Singapore Backs Ex-Ruling Party Chief to Lead Media Spin-Off

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Singapore endorsed a former ruling party chairman to oversee the media business of a restructured Singapore Press Holdings Ltd., as a senior minister defended the independence of the city-state’s news outlets.

Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran told parliament Monday that former cabinet minister Khaw Boon Wan was the choice of both the government and SPH shareholders to lead the entity that will manage its media assets. Khaw led the long-ruling People’s Action Party for seven years before leaving the post in November 2018 and retired from politics last year.

The move comes days after the government backed SPH’s planned restructure, which includes spinning off its Straits Times newspaper and other media assets into a non-profit entity. The government said it was prepared to provide funding to support the plan.

Singapore Backs Ex-Ruling Party Chief to Lead Media Spin-Off

SPH Chief Executive Officer Ng Yat Chung, who served as the chief of the nation’s defense force from 2003 to 2007, told a news briefing Thursday that he would “take umbrage” with a reporter’s question about whether the restructuring would emphasize editorial integrity over advertiser interests. Clips of the exchange circulated widely on social media, fueling public discussion about the plan’s implication for the local media.

Iswaran defended Khaw’s selection when asked by opposition lawmaker Sylvia Lim on Monday whether picking someone less closely associated with the government would ease concerns about media content. He noted that current SPH Chairman Lee Boon Yang and some of his predecessors had previously been senior civil servants.

“We are where we are today in terms of the credibility of our media, the trust that Singaporeans have in our media through this array of leadership,” Iswaran said. “I think we should therefore be very clear that what matters is not a perceived political hue in the appointments, but rather in the substance of the character and capability of the people who are involved.”

Iswaran cited the Edelman Trust Barometer, which put Singaporeans’ trust in local media at 62%, above the global average of 51% and 45% in the U.S. The same survey found that 57% of Singaporeans agree that “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.”

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