SPH Media Asks Committee To Investigate Overstated Circulation Numbers, 3 Staff Served Warning Letters

3 SPH Media Staff Served Warning Letters & 4 Left Company Over Overstated Circulation Numbers

Last week, SPH Media Trust (SMT) revealed that they’d discovered inconsistencies in the reporting of their circulation data.

Some people might have found their story to be a tad incomplete, though.

For example, they said a number of staff had left the company or been “taken to task” over this, but didn’t specify how exactly.

Now, the company has said that three of the staff members involved had been served warning letters, while four had left the company.

Source: Google Maps

Its Audit and Risk Committee will now investigate the case further.

SPH Media took action against staff in Dec

In a statement released on Friday (20 Jan), SMT said they’d taken action against staff involved in the case at the end of December 2022.

As a result, four have since left the company and three were served warning letters.

The company didn’t mention their names or positions. Neither did they say whether more staff were involved besides these seven.

SPH Media gives breakdown of overstated circulation numbers

SMT did, however, give a breakdown of the inflated circulation numbers.

Based on preliminary findings, up to 90,000 average daily copies had been overstated between September 2020 and March 2022.

This comprised 49,000 average daily copies of news titles that were recorded as circulation numbers but not distributed, representing 5% of the total daily circulation then. The majority were digital copies, but this discrepancy is “of particular concern”, the company said.

Source: oliveplum on Flickr

Additionally, 5,000 average daily copies were recorded after contracts had lapsed, and 17,000 average daily copies were logged as a result of a failure to check that reported circulation numbers were accurate against actual usage tracked in the system.

Lastly, there was also a possible discrepancy of 19,000 average daily copies, including a barter arrangement with another, unnamed, publisher.

The review that turned up this data was assisted by an independent Big 4 advisory firm.

SPH Media committee to further probe overstated circulation numbers

SMT has asked its Audit and Risk Committee to investigate the case “more fully”, they said.

The committee will also consider what further steps may be taken, focusing on the abovementioned overstated circulation numbers.

In the course of their work, legal advisors will be commissioned to assist in the investigation.

The findings will be reported directly to the SPH Media Holdings board.

The committee will comprise:

  1. Mr Max Loh, former Managing Partner of EY ASEAN & Singapore (chair)
  2. Ms Lim Mei, Co-Head of Corporate Mergers and Acquisitions at Allen & Gledhill
  3. Mr Philip Lee, Vice-Chairman of Global Banking for Southeast Asia at HSBC Singapore

SPH Media taking steps for accuracy & accountability

SMT will also take steps to ensure data accuracy and accountability in their operations, they maintained.

This will involve strengthening the separation of duties among staff, with enhanced checks and balances, and ensuring more frequent internal audit reviews, among other things.

As for circulation data, the company is currently reassessing the methodology of its reporting so that a new framework and baseline to measure its performance can be established.

This will go hand-in-hand with “other transformation efforts”, they said, adding,

SMT is focused on updating its policies and practices to ensure accountability. SMT remains steadfast in its mission to deliver quality journalism.

No govt funds given to SPH Media: MCI

While SMT continues their investigations, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) is conducting their own review of the matter.

The ministry said this in a statement reported by Channel NewsAsia (CNA).

The MCI review will focus on whether the inconsistencies in circulation data reporting would have affected the decision to fund SMT and the amount of funds the Government committed.

In Feb 2022, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said the Government would provide up to S$900 million to SMT over five years.

None of these funds have been given to SMT so far, the ministry said.

MCI also expects full cooperation from the company in sharing its full findings with them.

Matter will be addressed in Parliament: Josephine Teo

In addition to the investigations, the matter will also be addressed in Parliament, said Mrs Teo.

Source: Josephine Teo on Facebook

This will be done in due course, she told the media while in Davos attending the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The opposition Workers’ Party (WP) has already filed seven questions on SMT’s “falsification of circulation data”, the party said in a Facebook post on Friday (20 Jan).

Some of the questions to be posed by Sengkang MP He Ting Ru are: What actions will be taken against SMT to hold them accountable, and whether the people involved in inflating the circulation figures have been referred to the police.

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