In Asian countries, many national broadcasters have experienced an increasing slide towards state control. As a result, public media in the region is being redefined and normalised as a form of national broadcasting that does not focus on editorial independence.
Despite their sometimes dated institutional structures and slow progress towards multiplatform and digital offerings, national broadcasters have proven essential in times of crises and disasters.
National broadcasters need to prove their relevance in the digital as well as broadcast space: the Covid-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for national broadcasters to build audience trust with independent news and accurate information across all platforms.
Setting the scene: Independent news as the foundation of public media and audience credibility
National broadcasting is critical in producing the news media that shapes the domestic and international views of citizens. With the increased domination of social media platforms, the ongoing power of these media organisations lies in their considerable audience reach. They deliver information about health, culture, agriculture and development to substantial audiences, especially via radio in rural areas. Yet, given their indisputable sway over public opinion, it is important to acknowledge that the news agendas of national broadcasters are shaped by the way in which they are funded, governed and operated.
In Asia’s large and diverse media market, most countries have long established national broadcast networks. With shifting geopolitical currents, and as home to around 60% 1United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019), World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights, p. 6, Open. of the world’s population, how Asian national broadcasters cover domestic issues and reflect the world has great significance for lives in Asia. Given the scale and complexity of the region, this synopsis seeks to provide a snapshot of some current issues around news provision by national broadcasters, identifying key themes and patterns across the continent with input from country experts.
Asia’s take on public media
The presence of effective and independent public media is widely accepted as essential to supporting an informed democracy. 2Carina Haupt (2019), Democracy & PSM (Geneva: European Broadcasting Union Media Intelligence Service), Open [requires a subscription]. Many national broadcasters are described as public service broadcasters (PSB), suggesting that they are accountable to the public and provide news that is accurate, independent, impartial and free from both commercial and political pressures. Yet for the most part, PSB can be considered a legacy term in Asia.
International debate on the definitions of ‘public’ and ‘state’ media was sharpened by Facebook’s decision to label posts from ‘state’ media in 2020. 3Nathaniel Gleicher, ‘Labelling state-controlled media on Facebook’, Facebook, 4 June 2020, Open. While there are numerous clear examples of state-controlled media in Asia, the situation is not always absolute, with many countries exhibiting varying degrees of state interference in the editorial independence of national broadcasters. Some have editorial staff, journalists and managers that understand the need for editorial independence but too often are thwarted by political directives. In others, the cultures and structures of newsrooms fluctuate with changes in government.
The term ‘media’ now encompasses everything from community radio to global digital providers of mass entertainment and social media. Public trust in the media has also been declining globally and steadily. And yet, research indicates that national public media remains one of the most trusted providers of news and information in those countries where it exists. 4Nic Newman, et al (2020), Digital News Report 2020 (Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism), Open.
That trust is built on credibility. In an age of mis- and disinformation, the values of public media, especially in terms of news coverage, are essential for keeping citizens informed and able to shape society. The current Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated both the need for this and the vital role of a shared and trusted public media space during crises and disasters.
With advances in digital media technology, a global trend has been for PSBs to evolve into multiplatform public service media organisations (PSM), building on their brands and reputations by continuing the principles and values of public broadcasting.
- Public service broadcaster
- PSP are accountable to, and at least part funded by, the public. They provide universal access to news and information that is accurate, independent, impartial and free from both commercial and political pressures.
- Public service media organisations
- Encompasses the values and ethos of public broadcasting but works across multiple media platforms in addition to broadcasting.
Independent news is widely accepted as being fundamental to both the public and public interest media: it is the foundation on which audience trust is built. But a different perception of the need for independent news has emerged across much of Asia where, in line with prevailing political contexts, we have witnessed a steady slide towards full state control for many national broadcasters. Even in post-authoritarian countries, national media organisations struggle to provide independent news. State-controlled regulatory environments have also further eroded editorial independence across the continent.
The growing regional influence of authoritarian states, particularly China, has normalised state involvement in national broadcasting organisations across Asia. Meanwhile the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, a powerful regional media organisation, has reframed discussions on national media and adopted the phrase ‘broadcasting in the service of the public’ – a redefinition of public media – to describe an Asian form of national broadcasting that does not primarily focus on independence.
