In the wake of investigations into improper conduct by two of its senior staff members, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) said on Thursday (11 October) that it will be setting up a task force to ensure its staff are aware of the code of conduct they are expected to abide by.
The task force will look at ensuring that policies on relations between superiors and subordinates are set out clearly. It will look to add informal avenues for staff to seek advice and help if they encounter inappropriate behaviour.
It will also address concerns among staff about stress, and raise awareness on how to recognise early signs of distress so as to seek early intervention.
Last week, two Straits Times editors were taken to task after a disciplinary panel found they had breached SPH’s code of conduct by entering, in separate instances, into a relationship with the same subordinate.
Both men were removed from their positions. One editor was demoted and redeployed, and the other was given a written warning, had his salary docked and was redeployed.
The Straits Times reported that the task force was announced in an e-mail to staff by SPH chief executive Ng Yat Chung, who said the incidents had raised concerns within the company and harmed SPH’s reputation.
Ng stressed that the company takes a serious view of any transgressions on fraternisation, sexual harassment and other breaches of its code of conduct. However, he also revealed that some of its staff “just don’t get it” when it comes to what constitutes sexual harassment and inappropriate language.
He wrote, “We need to draw a line under these incidents by addressing questions about norms of acceptable behaviour on matters such as office romance, fraternisation and sexual harassment.
“We will introduce appropriate training following feedback that some of our colleagues ‘just don’t get it’ when it comes to what constitutes sexual harassment and inappropriate language.
“We will not hesitate to take firm action against anyone – and I mean, anyone – who has been found to have breached our code of conduct.”
Ng also told staff in the email that, while romantic relations may develop between colleagues, relationships between a superior and subordinate need to be made known. Arrangements can then be made to minimise potential conflict of interests and adverse impact on the work environment.
“An undisclosed relationship between a superior and subordinate is not acceptable. When discovered and investigated, it will result in disciplinary action,” he added.
A former SPH veteran of more than 10 years, who declined to be named, told Yahoo News Singapore that he had heard many “stories” of supervisors being in relationships with subordinates in his time. “The newsroom was quite liberal, but I think it is less so now.”
On the task force being formed, he noted, “It sounds like a reaction to the case. It’s the right thing to do, but maybe SPH needs to relook its policies from a bird’s-eye view, if there are any gaps to be plugged, and not just react when something like this happens.”