Key insights

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St Stev
Key insights

Asia is at the centre of the world, home to half its population, the engine of its economy, a driver of technological innovation, and the front line of global geopolitical competition. Understanding Asia has never been more important, which means the world needs great journalism in Asia.

But pressure on press freedom in the region is growing as new legal mechanisms are created by governments to crack down on journalists under the pretence of Covid-19 and national security.

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Intolerant populism, often seeded on social media, is also challenging Asia’s news media, in some cases casting journalists as ‘the enemy of the people’.

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Audience behaviours in Asia have markedly changed in the past five years: as misinformation rose and trust in news fell, newsrooms are trying to convince audiences to pay for news, with mixed results.​

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The pandemic has exacerbated existing pressures on newsroom budgets.​ At the same time, it has increased demand for accurate information and quality journalism. In this turbulent environment, the challenges faced by traditional media are creating room for media startups and new approaches to reporting.

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Fact-​checking initiatives have proliferated and become more innovative, with new applications of artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing and audience education on the rise.

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But new media players in Asia still face significant obstacles to entry compared to the United States and Europe.​ Chief among them is a dearth of funding for original reporting and entrepreneurial journalism.

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China’s expulsion of international reporters will make it even harder for the outside world to understand what is happening in China.​ At the same time, this makes it easier for Beijing to communicate its version of events to foreign audiences without being contradicted, particularly with its increasingly savvy use of social media.

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Myanmar is a case study in the challenges and opportunities faced by news media in Asia. The coup led to a stiff crackdown on the press and almost total suppression of the internet.​ But it has also given rise to ingenious methods of disseminating news and images, and has created a new sense of solidarity among regional media associations.

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Social media is now the main source of news for many in Asia, though Facebook’s dominance shows signs of waning.

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The tech giants continue to challenge the profitability of traditional media outlets, although Australia has shown that it is possible to use competition laws to alleviate some of this pressure.​ Other countries have watched these developments closely.

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But technology platforms are also making some positive contributions to the future of journalism in the region, improving the standard of fact-checking and becoming the major funders of innovative journalism.​

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While Asia’s national broadcasters face growing pressure on their independence, they continue to play a central role in much of Asia, often proving their worth in times of emergencies and natural disasters.​ The pandemic has been a case in point.

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There remains great potential for Asian states to use national broadcasters and the wider media to amplify their soft power. But in most instances, the use of news media for public diplomacy in Asia has been serendipitous rather than strategic.​

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The news media environment in Asia is a complex mix of threats, opportunities and uncertainties. But what is certain is the vital importance of quality journalism to understanding what happens in the world’s most important region.

Image credits: Rafael Banha, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Robert Couse-Baker, YunHo Lee, Michael Amadeus, Justin Case, Jonny Clow, Hanson Lu, M.O., JJ Harrison, Ahmed Shabana, ITU Pictures.

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