Veteran journalist and former deputy CEO of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Patrick Daniel will temporarily head the hived-off SPH Media Trust after it is transferred to a company limited by guarantee (CLG).

Daniel, 66, had retired in 2017 as deputy CEO of SPH. From 2007 to 2016, he was editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/Tamil Media Group. More recently, he was appointed non-executive and independent director of Sembcorp Marine in April 2018.

Former Cabinet minister Khaw Boon Wan announced Daniel's appointment on May 12 at a town hall with SPH staff, reported The Straits Times. Earlier this week, Khaw was announced as chair to the new CLG, named SPH Media Trust.

"The founding members of the CLG have asked me to be the chairman. I have accepted this heavy responsibility. My immediate priority is to ensure a smooth transition, without any disruption to the current media business," says Khaw.


See: SPH to cut loose former core media business with $351.3 million send-off package


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"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. I have assured him that I will begin a search for a CEO who can take SPH Media into the future as a multilingual digital media organisation, one who understands both East and West and is Singaporean at heart — and be among the world's best," he adds. 

Pending approval from shareholders at an upcoming EGM, the transition of SPH's media business to SPH Media Trust is planned for Sept 1 this year "at the earliest". According to The Straits Times, some 2,500 media and media-related staff will move to SPH Media Trust. In FY2020, SPH had 3,875 employees.

When asked if this restructuring deal will receive approval from shareholders, Khaw believes this will be the case.

“He gave me confidence yesterday that the majority of shareholders understand the big picture,” says Khaw, referring to SPH chairman Dr Lee Boon Yang.

“This is not just about SPH as a listed company. This is about a larger objective, about nation building, the importance of national media,” says Khaw.

“We think CLG is a good solution. It is not a silver bullet, but without taking this major step, it is very difficult to do what I just talked about,” Khaw adds.

At the press conference, Khaw was also asked if SPH will continue with its current model of paid subscription, which sets it distinct from government-owned MediaCorp where practically all its content is free.

“I’ve strong views about pricing and subscription. If you are about just chasing eyeballs, it is easier to just make it free. But does make it free serve your object? What you want is journalism, quality content,” says Khaw, referring to how he paid for expensive subscription to the likes of the Financial Times and The Economist.

“I think a paid model will force the newsroom — put higher pressure on ourselves deliberately. So, we know if we are doing the right thing — if customers find it valuable,” he adds. “If your product is just an ordinary breaking news, without much analysis or insights, why should people pay to buy your product? This paid model forces us to make sure you are a lot more analytical, deeper analysis, original insight, which I can’t get from the competition."

Last week, Lee announced the restructuring deal, hiving off SPH's core media business into a public company with CLG structure. Entities with such a structure do not have share capital or shareholders. Instead, they have members guaranteeing the entity’s liabilities.


See also: Analysts remain neutral on SPH's media restructuring


 

To send off its former core business, SPH announced it will “contribute” a total of some $351.3 million in the form of cash, SPH shares, SPH REIT units, SPH’s stakes in four digital media assets as well as market value of the leases in the properties needed to run the operations — namely News Centre in Toa Payoh — where the newsrooms are located — and Print Centre in Jurong, one of Asia’s largest newspaper printing plants.