The future of national media organisations is closely linked to the state of democracy in Asia. For a brief period, beginning in the late 1970s, national broadcasters in Asia were supported by Western development interests to transition to independent news provision. But there is little evidence of recent government appetite or inclination for this transition. In much of Asia, where the broadcasting spectrum is considered a ‘public good’, prevailing political opinions have determined it is best administered by governments. Editorial independence, one of the central values of public media, is evidently not a priority for many state-influenced national broadcasters in Asia.
The following sections explore in more detail some of the patterns and realities of independent news provision by national broadcasters across the continent.
From colonial control to nation-building and state bureaucracy
National broadcasting has its roots in the PSB principles of the colonial era, a history that has a significant effect on today’s national broadcasters and their output. In the early days of radio and television, most national broadcasting systems in Asia were founded on the BBC model established in the 1920s. Such organisations had great potential to inform, educate and entertain, but during the post-liberation era the priority for most Asian governments was national development.
Many national broadcasters in Asia self-define as PSB. However, with some exceptions such as the ABC in Australia and New Zealand’s RNZ, few in the region have ever been truly ‘public’ in the Western sense, which is centred specifically on journalism that is editorially independent of political and commercial pressures. Not only was this new media system adopted by societies that were ill prepared to demand accountability from media, but the model itself was flawed.
The BBC’s model of PSB may have been suited for domestic audiences in the United Kingdom, but the system translocated to much of Asia was far from perfect. In India especially, the model catered substantially for the European community and was urban-centric. It was regarded by many as a geopolitical propaganda tool of the British Empire that expanded at the expense of the development of local community broadcasting. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia also inherited this system and, in turn, became the models for broadcasters in other Asian states.
Before independence, these national broadcasters were useful tools of colonial control. After independence, it was easy for that control to shift to the newly established governing elites under the guise of nation-building and development. Despite their recognised ‘brands’, established infrastructure and semi-autonomy, most national broadcasters across postcolonial Asia became government agencies from the 1960s onwards, leaving them vulnerable to political manipulation and set to become mouthpieces for the government of the day.
This went largely unremarked in the immediate postcolonial period when political influence on national media was viewed as working for the ‘common good’. The essential role of independent journalism in nation-building and development was understood too late.
In vast and populous countries such as India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan the national broadcasters have been overburdened by state bureaucracy for many years, with staff employed as a part of the civil service. This reinforces their role as state-administered entities.
A clear example of the sheer weight of state bureaucracy upon the management of a national broadcaster is Prasar Bharati, India’s PSB conglomerate, which comprises Doordarshan (TV) and All India Radio. Employing 40,000 staff, 5Amandeep Shukla, ‘Prasar Bharati likely to soon get its own recruitment board’, Hindustan Times, 9 February 2020, Open. journalists there historically worked to clear editorial guidelines but anomalies arose in terms of news provision. While TV news in India, which serves a mainly urban audience, is pluralistic with a plethora of commercial TV news channels, radio news, which reaches the majority rural population, can only be broadcast by AIR. 6Reporters Without Borders, ‘Radio news monopoly’, Media Ownership Monitor India, 2019, Open.
All commercial and community radio stations must carry AIR news. This lack of media plurality for substantial audiences is a matter of concern in a country labelled as the world’s largest democracy. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, media freedom in India has also become increasingly restricted, with much airtime on national broadcasters dedicated to the Prime Minister and ruling party.
Although on a smaller scale than Prasar Bharati, many Asian national broadcasters have been similarly restricted in their ability to modernise in the digital world because of large numbers of government staff. Housing tied to employment on a substantial scale makes streamlining and retrenchments more difficult to accomplish.
Trust, credibility and the transition from state to public media
Despite a pattern of considerable government control, national broadcasters in Asia continue to play a significant role in the lives of citizens. But to be fully accepted as a PSB or PSM, many would need to establish editorially independent news.
The potential of a genuinely ‘public’ media appears to be recognised in Asia, but there has been little political will to found new entities or to transition from state-backed to public media. For one thing there is little political understanding of the role that editorial independence plays in building and maintaining audience trust and engagement.
But the lack of independent news is also normalised where there is no history of democracy. In many countries it is difficult to determine the public appetite for independent news, and with the move towards digital media there is an evident lack of digital media literacy, an issue not unique to Asia.
