Chapter 11

How Asia gets its news: News consumption trends 2016‑2020

Caroline Fisher, Kieran McGuinness and Jee Lee
September 2021

Taking a longitudinal view across eight markets, this chapter unpacks overarching trends in Asia’s news media landscape, attempting to address some of the gaps in our understanding of news consumer behaviour.

Cover Image
Rafael Matsunaga
How Asia gets its news: News consumption trends 2016‑2020

Overview

This chapter looks at news consumption trends across eight markets: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

The data uses the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report 1 survey data from 2016 to 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. It covers both developed and developing economies in Asia with established media markets.

While each of the eight markets analysed here is defined by its own socio-economic and political characteristics, some similarities in news consumption emerge.

Across the eight markets, more than two-thirds of all respondents said they accessed news daily, and more than half of all respondents said they were highly interested in news. Residents of Hong Kong and South Korea consumed the most news in 2020, with 76% accessing it once a day or more.

Another noticeable trend is the rapid adoption of mobile phones for daily online news consumption. Social media use is particularly high in markets such as the Philippines and Malaysia, while being lower in places like South Korea and Japan. Across all eight markets, however, the shift away from traditional print and television is apparent.

And in markets where there is political instability or restrictions on press freedom, news consumers show lower than average trust in the news and higher use of social media and encrypted messaging apps for news. These behaviours reflect attempts to seek alternative sources of information and to exchange views in safe online environments.

Taking a longitudinal view, our analysis begins to unpack some of these overarching trends in Asia’s news media landscape, attempting to address some of the gaps in our understanding of news consumer behaviour across eight complex markets.

Mobile’s lead continues to grow

Mobile devices are the most popular main device to get news in each of the eight Asian markets analysed here – and they continue to grow in popularity. More people are choosing to carry their news with them throughout the day rather than picking up a paper or watching a TV bulletin. Between 2017 and 2020, the use of mobile phones as the main device for news jumped to 70% in Malaysia (+20 percentage points), 58% in Taiwan (+17), 69% in Singapore (+14) and 59% in Hong Kong (+7). In 2020, nearly two-thirds of Filipino participants (65%) said they mainly used their mobile phone to get news.

In contrast to mobile devices, the use of PCs and laptops for news has fallen significantly in developed and developing economies alike. Between 2018 and 2020, the use of PCs and laptops as the main device for news consumption fell by 24 percentage points in Japan, 11 points in Singapore and Korea, and 8 points in Hong Kong.

Main device for news (2016–2020)

Australia

25502016201820204126

Hong Kong

25502016201820205914

Japan

25502016201820203935

Malaysia

25502016201820207015

Philippines

2550201620182020No dataprior to 20206517

Singapore

25502016201820206915

South Korea

25502016201820204826

Taiwan

25502016201820205820
  • Mobile*
  • Desktop​/​laptop

*Smartphones and other internet connected phones (i.e. Blackberry)

Social media now the main source of news for many

Social media has been steadily rising and is on its way to becoming the main source of news in many of the eight markets analysed here. Malaysia recorded the highest use of social media as the main device for news (37%) in 2020. Meanwhile, Taiwan has seen the greatest increase in the use of social media as a main source of news, rising 12 percentage point from 2017 to reach 29% in 2020. In Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, the use of social media as the main way to access news now competes with or exceeds online news use. In 2020, social media was the second most popular main source of news in Singapore (31%), the Philippines (29%) and Hong Kong (27%).

Japan and South Korea, however, see lower levels of social media use for news. In 2020, only 9% of Japanese news consumers used social media as their main source of news – up just 1 percentage point since 2016 – as television continued to dominate. In South Korea, use of social media as a main source for news more than doubled between 2016 and 2020, but remained relatively low at 15% in 2020.

Social media as the main source of news (2016–2020)

10203020162017201820192020MalaysiaSingaporeTaiwanPhilippinesHong KongAustraliaSouth KoreaJapan

Prior to 2020 ‘blogs’ were included as ‘social media’. In 2020 they were not included in the questionnaire.

Facebook’s dominance wanes

Facebook remained the most popular social media platform for accessing news in 2020 in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia. Yet, with the exception of Hong Kong, its use for news has gradually declined over the past five years in the Asian markets analysed here.

