Statement by SPH Media Trust
1. In December 2021, SPH Media Trust (“SMT”), a new Company Limited by Guarantee, began operations after Singapore Press Holdings Limited (“SPHL”) completed the transfer of its media business. Following the transfer, SMT started a review to assess the data that it had taken over, including circulation data (“Review”).
2. Circulation data reported in previous SPHL’s annual reports was stated to be in accordance with the rules set by the Audit Bureau of Media Consumption Singapore (“ABC”). But as digital media and advertising grew, quantifying print circulation became less relevant. ABC ceased operations in Singapore in 2019. To obtain data on reach and readership, SPHL commissioned surveys conducted by independent third-party research agencies such as GfK.
3. In light of the changing media environment, SMT is reassessing the methodology for the reporting of circulation data to establish a new framework and baseline to measure its performance. Publishers elsewhere have done the same as circumstances changed.
4. The Review covered the period between September 2020 and March 2022 – which included a full financial year of SPHL from September 2020 to August 2021 – where the circulation numbers in some months were found to be overstated by up to 90,000 average daily copies. An independent Big 4 advisory firm was commissioned to assist in the Review.
5. From the preliminary findings of the Review, SMT found that the overstatement can be attributed to:
- 49,000 average daily copies (5% of total daily circulation then) of news titles recorded as circulation numbers but not distributed, which were of particular concern. The majority of these were digital copies.
- 5,000 average daily copies recorded after contracts had lapsed;
- 17,000 average daily copies recorded as a result of a failure to check that reported circulation numbers were accurate against actual usage tracked in the system; and
- a possible discrepancy of 19,000 average daily copies, which included a barter arrangement with another publisher.
6. In view of the Review findings thus far, the SPH Media Holdings Board has tasked its Audit and Risk Committee to investigate the issues more fully, and consider what further steps, if any, need to be taken. The Committee is chaired by Mr Max Loh, former Managing Partner of EY ASEAN & Singapore, and comprises Ms Lim Mei, Co-Head of Corporate Mergers and Acquisitions at Allen & Gledhill, and Mr Philip Lee, Vice-Chairman of Global Banking for Southeast Asia at HSBC Singapore. The Committee will focus its investigations on the preliminary findings at paragraph 5 above, commission legal advisors to assist in the investigation and report its findings directly to the Board of SPH Media Holdings.
7. SMT had earlier taken action against the staff involved in end-Dec 2022. As a result, four of these staff have since left the company, and three were served warning letters.
8. SMT is committed to upholding integrity in every part of our business. To ensure data accuracy and accountability, SMT will:
- strengthen the separation of duties among staff, with enhanced checks and balances, for example, ensuring that staff who are reporting circulation numbers do not have the access rights to create or change entries in the customer database;
- ensure more frequent internal audit reviews such that reporting is done based on established methodology and verified to be accurate; and
- enhance data quality and improve accuracy of customer details, which includes data cleansing and independent validation.
9. In addition to reassessing the methodology for the reporting of circulation numbers, SMT is pressing on with other transformation efforts. SMT is focused on updating its policies and practices to ensure accountability. SMT remains steadfast in its mission to deliver quality journalism.
(Issued on 20 January 2023)