SPH Media circulation numbers found to be inflated by 10-12pc; senior staff taken to task, Singapore govt probe underway


SINGAPORE, Jan 9 — The daily circulation numbers of SPH Media titles, which include The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, were found to have been inflated by between 85,000 and 95,000, including instances where copies were printed, counted for circulation and then destroyed.

There was also “double-counting” of subscriptions across multiple instances, and a project account was “injected with additional funding over a period of time to purchase fictitious circulation”, The Straits Times reported today.

Certain circulation numbers were also “arbitrarily derived”, it added.

In the media industry, circulation figures are an important benchmark for setting the price of advertising.

A number of senior employees of SPH Media have left the news organisation or been “taken to task” following an internal review found problems in the reporting of its circulation data.

SPH Media did not state how long these practices have been going on.

The Straits Times reported that SPH Media Trust had in March 2022 initiated a review of internal processes. This included the reporting of circulation data.

A new chief executive officer of SPH Media Trust, Teo Lay Lim, former chairman of Accenture Singapore, took over the helm on March 1, 2022.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, a Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) spokesperson said the ministry has asked SPH Media to share its full findings and has recently received SPH Media’s internal report on the matter.

”MCI will undertake our own review to determine if these inconsistencies in circulation data affect the decision to fund, and the amount the Government committed to fund SPH Media. MCI expects SPH Media to fully cooperate with our review,” said the spokesperson.

SPH Media became a company limited by guarantee in December 2021, after it split from the Singapore Press Holdings.

As a trust, it will receive public funding of up to S$180 million (RM592 million) annually over five years and the company will be required to provide half-yearly progress updates to the Government.

Inconsistencies

In response to TODAY’s queries, SPH Media’s spokesperson said that some inconsistencies in the reporting of the data were discovered during the review, which started from March last year.

“We have immediately taken steps to strengthen processes… The staff involved had been taken to task, or had left the organisation,” the spokesperson added.

He did not name which staff members were involved.

According to The Straits Times, the data included contracts that had lapsed but had continued to be counted in its circulation numbers.

“There were also copies that were printed, counted for circulation and then destroyed, as well as double-counting of subscriptions across multiple instances,” reported the daily broadsheet.

A project account was injected with additional funding over a period of time to purchase fictitious circulation, and “certain” circulation numbers were arbitrarily derived, the newspaper reported.

These resulted in a discrepancy of between 85,000 and 95,000 daily average copies across all titles, which represents 10 to 12 per cent of the reported daily average circulation, the spokesman added.

Neither the report nor the SPH spokesperson confirmed which titles are affected by the falsified publication data.

The media organisation is the publisher of The Straits Times and The Business Times, as well as Lianhe Zaobao, Shin Min Daily News, Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu. — TODAY



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