In Taiwan, almost half of news consumers used the social media platform LINE in 2020. In South Korea, YouTube was the most popular social media platform for news (45%), having increased by 29 percentage points in five years. Local platform KakaoTalk was second most popular platform at 27%. WeChat has not been adopted widely as a source of news in these eight markets. While it has experienced mild growth in Hong Kong (+3 percentage points) since 2017, it fell sharply in Malaysia over the same period (-7). The use of Twitter for news remains relatively low across each of the eight markets, but rose 5 percentage points to 15% in Japan from 2019, where it was the second most popular social platform for news behind YouTube.

Social Media: News vs. General Use (2020)

Australia

0306090
Facebook
YouTube
Twitter
Instagram
WeChat
LINE
KakaoTalk

Hong Kong

0306090
Facebook
YouTube
WeChat
Instagram
LINE
Twitter
KakaoTalk

Japan

0306090
YouTube
LINE
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
WeChat
KakaoTalk

Malaysia

0306090
Facebook
YouTube
Instagram
Twitter
WeChat
LINE
KakaoTalk

Philippines

0306090
Facebook
YouTube
Twitter
Instagram
WeChat
LINE
KakaoTalk

Singapore

0306090
Facebook
YouTube
Instagram
Twitter
WeChat
LINE
KakaoTalk

South Korea

0306090
YouTube
KakaoTalk
Facebook
Instagram
Twitter
LINE
WeChat

Taiwan

0306090
LINE
Facebook
YouTube
Instagram
WeChat
Twitter
KakaoTalk
  • News usage
  • General usage

Online news shows signs of decline

While social media is rapidly becoming the most popular main source of news across the eight Asian markets analysed here, online news is stalling – and even falling – in many of them. From 2019 to 2020, the general use of online news platforms fell in Taiwan (-13 percentage points), Malaysia (-7) and South Korea (-6). In seven of the eight markets looked at here, paying for online news either stayed the same or fell slightly between 2019 and 2020. Only Hong Kong saw an exception to this.

Online news (2016–2020)

5060708020162017201820192020South KoreaSingaporeHong KongTaiwanPhilippinesMalaysiaJapanAustralia

Television strong but falling

TV news consumption has been falling slowly in recent years but remains a popular source of news. In five of the eight markets surveyed, news consumers still rely on TV as their main source of news. In 2020, use of TV as a main source of news was highest in Japan (45%), followed by the Philippines (41%), Australia (39%), Hong Kong (38%) and Taiwan (34%). In contrast, South Koreans and Singaporeans mainly use online sources of news (42% and 37%, respectively), and Malaysians rely on social media (37%).

Television as the main source of news (2016–2020)

2030405020162017201820192020JapanPhilippinesAustraliaSouth KoreaHong KongTaiwanMalaysiaSingapore

Sharp decline in print newspapers

In line with non-Asian news media markets, print news consumption has continued to decline in recent years. There has been a 24 percentage point drop for newspapers as a general source of news in Singapore since 2017, and a 20 point drop in Taiwan. In Hong Kong, the decline suddenly accelerated, falling 13 percentage points from 2019 to 2020, compared to an annual drop of only 2 points between 2017 and 2019.

Print media declines (2016–2020)

2030405020162017201820192020Hong KongMalaysiaSingaporeJapanAustraliaPhilippinesTaiwanSouth Korea

YAHOO! News falls as Google News rises

The rise of Google News has dented Yahoo! News’ lead in several of the markets analysed here. Yahoo! News is the most popular news aggregator in Japan (58%), Taiwan (45%) and Singapore (29%). And while Yahoo! News remains popular in the Philippines (36%) and Hong Kong (30%), Google News is now the most popular aggregator in these markets (43% and 33%, respectively). Indeed, Yahoo! News’ popularity has dropped the most in Hong Kong since 2017, falling by 13 percentage points.

Between 2017 and 2020, the use of Google News also rose in Taiwan (+10 percentage points to 36%), South Korea (+10 to 27%), Australia (+6 to 17%), Japan (+5 to 21%) and Singapore (+5 to 24%).

Despite the popularity of Apple iPhones, in 2020 Apple News had not yet developed a strong audience across the eight markets analysed here.

