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Photo: Lianhe Zaobao

PM Lee praises Zaobao while its readership steadily declines

At the 95th anniversary dinner of the Liane Zaobao newspaper, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed his hope that the Chinese-language newspaper together with other Chinese groups, will create programmes to encourage the preservation and promotion of Chinese culture in Singapore.

PM Lee hopes that these programmes will inspire the youth of Singapore to deepen their understanding of their own culture and help strengthen the Singapore ‘national identity’, passing it on to future generations.

PM Lee lauded the efforts made by Zaobao in promoting Chinese culture and language, and transforming itself in the midst of technological disruption in the media industry. He noted that the newspaper is serving as a window to Chinese culture and the world, especially for younger Singaporeans, as well as an alternative perspective to English media. This gives them a more holistic view of their country and the world at large.

Zaobao’s competitive edge, said PM Lee, lies in the interpretation of regional developments through the Singaporean lenses. "Singaporean readers find the views relatable, and foreign Chinese readers find them refreshing," he said. "As international attention on China and the region grows, Zaobao has continued to provide an objective and credible perspective on developments in China and Asia."

Adding that Zaobao has built up a strong trust with its readers, PM Lee pointed out that the newspaper remains objective and balanced in its reporting even with the rising tensions between China and the United States.

According to a poll done by a China news agency and university, Zaobao was ranked as the top influential Chinese news media outlet globally. Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Chairman Lee Boon Yang, a former Cabinet minister, also said at the dinner that the readership of Lianhe Zaobao grew to 471,000 last year, an annual growth of 5.4 per cent.

Steady decline of print circulation

However, despite accolades and rhetoric from PM Lee and Chairman Lee, circulation figures from SPH annual reports show otherwise.

According to the annual reports on Zaobao's daily circulation, readership for the paper has been on a steady decline. In 2012, their total print circulation was 168,700 which declined to 137,100 in 2017. This is a 19% decline in 5 years.

It's not known how Chairman Lee arrived at his 471,000 figure.

Credible and quality coverage

PM Lee also referred to a commentary by former Zaobao editor Lim Jim Koon that was published in the daily yesterday (7 Sep). Mr Lim wrote that Zaobao needs to adapt to the times but it remains credible.

He said, “Actually, I hope all Singapore media, not just Zaobao, will retain their credibility and provide quality coverage for their readers. In this age where fake news is prevalent, this has become even more important.''

Recently, at a dialogue session during the WildRice Theatre Festival, former journalist Tan Tarn How who worked at the Straits Times for 15 years, shared an interesting anecdote he encountered while working in ST.

He told the audience an occasion when the government heads were praising Zaobao for their consistency in keeping within the boundaries of the OB markers ("out of bounds marker"). They asked why can't the English language journalists be like the reporters in Zaobao, because they sometimes do stray out of the OB markers and ruffle some feathers of the establishment.

Hence, going by Mr Tan's disclosure, one can only surmise that the Singapore government leaders would probably consider those journalists, like those from Zaobao, writing within the OB markers to be "credible" and providing "quality coverage".