't believe that you will describe yourself as bowing to the needs of advertisers in doing your job."

The former Chief of Defence Force and CEO of Neptune Orient Lines stressed that SPH publications have always had advertisers and that the company has "never, never conceded" to their needs.

"We will always continue to provide fair, reliable, credible reporting." Ng added. "The fact that you dare to question SPH titles for, in your words, conceding to advertisers – I take umbrage at that comment."

Ng pointed out to the reporter that he does not "believe that even where you come from, you concede to the needs of advertisers.

"I must call this out. (SPH) Chairman (Lee Boon Yang) is a gentleman. I am not," a visibly agitated Ng retorted.

Raising his voice in concluding his answer, Ng stated, "The purpose of doing this is to make sure that SPH media will continue to do the job we have done so well for so long."

Last year, SPH recorded its first-ever full-year net loss of $83.7 million in its 2020 financial year, attributing it to the economic disruption brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For its half year ended 28 February, SPH recorded a 26.1 per cent increase in net profit to $97.9 million due to better performance in its non-media businesses, while overall revenue fell 4.2 per cent to $460.3 million.

However, the media business continued to drag down its bottomline over the period due to lower advertisement revenue and circulation revenue.

Revenue for the media segment fell 23.9 per cent to $193.1 million while pre-tax profit plunged 70.9 per cent to $3.1 million. Excluding the Jobs Support Scheme of $12.8 million, SPH would have recorded a loss of $9.7 million.

SPH had also carried out two restructuring exercises in the marketing division and magazines business.

Dr Lee said at the conference, “SPH shareholders are not likely to tolerate the continued negative impact that the media business has on the company’s financial prospects.

“On the other hand, we cannot allow a functioning, trusted and respected media organisation to be whittled down over time by market pressure and commercial constraints.”

S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, said in a statement on Thursday that the government is supportive of SPH’s proposal to restructure and transfer SPH Media to a Company Limited by Guarantee.

"Our goal is to help the local news media and our journalists adapt and thrive in the digital era while maintaining the high professional standards we expect and value. The Government is also prepared to provide SPH Media with funding support, with fiscal discipline and accountability for outcomes in areas like digital innovation and capability development, as part of a long-term sustainable business plan."

Iswaran will deliver a Ministerial Statement on the subject at the next Parliament sitting on Monday.

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