News aggregators (2020)

Australia

0204060
Google News
17
Apple News
12
Yahoo! News
0

Hong Kong

0204060
Google News
33
Yahoo! News
30
Apple News
16

Japan

0204060
Yahoo! News
58
Google News
21
Apple News
5

Malaysia

0204060
Google News
25
Yahoo! News
16
Apple News
6

Philippines

0204060
Google News
43
Yahoo! News
36
Apple News
9

Singapore

0204060
Yahoo! News
29
Google News
24
Apple News
9

South Korea

0204060
Google News
28
Apple News
6
Yahoo! News
2

Taiwan

0204060
Yahoo! News
45
Google News
36
Apple News
8

Hong Kong news consumption surges amid unrest

Following months of civil unrest, news consumption increased significantly in Hong Kong. From 2016 to 2019, the number of Hong Kongers accessing news once a day or more was relatively stable at around 67%; however, consumption jumped sharply to 76% in 2020.

Not only did Hong Kongers start accessing news more often, but more people also started paying for online news. From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of Hong Kongers paying for news rose from 17% to 29%. That is roughly double the rate of online news payment in Australia (14%), Singapore (14%) and Taiwan (15%). Moreover, the increase seen in Hong Kong occurred in ongoing subscriptions (+18 percentage points) rather than in one-off payments, which had fallen 17 percentage points since 2018.

In addition to mainstream news sources, Hong Kong residents are increasingly getting news from podcasts (rising 6 percentage points from 2019 to 2020), the biggest rise among the markets featured here.

News access (2016–2020)

Australia

204060802016201820205644

Hong Kong

204060802016201820207624

Japan

204060802016201820207129

Malaysia

204060802016201820205743

Philippines

20406080201620182020No dataprior to 20206535

Singapore

204060802016201820206337

South Korea

204060802016201820207624

Taiwan

204060802016201820206733
  • Heavy — once a day or more
  • Light — less than once a day

News consumers in markets with low media freedom 2 are increasingly turning to closed group and encrypted messaging apps as a place to consume and share news. WhatsApp use is particularly high in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, where more than 80% of people use it for news and other general purposes. For news only, the fastest growing user base is in Hong Kong, where use has increased 14 percentage points since 2017. In 2020, around half of Malaysians (51%), Singaporeans (47%) and Hong Kongers (50%) used WhatsApp to access news. But general use of WhatsApp remains very low in Japan (1%), South Korea (2%) and Taiwan (7%), where local messaging services such as LINE and KakaoTalk are more popular, and in Australia (26%), where Facebook Messenger is favoured.

Telegram has become more popular where government censorship is a concern. The app purports to offer a higher standard of end-to-end encryption than others like LINE and WhatsApp. Use of Telegram for news consumption is growing fastest in Hong Kong, where it rose 5 percentage points from 2019 to 2020. Use also grew in Malaysia to 12% (+5 percentage points) and Singapore to 11% (+8) between 2017 and 2020.

Messenger Apps: News vs. General Use (2020)

Australia

0306090
Facebook Messenger
WhatsApp
Telegram
LINE

Hong Kong

0306090
WhatsApp
Facebook Messenger
LINE
Telegram

Japan

0306090
LINE
Facebook Messenger
WhatsApp
Telegram

Malaysia

0306090
WhatsApp
Telegram
Facebook Messenger
LINE

Philippines

0306090
Facebook Messenger
Telegram
WhatsApp
LINE

Singapore

0306090
WhatsApp
Telegram
Facebook Messenger
LINE

South Korea

0306090
Facebook Messenger
Telegram
LINE
WhatsApp

Taiwan

0306090
LINE
Facebook Messenger
WhatsApp
Telegram
  • News usage
  • General usage

News sharing via closed messaging apps has also been growing in some markets since 2017. The biggest rise has occurred in Hong Kong (+8 percentage points), followed by Singapore (+6), and Australia (+6). However, sharing of news on messaging apps has remained about the same in Taiwan (-2) and Malaysia (-1).

Across the eight markets surveyed here, news consumers prefer to talk about news face-to-face rather than online.

