Are newspapers dead or dying? The growing chorus in the West seems to be: yes, newspapers are dead or dying. The internet is going to win and we all face a future where all the news that is fit to note will be on-line. Whatever happens in the West, reports suggest that in Asia at least newspapers are doing very well indeed. According to a recent report in TIME Magazine, for instance, as Asian societies become more open newspapers are sprouting all over the place and finding millions of readers.
Asia's media expansion has mirrored the fall of its dictators, as newspaper readers thrill at no longer getting just the day's propaganda. In Indonesia, the number of newspapers has increased from a few dozen when strongman Suharto was deposed in 1998 to roughly 800 today. The market is so buoyant that a new English-language paper, the Jakarta Globe, revved up its printing presses last November, just as several cash-strapped American papers were readying their final editions. "The Indonesian middle class is growing, and many households subscribe to two newspapers," says Ali Basyah Suryo, strategic adviser to the start-up Globe. "People like to hold the newspaper in their hands and even clip stories or save copies. It's seen as a valuable product."
Unfortunately, there are rule of law challenges in Asia as well. It can also be a dangerous place in which to be a journalist. According to the Time Magazine story:
The world's most fertile ground for newspapers is also the most dangerous for reporters. In 2008, 26 Asian journalists were killed in the line of duty, according to the International Press Institute, making Asia even deadlier than the Middle East for the fourth estate. Some 54 Asian journalists are languishing behind bars, says media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. Those disheartening statistics underline, however, the importance of Asia's newspapers as a check on the excesses of power — something that should never go out of fashion.
I end by noting that CommGAP is about to publish a major study of the news media as they contribute to governance reform. And the study contains regional expert surveys, including a very good one on Asia. The study will be out by June 2009.
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