Media and journalism issues

Singapore’s SPH Media circulation numbers inflated, citing internal review

Victor Barreiro Jr.

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Singapore’s SPH Media circulation numbers inflated, citing internal review
An internal review finds a discrepancy of about 10% to 12% of SPH Media's reported daily average circulation from September 2020 to March 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The Straits Times said an internal review of the circulation numbers of its parent company SPH Media showed they were inflated or overstated, in a scandal that could break the trust of news readers – and advertisers – in the company.

The Straits Times reported on January 9 that the company began an internal review of its processes in March 2022. In it, SPH Media found a discrepancy of between 85,000 and 95,000 daily average copies across all titles, which represents 10% to 12% of SPH Media’s reported daily average circulation – from September 2020 to March 2022.

SPH Media publishes The Straits Times and The Business Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Shin Min Daily News, Berita Harian, and Tamil Murasu.

Wake Up Singapore, an alternative media outfit in the country, added at least three executives were made to leave SPH Media over the created discrepancies.

In a Channel News Asia report, SPH Media’s spokesperson added, “The staff involved had been taken to task, or had left the organization,” without naming anyone involved.

Bad practices

SPH Media’s spokesperson cited some of its missteps. These included counting lapsed contracts in its circulation data, counting papers into the circulation numbers which were printed then destroyed, and also double-counting subscriptions across multiple instances.

Said the spokesperson, “A project account was injected with additional funding over a period of time to purchase fictitious circulation.”

“Certain circulation numbers were arbitrarily derived,” the spokesperson added.

Why this mattters

The scandal, and how it is being covered, points to a likely erosion of trust in the media group. Trust in news all over the world is already declining.

Obvious details, such as naming those responsible and denoting what actions were taken against the offending parties, should have been part of transparent coverage in the company’s issues but remain undisclosed.

Semafor’s Gina Chua, in an analysis of the issue, noted that “If, despite having a near-monopoly, you still have to inflate circulation by 10% or more, that suggests a deep disconnect with Singaporean readers.”

The fudging of the numbers translates into uncertainty, which can also taint advertiser sentiment and increase hesitance in supporting SPH Media, creating a cycle of distrust that may be difficult to bounce back from. –

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.