Social participation (2016–2020)

Australia

1020304020162018202015

Hong Kong

1020304020162018202037

Japan

102030402016201820205

Malaysia

1020304020162018202033

Philippines

10203040201620182020No dataprior to 202026

Singapore

1020304020162018202031

South Korea

1020304020162018202016

Taiwan

1020304020162018202013
  • Share via instant messenger
  • Talk face to face

Concern over misinformation rises

Between 2018 and 2020, worry about online misinformation rose in Hong Kong and Japan. In Hong Kong, concern about what is real or fake on the internet rose from 44% to 51%, with a 6-point jump from 2019 to 2020 alone. In Japan, worry about misinformation grew steadily from 2018, rising from 48% to 54% in 2020. In contrast, concern about misinformation remained fairly steady across the other markets surveyed here.

Concern over misinformation (2018–2020)

5060201820192020SingaporeAustraliaMalaysiaSouth KoreaPhilippinesJapanHong KongTaiwan

Facebook and messaging applications seen as vehicles of misinformation

Across the eight Asian markets, citizens are most concerned about Facebook and messaging applications like WhatsApp being vehicles of misinformation. In South Korea, where YouTube is more widely used, the video platform raises the highest level of concern, while in Japan Twitter is perceived to be a greater source of misinformation.

Concern about misinformation from platforms (2020)

Australia3619169875
Hong Kong2421201887
Japan32221211986
Korea31212110755
Malaysia33311587
Philippines471615776
Singapore26251813114
Taiwan271916161010
UK332319987
US35221412775
  • News websites or apps
  • Search engines
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Messaging applications
  • I am not concerned about any of these

Local governments, not foreign, seen as the biggest threat of misinformation

Despite tensions in the region resulting from fear of interference from foreign powers, news consumers in nearly all of the eight Asian markets surveyed say they are most worried about misinformation coming from their own government. In 2020, this concern was most pronounced in Malaysia, where more than half of respondents (57%) said they were worried about online misinformation coming from their government. In the Philippines, 44% of news consumers said they were worried about government misinformation, followed by 37% in Taiwan and Singapore, and 33% in Hong Kong.

Concern about sources of misinformation (2020)

Australia35201412119
Hong Kong34261412105
Japan27211716145
South Korea32232018
Malaysia57129887
Philippines4415151196
Singapore37181512109
Taiwan37291687
UK39201311117
US42181110109
  • The government, politicians or political parties in my country
  • Foreign governments, politicians or political parties
  • Ordinary people
  • Activists or activist groups
  • Journalists or news organisations
  • I am not concerned about any of these

Trust in news falls

In recent years, trust in news has fallen across the eight markets surveyed. Some of the sharpest drops have occurred since 2019, particularly in Hong Kong, where trust fell 16 percentage points despite the notable surge in news consumption there. The results highlight the effect of political and economic events on trust in news. When trust in politics falls, trust in news is also often affected. 3 This is reflected in Hong Kong, where overall trust in news had been on the rise but then sharply fell in 2020 amid political unrest and criticism of the news media coverage from all sides.

Trust in news (2016–2020)

2030405020162017201820192020AustraliaJapanSingaporeHong KongPhilippinesMalaysiaTaiwanSouth Korea

Despite the widespread popularity of social media as a source of news, trust in social media is quite low and falling, particularly in Hong Kong, where trust fell 8 percentage points from 2019, down to 18% in 2020.

Trust in news on social media (2018–2020)

161820222426201820192020PhilippinesJapanHong KongSingaporeMalaysiaAustraliaTaiwanSouth Korea

Payments for news fall, except in Hong Kong

Between 2017 and 2020, the number of people paying for online news fell slightly across most of the Asian markets surveyed. Most types of payment, whether one-off purchases or via subscriptions, had stalled or dropped across all eight markets. More recently, from 2019 to 2020, there was almost a uniform increase in online news subscriptions, with only Taiwan seeing a decrease.

The notable exception is Hong Kong, where 29% paid for online news in 2020, well above the global average of 14% 4 and a 9 percentage point rise since 2018. The biggest rise in online news subscriptions was also in Hong Kong (+16 percentage points), where more than half of people (54%) paying for online news became subscribers. These shifts toward online subscriptions are in step with a wider trend occurring in non-Asian markets.

