In its latest annual report, SPH said that its annual income from newspapers and magazines has fallen by 10 percent since 2012 to S$931 million. Print advertisement revenue has also fallen 11 percent to S705 million.
SPH’s non-print revenue, such as from exhibitions and radio, has grown however, and rose 56.7 percent to S$78 million.
SPH’s woes began in 2009. Its drop in earnings has followed its drop in readership, over the past 5 years since 2009.
The drop in readership has been especially drastic for its English-language papers which has seen its readership drop to a record low over the past decade.
Its main English spreadsheet has also taken to including its digital subscription numbers to boost its circulation figures.
According to its annual report in Financial Year 2013, Its print subscription stood at 332,300, while its digital subscription was 116,900.
It is unclear if SPH’s slow demise in the traditional media sector is due to its inability to reinvent itself in the traditional media space, or if the Singapore government’s control of it is the cause.
Singapore’s press freedom ranking has dropped to an all-time low in 2014. Its press freedom ranking as measured by Reporters without Borders fell from already a low of 133rd to 150th this year.
This puts it as even lower than Malaysia, Philippines and Myanmar, and only slightly above Iraq. Thailand and Indonesia rank at a much higher 130th and 132nd respectively.
The rankings of the other countries with a similar level of economic development as Singapore stood at 3rd for Norway, 15th for Switzerland and 28th for Australia.
Freedom’s House press freedom ranking puts Singapore at an even lower 152nd.
Earlier this year, Singapore online blogger Roy Ngerng exposed how the government was taking Singaporeans’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) retirement funds to profit off Singaporeans. Such an expose would never have been allowed under the government-controlled mainstream media, which has thus far shed little light on Roy’s findings.
Roy was subsequently sued for defamation by the Singapore prime minister for exposing what was being done to the CPF. The mainstream media later practiced self-censorship by reporting only on the prime minister’s affidavit and his response to Roy’s affidavit for the legal case. They did not report on Roy’s affidavit which covered further evidence of the government’s profiting.
Early last month, filmmaker Tan Pin Pin’s film, ‘To Singapore, with Love’, was also banned by the government, which claimed that the film would “undermine the national security and stability of Singapore”.
The film had looked at the lives of exiles who had to flee Singapore to avoid prosecution by the Singapore government. The British archives has revealed that some of these exiles were wrongly accused by the Singapore government as communists, so that they could be detained without trial.
Reporters with Border said that it “considers Ngerng to be the latest victim of a particular legal device known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). It is designed in the first place to deny the blogger the ability to publish or the chance to defend himself.”
“Secondly, it is intended to send a deterrent message to all those involved in news and information who might be tempted to publicize, or carry on with, his work.”
Perhaps SPH’s playing by the government’s rule and its slow death thus will send a signal that for a company which wants to remain profitable, it would have to allow itself to practice media freedom.