Wednesday 8 August 2012

Media ‘independence’ and ‘freedom’ — Liao Hongqiang

AUG 8 — There are two recent incidents related to the media industry in this country. Firstly, Merdeka will cease operation with effect from August 31 due to funding problems. Secondly, founder of DurianFM Jamaluddin Ibrahim sells 50 per cent of his shares in the radio station to pro-Umno Redberry Sdn Bhd.

Other than their association with the media industry, the two incidents do not seem to have anything to do with each other. Putting them together here might appear a little unnatural but has nevertheless profound significance.

In tandem with the changing times and reading habits, publishers focus on real-time presentation and content interactivity, against the almost always slower offerings by traditional print media complicated by massive cost overruns.

Many people are of the opinion that traditional print media should perhaps shift towards the prevalent trend of online media as highlighted by the online offerings, Facebook updates and tweets of, which the print Sin Chew Daily is unable to offer.

Naysayers have predicted the eventual demise of traditional print media, but way before this thing happens, if it ever does, the online Merdeka Review is already inching its way towards its end, much to the disbelief of many.

Does this mean we are still very much a primitive society where dissemination of information is concerned? Or Merdeka Review’s paid subscription mechanisms expose our cruel hypocrisy of demanding press independence while not willing to come out with the money?

A worse eventuality is when an online website championing “independence” and “freedom” is about to be sold to a pro-Umno outfit owing to financial stress or other factors, this very “independence” advocated by Merdeka Review is, weirdly, the chief contributor to the website’s own demise, sharply contrasting the heinous acts by online media that would go an extra mile to humiliate Sin Chew and incite its readers yet is powerless in denting the newspaper’s magnanimous stature in the eyes of its million-strong reader base.

This testifies to the fact that the market (in this case, the readers) will have the final say and the same can never be reverted overnight by the ill-intentioned.

Thanks to the phenomenal growth of Internet, readers have much smoother and speedier access to information than they ever had before, and their appetite for information will never be satiated. It is imperative that conventional media change in order to survive in the game.

That said, traditional media could meet their ends much faster than Merdeka Review if they wholeheartedly focus on nothing but their online businesses. The key lies in the deficiency of online media to physically connect with the readers, and as such, Sin Chew Daily’s transformation must be founded upon its corporate philosophy of a caring newspaper and strike a balance between its print and online businesses.

It should continue to focus on its “incisive” editorials, coverage on Chinese community happenings and promotion of government policies, among others, and turn the philosophies into practical actions Through some community events that most traditional print media would shy away, such as the Floral Trails literary awards, student adoption programme and charity shows to raise funds for Chinese education, Sin Chew should be able to overcome the hurdles that other print media and online websites fail to do in order to connect with the reading public.

This is something neither Merdeka Review, which brands itself “merdeka” nor web users who constantly whip Sin Chew, could come to understand.

Web users have a taste for anything novel, especially with the new media offering ceaseless streaming of news and thus, a multitude of topics for them to write about. However, if the online media keeps pursuing the same issue, this only serves to expose its gross insensitivity in news presentation.

How do we expect a website that keeps cooking up old issues to ever survive in an intensely competitive media environment? It is a matter of time such sites will be trashed by the readers and therefore, its early winding up is within everyone’s expectation.

The readers have absolute “independence” and “freedom” to choose a channel to participate in politics and they don’t need other web users or online media to tell them what to do. Put it this way, no one wants to read a newspaper infested with senseless political talks. A hegemonic media company is most unwelcome, while a more matured and rational media is what will actually reflect the voices of majority readers.

It has been the choice of the masses to make Sin Chew Daily the most widely circulated Chinese newspaper in this country. Indeed, Merdeka Review can choose to stay on business, so can Jamaluddin opt to keep DurianFM his private asset, against the forced closure of Sin Chew back in the 80s.

All three sharing the same aspiration of “freedom” and “independence,” Sin Chew chose to go through its crisis with its loyal readers; so can Merdeka Review and DurianFM.

As a follower of all these three, I respect the decisions made by them. While making steady progress towards a more matured and rational online media, it is also essential for traditional newspapers to shoulder the responsibility of overseeing the operations of traditional print media instead of allowing itself to be abused by political manipulators to misguide the reading public. —

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