Paying for online news (2020)

Australia

2040201620182020581715

Hong Kong

2040201620182020542916

Japan

204020162018202039238

Malaysia

2040201620182020362717

Philippines

2040201620182020No dataprior to 2020302319

Singapore

2040201620182020411514

South Korea

2040201620182020352910

Taiwan

2040201620182020272315
  • Paid for news in the last 12 months
  • Subscriptions *
  • One-off purchases *

* of those who had paid for news in the last 12 months.

Methodology

This chapter is based on data collected as part of the global Digital News Report (DNR) survey commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. The data is analysed here by the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra, which produces the annual Digital News Report: Australia.

The analysis presented here represents tendencies over time with a view to seeing beyond year-on-year fluctuations.

The availability of longitudinal data across years differs depending on the market: Australia (2016–2020), Hong Kong (2017–2020), Japan (2016–2020), Malaysia (2017–2020), the Philippines (2020), Singapore (2017–2020), South Korea (2016–2020) and Taiwan (2017–2020).

2020 data was collected at the outset of the Covid-19 outbreak and therefore does not reflect the impact of the pandemic on news media markets in Asia.

In 2020, the annual DNR survey was conducted across six continents in 40 markets in January and February of each year. In each market more than 2,000 adults are surveyed online. Respondents are required to have consumed news in the past month to be included.

Given it is an online survey, the final sample is reflective of the adult population that has access to the internet, and thereby excludes news consumers who are not online. Furthermore, in Malaysia and the Philippines internet penetration is much lower than in the other countries surveyed (83% in Malaysia and 67% in the Philippines).

The data is weighted to targets based on census data such as age, gender and region to better represent the total population of each country. In 2019, a quota for education was introduced that reflects the categories in the United Nations’ International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). Although this has improved comparability of the data across diverse markets, it makes it difficult to compare some of the pre-2019 data.

It should be noted that in markets that are new to the survey, such as the Philippines, the 2020 survey was only conducted in English, and therefore the data is skewed toward English speakers. This will be addressed in future surveys.

The DNR global survey is produced with support from Google News Initiative, BBC News, British Office of Communications, Edelmann and international research partners, including the Korea Press Foundation and the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra. A full list of partners and sponsors can be found in the Digital News Report 2020.​

The analysis represents the work of the News and Media Research Centre and not of any other sponsor or partner.

References

  1. 1

    Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Digital News Report, https://​www.​digitalnewsreport.​org/​.

  2. 2

    Markets with ‘low’ and ‘high’ media freedom refers to rankings in Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index, https://​rsf.​org/​en/​ranking/​2021 (accessed 11 July 2021).

  3. 3

    Richard Fletcher, ‘Trust will get worse before it gets better,’ in Nic Newman (ed) (2020), Journalism, Media and Technology Trends and Predictions 2020, (Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism) ,pp. 30–31, http://​www.​digitalnewsreport.​org/​publications/​2020/​trust-​will-​get-​worse-​gets-​better/​.

  4. 4

    Sora Park, et al (2020), Digital News Report: Australia 2020 (Canberra: News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra), p. 85, https://​www.​canberra.​edu.​au/​research/​faculty-​research-​centres/​nmrc/​digital-​news-​report-​australia-​2020.

Image of the author Dr Caroline Fisher

Dr Caroline Fisher is an Associate Professor of Communication and Media, and Discipline Leader, Journalism, in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Canberra. She is Deputy Director of the News & Media Research Centre, and co-author of the annual Digital News Report: Australia. She has published widely on issues related to news consumption and engagement, with a special interest in news trust and regional journalism.

Image of the author Kieran McGuinness

Kieran McGuinness is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the News & Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra. His recent research focuses on mixed method approaches to news consumption, misinformation, journalistic role performance, defence journalism and discourses of risk, problematisation and threat in news media.

Image of the author Jee Young Lee

Jee Young Lee is a Lecturer at the School of Arts and Communication at the University of Canberra. Her research focuses on social and cultural impacts of digital communication and technologies, including emerging digital excluded social groups in developed communities, digital engagement and digital trust among young people and growing technology adoption in emerging markets, such as Asia-Pacific regions, and its effects on individuals and societies.

Read next Next
Who produces the news?Chapter 12
Caroline Fisher, Kieran McGuinness, Sora Park, Kerry McCallum and Jee Lee
Who produces the news?