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Global Media Forum

Helle Jeppesen (jc)
June 3, 2008

In the latest report as part of DW's Global Media Forum, we look at how technological developments are changing society in Asia -- for the better, say some, while others disagree.

A computer user is silhouetted with a row of computer monitors
New media are booming in AsiaImage: AP

Asia, which has more than half of the world's population, doesn't have a single, homogeneous media landscape. But there are trends that stretch across the economically booming continent.

The media are part of that boom. Media expert Indrajit Banerjee from Singapore has some numbers.

"Last month, China -- with 220 million users, overtook the US as the world's number-one Internet nation," Banerjee told DW. India has more than 9 million new cell phone customers every month, and the Indian film industry, drawing on three billion visits to cinemas every year, produces the most films. Significantly, the Indian film industry has established itself abroad. 14 of the top 20 grossing foreign films in Britain last year were Indian."

New media are developing at a particularly fast rate. But that means that mechanisms of monitoring and control no longer function as well as they used to.

Media analyst Drew McDaniel, who specializes in South East Asia, discussed how the state-controlled media in Indonesia and Malaysia were charged with overcoming ethnic conflicts -- such as those in Malaysia in the 1960s -- and encouraging national reconciliation.

"The media were given the main role and responsibility for bring the country and society back together," McDaniel said.

But in the age of satellite transmissions and the Internet, it's no longer so easy to regulate the media, and private media sources are flourishing.

Could freer forms of media escalate social and ethnic countries in rapidly changing societies? That's McDaniel's provocative question.

India's Sucharita Eashwar says freedom of the press should take precedence, arguing that conflicts only happen once and must be worked through.

"I don't think discussions and reports about topics like this necessarily create conflict," Eashwar said. "I think it's the responsibility of the media to create a platform for discussion, where various interest groups can present their points of view. The authorities can only register a problem and react appropriately, if it's made public."

One central issue is whether new media succeed in giving a voice to the entire population. Studies from Afghanistan show, for example, that resistance to the government is strongest in those areas where the media are the weakest. Modern technology has made it possible for the media in most parts of Asia to integrate their audience.

"56 percent of our population of 91 million have cell phones," said Chiche Lazaro. "During the last election we were able to use citizens as journalists. Young people took pictures of election fraud with their cell phones and sent those images to television stations."

Today, even in Communist China and Vietnam, the Asian media help to uncover corruption and misuse of power. But sceptics saw other trends -- for example commercialization -- outweigh that of citizen journalism. It will remain exciting to follow how the media in Asia continue to develop.