Where there is support for transition, change tends to be slow. In Indonesia there has long been support for a transition to public media, as noted by media academic and commentator, Dr Masduki 7Masduki, personal correspondence, 9 November 2020. :
The (PSB) system in Indonesia began in 2002, when Radio Republic Indonesia (RRI) and Television Republic Indonesia (TVRI) (the two formerly government-controlled channels) were mandated as PSB providers by the passing of Broadcast Law No. 32/2002. The new law was advocated by civil society activists, with the support of international media development agencies. Most notably, Articles 14–15 of the Law stipulate that Indonesia’s PSB system is not-for-profit and employs a parliamentary control model. It is not directly under public control.
However, as the Law speaks only generally, there have been problems with its implementation. In practice, the idea of public interest broadcasts competed with the classic interest of keeping the two media as state-owned channels, rather than as a new public broadcast institution. Overall, the two channels face the lack of a receptive political and professional culture.
Recent internet and social media developments have challenged RRI/TVRI to find new content strategies by creating several digital interfaces such as RRI/TVRI online, RRIPlay and TVRIKlik. However, these interfaces remain in their infancy, being positioned as the extensions of non-interactive broadcasts, and initiated by the interest of managing the RRI/TVRI mission as the voice of the ruling political authorities.
Referring to the idea that digital media can offer an extension to the public sphere, the presence of digital platforms will not result in new, egalitarian or interactive spaces. They are only extensions of the analogue content that has stagnated over the past eighteen years. More, the absence of an Indonesian national policy regarding the digital broadcast system weakens digital development in both media.
In recent years, there has also been impetus to transform Nepal’s state media outlets into public media.
In July 2020, a new PSB bill was registered to merge Radio Nepal and Nepal Television under a single public media entity that would be editorially independent and able to hold government to account. However, proposals that included a government minister becoming the chairperson of a PSB Council have raised concerns about the governance model and indicated a slide back towards greater state interference and control. As long-term advocate for public media, Taranath dahal, Chief Executive Officer of the Freedom Forum in Nepal, explains 8Taranath dahal, personal correspondence, 27 November 2020. :
Transformation of the government-controlled Radio Nepal and Nepal Television into public service broadcasting has been long overdue in Nepal. Independent public service media is needed to make an informed and active citizenry and to develop an inclusive and pluralistic society by promoting national languages and maintaining diverse cultures in order to protect Nepal’s transition to democracy.
Factual, impartial and balanced news must be produced for the public interest with maximum editorial freedom that is ensured by law. The production of unique and original content should be distinct from political or market interests and must put the public interest first. This is one way to strengthen the faith, trust and confidence of the public.
Public service broadcasting would be a dream come true for Nepal, but strong political will is needed to complete this initiative. The newly registered public service broadcasting bill is not in line with the characteristics of a public service broadcaster, where universality; diversity; independence in editorial, funding and governance; and innovation, are the four major pillars of PSB. The bill should be reconsidered and include more robust protections and regulations for public media to be able to operate as an autonomous and editorially and financially independent institution, such as by introducing a high-level ombudsman committee for editorial disputes.
As Taranath dahal indicates, the government’s understanding of ‘public broadcasting’ does not seem to adhere to the more widely accepted international understanding of public media values. Moreover, while there are ongoing calls to reform the national broadcasters in Nepal, one of the most challenging aspects of transitioning state to public media is changing the organisational culture and the governance model to provide protection from further state interference.
Established in 2008, Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) is the one recently established public broadcaster in Asia. With a strapline of ‘TV you can trust’, Thai PBS is staffed by employees with a clear understanding of public media values despite operating in a country with restricted media freedom. Ironically, Thai PBS was established by the Thai Public Broadcasting Act during a period of military rule. The act provides the broadcaster with legal protection against political and commercial intervention. 9Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy, ‘The challenges to public service broadcasting: A seminar November 8 to 9, 2010’, Open. The policy committee has the duty and power to give policy direction that reflects the needs of viewers at large and offers protection against political and commercial interference.
