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Asia and the international press: the political significance of expanding markets

Rodan, G. (1998) Asia and the international press: the political significance of expanding markets. Democratization, 5 (2). pp. 125-154.

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The rapid capitalist industrialization of East and Southeast Asia is viewed by many as a force for greater political liberalization. Try as they may, it is argued, authoritarian leaders will be unable to contain the social and political forces unleashed by the very economic transformation they have championed. In particular, effective media censorship is regarded as an unavoidable casualty of development. In addition to social changes increasing the level and diversity of demand for news and information, there is also the difficulty of restricting the impact of new electronic technologies. Moreover, a free flow of information is depicted as a functional requirement, indeed imperative, of further market development. However, this study of the international press and its reporting on Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong reveals that the expansion of markets in East and Southeast Asia is not an unqualified force for liberalization. Indeed, market expansion can be as much a force for self-censorship as a force for wider and more critical reporting. Conflict with authoritarian governments over reporting runs the risk for media organizations of being denied access to increased circulation and advertising revenue. It also runs the risk of expensive legal actions, a measure deployed with considerable effect by the authorities in Singapore. Neither consideration can be ignored by commercial media enterprises. Furthermore, the continued success and increasing sophistication of the Singapore economy has been reconciled with extensive political censorship of the media. This experience not only encourages other authoritarian regimes, but also calls into serious question the assumption that mature capitalist development in Asia necessarily requires a free press.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
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