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SINGAPORE – The "take umbrage" reaction of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) chief executive officer Ng Yat Chung when SPH's editorial integrity was questioned recently at a press conference it called for was "very unfortunate", said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
Speaking on the sidelines of a community event on Saturday (8 May), Shanmugam said to local media that "Mr Ng’s reaction and the way he answered the question... was very unfortunate," according to a report by Today.
"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," he added.
Ng's comments have since gone viral, with multiple businesses taking advantage of the furore to promote their products and services.
At the press conference on Thursday, SPH announced that it will be moving its media business into a not-for-profit entity, which will eventually be restructured into a company limited by guarantee. This will allow it to receive funding from private and public sources, including extra financial support from the government.
The move to restructure SPH's media business comes as its core segment's revenue and profit continued to plunge amid falling advertisement revenue.
Reporter asked 'right question': Shanmugam
A CNA digital reporter had asked SPH's management if the plans would mean the media business would pivot to emphasise editorial integrity ahead of advertiser interests.
Shanmugam felt that the journalist had "asked the right question" and that it was a fair one.
"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, according to the Today report.
Ng has since apologised for his comments. He was quoted by The Straits Times (ST), an SPH publication, 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."
Public trust in media important
Shanmugam also touched on governments supporting the media industry, such as in France and Australia, saying that "you have no choice if you want high-quality journalism".
It is important to maintain public trust in the media, he said. ST quoted him as saying, "If the media is not trusted, it would inevitably lead to a government and political leadership that is not trusted.
"Then, we are all finished if that happens."
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