But despite these protections the new public broadcaster has been tested during its short existence. In 2014 the broadcaster suspended reporter Nattaya Wawweerakup when soldiers raised questions with managers following her interviews with citizens critical of the military regime. 10Committee to Protect Journalists, ‘Thai military authorities force broadcast reporter off the air’, 17 November 2014, Open. Despite such incidents, Thai PBS continues to operate as a public broadcaster, playing a significant role in providing citizens with news and information, and in shaping their political and social views.
The impact of structure and organisational cultures on news provision by national broadcasters in Asia
How state-run media organisations are structured and operated inevitably has a significant impact on news provision. As traditionally hierarchical organisations, many are unmodernised in terms of staff structures and operational culture. Media commentator and academic Dr. Anis Rahman has made an in-depth study of news provision by the national broadcasters in Bangladesh and offers the following insights 11Anis Rahman, personal correspondence, 23 November 2020. :
Following independence in 1971, the Bangladeshi government nationalized Bangladesh Betar (BB) and Bangladesh Television (BTV). Later, military regimes skilfully used the broadcasters as propaganda vehicles. In the 1990s Bangladesh became a democracy. At this time BTV and BB flourished as sole providers of highly popular drama serials, talent search, musical programs and magazine shows. However, the news programming of these two broadcasters always remained loyal to incumbent political parties and BTV’s monopoly and popularity declined with the rise of a private television industry.
Since 2009, Bangladesh essentially turned into a one-party ruled ‘hybrid’ authoritarian regime, in democratic disguise. This is reflected in the politically submissive news provision at BB and BTV. Most news bulletins are monotonous partisan statements from, and reports about, the activities of ministers, secretariats, bureaucrats and ruling party members of parliament. Consequently, there is no sign of investigative reporting by these media.
Journalists may be well trained and intentioned but are generally reluctant to gain autonomy from the state out of fear of losing job security and the benefits and power that they enjoy as government employees. Their news production is highly hierarchical and exploitative. Significant field reporting is done by contractual workers and female workers have the least voice in news decision-making.
Despite such political and structural weaknesses, BB and BTV still offer some valuable programming on indigenous and rural folk-cultures, public health, family planning, infrastructure building, tackling climate change and most notably on agricultural developments.
However, to become true public media, they must be able to take a critical stance towards the government, and investigate social problems while dedicating more attention to vast rural populations and ethnic and religious minorities.
It is a situation repeated across much of Asia. As in Bangladesh, journalists appear to view their role in nation-building as central to their work ethic, a way of legitimising their lack of editorial independence. The role of journalist seems defined as one of consensus builder rather than investigator, with a fear that lack of consensus building will damage development prospects.
Many Asian national broadcasters also source their news from state-run news agencies, a situation that adds a further layer of state influence to the news agenda.
Since the economic crisis of 2008, there has been a sharp decline in Western media training and media assistance. China has since increased its role in terms of media training, and it is particularly influential in many parts of the Asian region. 12International Federation of Journalists (2020), The China Story: Reshaping the World’s Media (Redfern, NSW: IFJ Asia Pacific), Open. Unsurprisingly, public media and independent news are not part of China’s media training agenda.
Digital opportunities: Multiplatform media and the case for citizen engagement
Digital multiplatform technology enables national broadcasters to increase public engagement and improve digital media literacy. This is critical for building and maintaining public support, especially in an era that has seen citizens increasingly create and contribute their own content via social media.
The evolution of digital media platforms has transformed many national broadcasters worldwide. While the transition from public broadcasting to multiplatform PSM has been slower in Asia than in many Western countries – surprising as countries such as Japan and South Korea are global leaders in digital broadcast technology – high levels of trust in their online platforms appear to be related to the degree of editorial independence demonstrated.
While it is noteworthy that legislation enabling the Japanese public broadcaster Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) to simultaneously stream content on digital platforms was only enacted in early 2020, NHK ranks second in terms of online news provision in Japan and was the most trusted news outlet overall according to Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report 2020. 13Nic Newman, et al, Digital News Report 2020.
The Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) has the largest offline reach in South Korea and the third highest reach online. The report also reveals that while some established national broadcasters in Asia have relatively low online reach, overall trust in them remains high, as is the case in Taiwan and Malaysia.
