SINGAPORE: Veteran journalist Patrick Daniel will be the interim CEO for SPH Media Trust, the new entity that will be formed after Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) restructures its media business.
Mr Daniel was former deputy CEO of SPH and previously editor-in-chief of the company’s English/Malay/Tamil Media Group.
Announcing the appointment on Wednesday afternoon (May 12), Mr Khaw Boon Wan, who will chair the non-profit entity that is to oversee SPH Media Trust, said he expects the transition to be “uneventful”.
“My immediate priority is to ensure a smooth transition, without any disruption to the current media business,” said Mr Khaw at a townhall with SPH employees.
“Practically all 2,500 media and media-related staff of SPH will move over to SPH Media Trust.”
Reporters were invited to cover Mr Khaw's opening speech to the employees. The townhall was then closed to the media.
SPH had announced last week that it will hive off its core media business amid falling advertising revenue.
All the media business units in the company will be transferred to a newly formed public company limited by guarantee (CLG), which will be run as a not-for-profit entity.
SPH will provide the initial resources and funding to capitalise SPH Media with a cash injection of S$80 million, S$30 million worth of SPH shares and SPH REIT units, as well as SPH's stakes in four of its digital media investments.
It was announced in Parliament on Monday that Mr Khaw, a former Cabinet minister, will be chairman of the CLG.
MANAGEMENT SHAREHOLDERS TO JOIN CLG
In his speech to SPH employees on Wednesday, Mr Khaw reiterated that the media business is unsustainable amid the severe disruption caused by digital media.
"It will be a struggle to sustain quality journalism as a public good," he said.
Delisting SPH's media business and transferring it to a CLG will allow it to retain the "financial discipline of a commercial enterprise" while also having the option of seeking funding from the Government and other sources for digital transformation, said Mr Khaw.
"The Government is willing to help SPH Media build capacity, pilot innovations and scale up to increase impact and outreach.
"Public funding will have to be accounted for and will be directed at capacity building," said Mr Khaw. "Such funding is already available to other media companies, including Mediacorp."
READ: SPH restructuring will balance 'conflicting' expectations of public, shareholders: Lee Boon Yang
The nine management shareholders of SPH have been sounded out to form SPH Media Trust, said Mr Khaw,
They are OCBC, Great Eastern, UOB, DBS, Singtel, NTUC Income, Temasek via Fullerton, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.
"They have agreed to be the founding members of the CLG, to continue their mission of supporting quality journalism," said Mr Khaw in his speech.
He added that more trustees will join in due course and the planned cut-over date is Sep 1, "at the earliest".
Mr Daniel retired on Sep 1, 2017, after three decades in the media industry. He held various positions at the company, including editor of the Business Times and editor-in-chief of the English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, before retiring as deputy chief executive of SPH.
SPH said in 2017 that Mr Daniel was to continue as a part-time consultant and help CEO Ng Yat Chung in managing some SPH subsidiaries and projects.
Before joining the media, Mr Daniel was in the Singapore Government’s Administrative Service, where his last position was a director in the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
"I am grateful to Patrick for agreeing to help us out. Like me, he is enjoying his retirement. But he has a strong personal interest to see SPH Media succeed," said Mr Khaw in his speech, adding that he will begin a search for a CEO who "can take SPH Media into the future as a multilingual digital media organisation".
READ: Beefing up newsrooms, improving user experience top priorities amid SPH restructuring: Khaw Boon Wan
At a media conference later, Mr Khaw said the search for a longer-term CEO for the CLG will ideally be completed by next year, but noted that the right talent is not easy to find.
“In terms of the kind of people we are looking for … I think it will be very hard to get a foreigner, to be able to instinctively understand what this Singaporean interest is all about," said Khaw in response to a question from CNA.
“And ideally, therefore, I hope we can find one Singaporean who may not be here today, but maybe somewhere overseas. And hopefully - digitally savvy. Even better, if (the person comes) with actual digital media experience."
When asked how long he will remain interim CEO, Mr Daniel said: "I'll stay for as long as I'm needed."
Mr Khaw said he has started to meet SPH employees in small groups to listen to their concerns and aspirations, and will continue to do so over the next few weeks.
He highlighted a few initiatives after the transition that will help the media company meet future challenges, to enhance its digital products, grow a younger audience and boost its digital revenue.
An SPH Media Academy will be set up to train recruits and existing employees, build a "first-class" digital tech team and from next year, SPH Media will step up the award of SPH scholarships, which will be in digital disciplines as well as in journalism.
For current journalists, there will be fellowships and attachments in world-class newsrooms, he added.
"This is the start of a new chapter for SPH Media. The last time we had a major restructuring was in the early 1980s," said Mr Khaw. "Now, the strategic objective remains the same - to preserve quality newspapers in all four languages trusted by readers, and to sustain them over the long term."
The transfer of SPH's media assets to the CLG is subject to SPH shareholders' approval at an extraordinary general meeting to be convened at a later date.