Who is speaking for Asia on the world stage?

November 12, 2020
SCMP Insights
I had the privilege of working with amazingly talented and dedicated journalists in a global newspaper in my first international media role in Hong Kong. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Pulitzer prize-winning features and discussing issues of the day with them. After some time though, I did start to wonder – how was it I was discussing important topics with reporters in an office in Asia but the lenses with which they perceived these topics were from another part of the world?

What we discussed was more often a commentary-on-Asia, something to be studied from a distance and framed by a general world view these reporters had come to take as the norm. Rest assured, it was all fact-based, well investigated, and oftentimes – ballsy. Nevertheless, it was not about Asia, from Asia, and instead adopted a Westernised narrative. In fact, sometimes they referred to Asia still as ‘The Far East’. Hey, this was 2007!

I forgot about this feeling for some time as the wave of technological change swept through journalism with the discovery of social media - getting distracted by UGC, citizen journalism, and ‘tweeting’. It was not till recently, when I had the opportunity to join the South China Morning Post (SCMP), that I started revisiting the perception of news topics from a different editorial voice - this time from the ‘inside-out’. It then became stark to me the multiplicity of perspectives of the media, the need for media literacy and the importance of being exposed to a variety of viewpoints. That is the only way we can learn, and truly elevate thought.

Why the sudden recall? Simple: I realised that journalism had been missing an authentic Asian voice that I have witnessed SCMP fulfilling; trusted well-rounded perspectives that would otherwise be inaccessible to the English-speaking world. It was something I was unable to define until realising that news reporting at a global level was not robustly represented from all perspectives. The Middle East had Al-Jazeera, and the Western world had too many to mention. Who was speaking for Asia on the world stage? No one, until now.

The newsroom I am in now is full of many more diverse characters who represent Asia. Are there journalists and editors that come from non-Asian ideologies? Yes. They bring the robust practice of independent journalism from where they came to carry out the mission to lead the global conversation about Asia. Does that mean we are pro-China? Heck no! It just means that where previously in the English-language there was a missing Asian Voice, now we are able to speak at the table to offer a multiplicity of perspectives. A case in point is that recently, my Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, mentioned in an official parliamentary speech that Singapore’s government is being watched by global media, lumping the SCMP in with several other global English news sites, like the Financial Times.

Considering that China’s rise and how it impacts the world is one of the most important stories of our lifetimes, I guess it should be no surprise, but it was important to get that validation. After all, our journalists work so hard to create value for our readers with the commitment to report ‘without fear or favour’, daring to cover topics around the Tiananmen Square crackdown, global human rights concerns about Xinjiang, and China’s controversial efforts to expand its influence in Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative. As editorial coverage from a Chinese-owned publisher, this proves independent, quality journalism is no longer only the domain of mainly ‘Western’ global news sites.

In fact, the SCMP recently won the award for ‘2020 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Large Newsroom’, from the Online Journalism Awards panel, beating out other finalists like the Washington Post and The Globe and Mail. Past winners include the Wall Street Journal, BBC and the New York Times. These are trusted publishers we've always admired and now the SCMP wants to present our viewpoint in as good - if not better - a way as them.

I am proud to finally see Asia represented on the world stage, through the eyes of journalists who intimately understand how Asia works and are ultimately invested in the region’s success because they have a stake in the communities that they cover. Let’s usher in the ‘Asian Voice’ in journalism with firecrackers and fanfare!