Public Television Service (PTS) Taiwan took an early global lead in terms of moving from broadcast to multiplatform, with their citizen journalism platform PeoPo [People Post]. Launched in 2007, the initiative was highly innovative and led the world in terms of placing public engagement at the heart of PSM. PeoPo content is integrated into national news coverage, and the initiative has been central to improving digital media literacy in Taiwan. A similar system has now been adopted by Thai PBS with its platform C-Site.
Other Asian national broadcasters have gradually introduced multiplatform output. Prasar Bharati’s official NewsOnAir app provides users with more than 230 live radio channels, live TV, and news and current affairs programs from AIR and DD. According to distributors, the app is ‘the first step by Prasar Bharati … towards creating a truly global digital platform.’ 14Google Play, Open (accessed 27 October 2020].
Increasing both relevance and citizen engagement will be essential for the survival of many national broadcasters as other digital media platforms continue to grow in popularity and use.
Disaster warning and preparedness
One key area where national broadcasters do retain their relevance is in disaster coverage. Given the frequency of natural disasters across Asia, national broadcasters are particularly valuable with their mandate to provide lifesaving news and advice in times of crisis.
Despite Japan’s booming commercial media market, NHK – as the sole public broadcaster – remains the most watched media outlet during times of disaster. Its ongoing public support comes largely from this key function. Analysis of NHK’s coverage of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami revealed the broadcaster to be ‘part of the infrastructure of disaster preparedness and crisis management’ in Japan. 15Takanobu Tanaka, ‘NHK’s disaster coverage and public value from below: Analyzing the TV coverage of the Great East Japan Disaster’, Keio Communication Review, no. 35 (2013), p. 91. While commercial media were driven to sensational coverage, NHK was recognised for its restraint. The crisis also marked a turning point for NHK’s use of social media to disseminate information online, a growing trend for disaster reporting in the region.
Western public broadcasting is often funded by a licence fee (as happens in Austria, Switzerland and Ireland, among others) established to create a direct connection between the broadcaster and public. Unusually for Asia, NHK also receives funding from a licence fee rather than from government subvention. Despite widespread understanding that the fee establishes accountability between NHK and the public, there is growing pressure on the broadcaster from younger audiences who want more relevant and contemporary content in terms of style and delivery.
South Korea also has a licence fee that supports three technologically advanced public broadcasters: KBS, EBS and MBC. They operate within an environment of relative media freedom, although occasionally public concern is raised over the level of editorial independence from government. 16Ki-Sung Kwak, ‘South Korea’s public broadcasters are in an impossible political position’, The Conversation, 26 October 2017, Open. Like NHK, KBS has also demonstrated a strong performance in times of national disasters and has performed well during Covid-19. 17Korean Broadcasting System, ‘KBS most trusted Korean media, thanks to coronavirus coverage’, 6 May 2020, Open.
Substantial and stable funding is a significant benefit to state-run broadcasters. While it may affect their independence, it means they have greater capacity and more robust infrastructure for disaster reporting. This was demonstrated during the 2015 earthquake in Kathmandu by Nepal’s national broadcasters, Radio Nepal and Nepal Television. While many of the 300 community and privately owned media outlets were damaged and disrupted during the earthquake, Radio Nepal and Nepal Television both continued to broadcast. 18Gerald Fitzgerald, Apil Gurung and Bharat Raj Poudel, ‘How the media struggled in Nepal’s earthquake rescue’, The Conversation, 5 May 2015, Open. But despite the damage, overall trust in community stations – a prominent source of news in Nepal – remains high compared with the national broadcasters that are considered mouthpieces of the government. 19Kiran Bhandari, Dipak Bhattarai and James Deane (2016), Accountability, Nation and Society: The Role of Media in Remaking Nepal, (London: BBC Media Action) p. 18, Open.
Shaping a worldview: Developing a new world media order
Informing citizens about domestic news is important but, in a globalised world, providing citizens with a balanced worldview is increasingly critical for political stability and global cooperation. With a growing global population, tackling issues such as climate change will require a consolidated global response from informed citizens worldwide. It is also essential for reducing regional tensions.
