The Straits Times published a news report today saying that it “continues to be Singapore’s best read newspaper” (‘ST still best read newspaper: Nielsen‘, 8 Nov).
Quoting the latest annual Singapore Media Index Report released by Nielsen, ST said that 29.8 per cent of Singapore residents aged 15 and above read ST everyday. Nielsen had polled 4,688 people aged 15 and above in its survey.
“It marks a percentage point improvement from last year,” ST added.
ST said it saw a growth in the number of daily readers online of close to 45 per cent between last July and June this year – from 413,000 to 597,000, even though print numbers declined from 713,000 readers a day to 600,000.
It added that many younger Singaporeans between 20 and 34 are reading its online news porter.
Half of the ST readers polled were professionals, managers, executives and businessmen.
The Nielsen survey stated that consumption of daily news was important to the adult population as the combined readership of local print and online newspapers reached one in two adults. Digital versions also reached out to one in five adults on a daily basis.
Some 21 per cent of those surveyed also said that they visit Channel NewsAsia’s website on a weekly basis.
Among Nielsen’s other findings are that music streaming registered the highest growth among online activities, with close to two in five doing so, while four in five watched television, movies and videos, and more than half of adults accessed news online on an average month.
For TV, eight in 10 local viewers tune in to free-to-air channels, with Chinese-language Channel 8 coming out on top with a weekly reach of 51.1 per cent. Pay TV had a weekly viewership of 41.6 per cent.
ST is one of the few newspapers allowed for print circulation in Singapore by the government under the National Printing and Presses Act. Most if not all of the newspapers are from Singapore Press Holdings.
Dr Cherian George criticises ST
Meanwhile, Dr Cherian George, a prominent professor of Media Studies based in Hong Kong, criticised ST of trying to be “seen” as a free and independent newspaper when it is not.
“There are newspapers around the world that struggle for press freedom. There are others at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, like China’s Global Times, that unapologetically serve as mouthpieces of the ruling (communist) party,” Dr George wrote.
“The Straits Times in Singapore is in neither category. It operates under laws that compel the press to align itself with the government, which is not its fault — but it tries to deny it.”
“Instead of struggling to be free, it struggles to be seen as free,” he added.
Dr George quoted two examples.
“First, Tommy Koh raised the seemingly obvious point that, in covering politically sensitive and controversial issues, the press shows a bias for official positions, even if arguments are raised that any unfettered professional journalist would recognise as more newsworthy,” he said.
“Second, Yahoo!News made public what industry insiders have known for months: that one of ST’s most competent journalists, Li Xueying, was removed from her post as political editor because she was not trusted by some government leaders.”
In both cases, ST stubbornly defended its professionalism, as if its critics got it wrong and don’t understand how news organisations work, Dr George said.
“This is conformism and self-censorship at an advanced level.”