I just read Huzir Sulaiman’s piece in last Sunday’s paper this morning.
The title of the article, In defence of newspapers, first caught my attention. Let’s face it, not many are quick to make statements siding with the print media these days.
Huzir wrote about how his perceptions about newspapers change as he gets older and understands better the workings of the industry.
A newspaper in today’s world, I gradually and painfully came to understand, is something that delivers readers to advertisers each morning, for many, many thousands of ringgit.
That’s the real point of a newspaper, all across the globe, and all good newspaper publishers know that. The cover price, be it in ringgit, euros, dinars or dong, is virtually irrelevant.
The economics of newspaper production are such that newspapers can only really make money from advertising, and so the focus of the endeavour shifts completely. The supposedly biased news that used to so offend my liberal sensibilities is, to be brutally frank, merely filler. It’s padding to make that advertising palatable. It’s the same with television: the programming is not the point. The programmes are merely the bits between the ads.
Advertising expenditure (adex) by corporations and government agencies is serious business for media organisations. The bigger slice of adex you can secure, of course, means bigger revenue for the company. Along the way, advertisers have a slight leverage on news coverage and the newsroom usually tolerate that the best it can.
Huzir ended his piece with an advice:
Let’s not pass the buck: if there is discontent with local newspapers, it is the job of the electorate at large to vote into power a government that repeals the laws that allow it to control or influence the press.
Then our newspapers would be free to take more critical positions – provided that they sold more copies, sold more ads, and generated more revenue thereby.
But if the people of the country don’t consider press freedom important enough to choose a government committed to it – if the voters don’t do their job – they can hardly turn round and blame the newspapers themselves for trying to stay in business.
Like I always say, ownership dictates policy.