This is particularly the case for India and Pakistan, where both governments currently use their respective national broadcasters as weapons in an information war. 20Fatima Salman (2020), Evolving News Media Landscape in India And Pakistan: Implications for Regional Peace and Stability (Washington: Atlantic Council), Open. At times of decreased tension, the media of both countries has been more independent and pluralistic. But when tensions rise the news outputs either side of the border are inflamed by distrust. Under the current leaderships of India and Pakistan, independent news is increasingly threatened. Naeem Bokhari, the recent Chair of Pakistan TV, stated, ‘PTV is state television that represents the government’. 21Geo News, ‘PTV will only represent the government: New chairman Naeem Bokhari’, 24 November 2020, Open.
Where state-controlled national broadcasters fail to provide adequate or independent international coverage, strong national commercial media have emerged, such as NDTV in India, GEO in Pakistan, and Malaysiakini in Malaysia.
Holding strong audiences when they are on air, these independent national news organisations are frequently intimidated and closed down by states. This hostility towards editorial independence and a lack of political will underlines the difficulty facing any transition to, or introduction of, public media in many parts of the region.
The case of the ABS-CBN commercial network in the Philippines demonstrates this point. Where the model of Western public broadcasting was never imposed, the ABS-CBN network was widely considered to be the closest example to national public interest media. The network clearly demonstrated its public service role during natural disasters. Yet in 2020, ABS-CBN was shut down after the Philippines’ Congress rejected the renewal of its broadcast licence. 22British Broadcasting Corporation, ‘Philippines top broadcaster ABS-CBN denied new licence’, 10 July 2020, Open.
But it is one particular state in Asia that exerts an increasingly substantial influence on news provision across the region, both to its domestic audiences and beyond its own borders. China’s influence on media beyond its own borders has also grown exponentially in the last decade, as explored in some detail elsewhere in this report.
China is not only the world’s most populous country: it is also the largest and one of the most repressive media markets. The Chinese government owns and controls most media outlets in the country. These are frequently used to disseminate news about policies of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and to frame the party in a ‘positive’ light. To those living in multi-party political systems, the underlying rationale is that public media must not align itself with an individual party. But for many Chinese citizens, this is ‘normal’ as there is only one party.
Running more than 40 channels and producing an estimated 300,000 hours of programming each year, China Central Television (CCTV) is the largest television network and reaches almost every household. 23Sarah Cook, ‘China Central Television: A long-standing weapon in Beijing’s arsenal of repression’, Freedom House, 25 September 2019, Open.
On the rare occasions when public-interest journalism makes an appearance in Chinese media, it is unlikely to come from state broadcasters. Instead, some investigative stories have broken through on microblogging sites such as Sina Weibo. Despite heavy-handed monitoring of platforms like these, local authorities in some instances have come to rely on activist journalism to detect corruption and environmental problems that can then be addressed to build the CCP’s legitimacy. 24Haiyan Wang (2016), The Transformation of Investigative Journalism in China: From Journalists to Activists (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books).
Public broadcaster RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong) has a charter outlining its commitment to editorially independent content while promoting an understanding of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong. But RTHK is increasingly under pressure from mainland China after the imposition of new security laws that encourage self-censorship by journalists fearful of speaking out.
Recent requirements for RTHK staff to pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong SAR also effectively forced staff to choose between editorial independence and allegiance to the government. 25Selina Cheng, ‘Security law: Why staff at Hong Kong’s public broadcaster may face a choice between editorial independence and allegiance to the gov’t’, Hong Kong Free Press, 30 October 2020, Open. In February 2021, following China’s decision to ban the BBC from broadcasting in China, RTHK suspended broadcasting of BBC World Service programs. There have been no previous examples of Hong Kong having to follow instructions issued by the mainland’s broadcasting regulator. Within days, veteran journalist and leader of RTHK, Leung Ka-wing, stood down from leading the broadcaster before his term expired. 26Radio Television Hong Kong, ‘Govt names new head of RTHK’, 19 February 2021, Open.
Measures to undermine the public broadcaster’s independence have been opposed by members of RTHK’s Programme Staff Union and journalist associations, who have vocalised their concerns about the growing threats to the public broadcaster’s editorial independence. 27Helen, Davidson, ‘Hong Kong police tighten control on media with new accreditation rules’, The Guardian, 23 September 2020, Open.
