Asia-Pacific Media rides COVID-19 storms with ‘relentless determination’ to succeed

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus cross an intersection in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) — Several Asian media have reported soaring digital subscribers and followers as people turned to reliable and trustful information amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rare tones of optimism from the disrupted media industry were conveyed by many publishers and editors from the Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 media from 19 Asian countries at Dec. 23 webinar on “COVID-19 and Impacts on the Media” hosted by China Daily.

Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Associated Publisher Juliet Labog-Javellana said one of the positive impacts of COVID-19 for the media is it provided the impetus to accelerate digital transformation and innovation.

“So what the Inquirer did was to move quickly to different platforms like we hosted more than a dozen webinars; print journalists went into podcast….we published newsletters.” The Inquirer thereafter were rewarded with swelling digital numbers.

Myanmar’s Eleven Media Executive Director Min Thaw Htut said revenues from print advertising have plunged. But that decline has been compensated from multiple content digital revenues. Eleven Media will have a profit this year despite the gloomy economy.

“Even though our core content is news, we have also diversified our content. The main lesson I have learnt is that we have to remain trustworthy, reliable and independent to do our main core functions. The other thing that we have to be mindful about is that the attention for eyeballs is very competitive. How do we survive this? It’s by creating good quality news,” he said.

(Photo courtesy of China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable)

Standing Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference National Committee and publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily Zhou Shuchun said, “Our media colleagues have made unprecedented efforts, especially those in the Asia News Network. (They have) engaged in different extensions and made full use of technology.”

Zhou made the opening remarks at the event which was also co-hosted with University of International Business and Economics and Shanghai International Studies University with 10 Asia News Network members participating.

Dr Xiang Debao from the School of Journalism and Communication, Shanghai International Studies University, said the pandemic has slashed media budgets worldwide and thrown thousands of journalists out of their jobs.

“(But) audience trust for journalists has increased …this is a good phenomenon for the journalism industry,” he said. Xiang cited a global survey by the International Center for Journalists which showed that more than 40 percent of the respondents said they felt audience trust in news organizations had increased during the pandemic.

Dr John Gong Professor of Economics, University of International Business and Economics pointed out that the model of the media has changed. “Now people are more and more receiving messages through relays of information. What this difference makes is that, in order for the message to be relayed, there is a tendency for the message to go extreme.

You’re moving into a world where you have those short snackable video clips kinds of product that people tend to use or like to watch. There’s no difference between fact and opinion-editorial. It is now even more difficult for readers to get information that is objective, fact-based. Traditional media need to tighten their seatbelt and stick to what they are doing. If you have to sacrifice your journalistic standard for traffic volume, this is deplorable.

Vivian Hsiao, a reporter at the Taipei-based China Post, said “the responsibility of the media increased greatly this year”. But she said that such responsibility has to be tempered with caution.

“We wanted to give our readers the (latest) information but (we also wanted to) avoid (creating) unnecessary panic among them as well,” Hsiao said.

Malaysia’s Sin Chew Daily Deputy Editor-in-Chief Choo Joon Kian said his media has officially launched a membership scheme and that the number of members has increased to 240,000 and their e-papers have rose 5 percent. The company plans to set up a paywall shortly.

ANN’s editorial coordinator at New Delhi-based The Statesman Nitish Kapoor said while the publication’s revenue decreased at the start of the pandemic, they have managed to recover these initial losses thanks to increased online traffic.

Bangladesh’s The Daily Star News Editor Ziaul Hoque said the COVID-19’s impact has been unsettling. “Our revenue went down two-thirds. There have been job cuts but they are not related to the pandemic. For workload, we have to adapt to these situations because it is the demand of the time. I think it’s a positive thing, in a sense that what we had to do, it expedited the process (to digitalization). We had to remodel business models,” he said.

Malaysia’s The Star Digital News Editor Philip Golingai said the pandemic has been “challenging but there is also growth,” noting the continued presence of online news organizations in the country.

“For me, with the retrenchment in most of the media organizations in Malaysia and also downsizing and some closures, having at least three to five news organizations is very promising for us. Roughly, that’s the situation for us.”

Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post CEO Ly Tayseng said, “This year, we didn’t have to retrench staff. Our advertising for printed media was reduced by 30 percent, but our subscription number has remained the same. Our digital revenue is increasing, but it is not significant. If the advertising revenue keeps dropping, I think there may be an impact for next year.”

Speakers share their insights on the implications of COVID-19 on the media industry.
(Photo courtesy of China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable)

China Daily’s International News Department Deputy Director Chen Zhiming said the organization’s global reach has allowed it to tap its pool of reporters posted in different regions to report on Covid-19.

“This means that (during) critical moments in Covid-19 coverage, we have noses, eyes, ears on spot,” he said, adding that having a local presence is “invaluable” to China Daily’s coverage.

Pana Janviroj, executive director of Asia News Network, said many Asian media appear to be weathering the storms “better than expected”. “But more importantly there is a consensus from bottom to top of the newsrooms, despite the dwindling resources and advertising revenue plunges, the relentless determination to do their jobs.”

“The reporters are determined because readers and public at large appreciate their works. The COVID-19 era has endowed long-awaited public trust in mainstream national media and journalism,” he said.

Inquirer’s Juliet Labog Javellana, added that the pandemic has shown “the essential and critical value of free and independent media”. She noted that her publication has “to sift through the noise and confusion (to) counter the ‘disinfodemic’, or the proliferation of misinformation about COVID-19, which poses grave dangers to people’s lives”.