There has also been other regional opposition to the imposition of stricter media laws from China. In Taiwan, the recent decision by the regulator not to renew the broadcast licence of a pro-China TV news channel, Chung T’ien News, is the latest attempt to confront China’s growing influence in Taiwan’s media landscape and to defend its media freedom and journalistic standards. 28International Federation of Journalists, ‘Taiwan: Pro-Chinese cable news TV licence rejected over disinformation claims’, 23 November 2020, Open.
Despite these efforts, China’s growing media influence in Asia is undoubtedly likely to continue to play a critical role in shaping both domestic and international news agendas where, through its continued restrictions on editorial independence, it tries to establish a ‘new world media order’. 29Reporters Without Borders, ‘China’s pursuit of a new world media order’, 22 March 2019, Open.
The future and role of national broadcasters in Asia
National broadcasters in Asia have carved out strong roles in terms of covering national emergencies and promoting local cultures and language. But questions remain about their ability to deliver greater news value to citizens.
The threats to accurate, fact-based journalism in Asia are both real and concerning, affecting the state of democracy through the gradual mainstreaming of authoritarian practices. In turn, and like the rest of the world, the future of democracy in Asia relies on independent news and election coverage, and on improved digital media literacy. Democracy will undoubtedly be threatened if China continues to expand its new world media order beyond its own borders and into the wider region.
Meanwhile, globally, all national media, whether PSB or state-administered, have long faced competition from the rise of commercial media and social media for news. But national broadcasters need to prove their relevance in the digital as well as the broadcast space.
With the unprecedented volume of news content and growing challenges of mis- and disinformation, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for national broadcasters to build audience trust with independent news and accurate information.
At the same time there is a need to reconsider international support for any sustainable transitions to public media. Active and continuous advocacy for PSM values is meaningless if the political environment does not enable change. In Asia’s transitional regimes, there is a need to integrate media development within a broader agenda of public sector reform where it may be possible to inspire local ownership.
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Amandeep Shukla, ‘Prasar Bharati likely to soon get its own recruitment board’, Hindustan Times, 9 February 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/prasar-bharati-likely-to-soon-get-its-own-recruitment-board/story-2KPlpkjbJGCpVh92aJOIYO.html.
Reporters Without Borders, ‘Radio news monopoly’, Media Ownership Monitor India, 2019, https://india.mom-rsf.org/en/findings/radionewsmonopoly/.
Masduki, personal correspondence, 9 November 2020.
Taranath dahal, personal correspondence, 27 November 2020.
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Committee to Protect Journalists, ‘Thai military authorities force broadcast reporter off the air’, 17 November 2014, https://cpj.org/2014/11/thai-military-authorities-force-broadcast-reporter/.
Anis Rahman, personal correspondence, 23 November 2020.
International Federation of Journalists (2020), The China Story: Reshaping the World’s Media (Redfern, NSW: IFJ Asia Pacific), https://www.ifj.org/fileadmin/user_upload/IFJ_ChinaReport_2020.pdf.
Nic Newman, et al, Digital News Report 2020.
Google Play, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.parsarbharti.airnews (accessed 27 October 2020].
Takanobu Tanaka, ‘NHK’s disaster coverage and public value from below: Analyzing the TV coverage of the Great East Japan Disaster’, Keio Communication Review, no. 35 (2013), p. 91.
Ki-Sung Kwak, ‘South Korea’s public broadcasters are in an impossible political position’, The Conversation, 26 October 2017, https://theconversation.com/south-koreas-public-broadcasters-are-in-an-impossible-political-position-85593.
Korean Broadcasting System, ‘KBS most trusted Korean media, thanks to coronavirus coverage’, 6 May 2020, http://open.kbs.co.kr/eng/index.html?source=openkbs&sname=lastest&stype=magazine&contents_id=2028.
Gerald Fitzgerald, Apil Gurung and Bharat Raj Poudel, ‘How the media struggled in Nepal’s earthquake rescue’, The Conversation, 5 May 2015, https://theconversation.com/how-the-media-struggled-in-nepals-earthquake-rescue-40970.
Kiran Bhandari, Dipak Bhattarai and James Deane (2016), Accountability, Nation and Society: The Role of Media in Remaking Nepal, (London: BBC Media Action) p. 18, http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediaaction/policybriefing/role-of-media-in-remaking-nepal-report1.pdf.
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