PM: Zaobao is window to S'pore for Chinese readers - Sep 07, 2008 (ST)

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The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

PM: Zaobao is window to S'pore for Chinese readers

He lauds paper for constantly raising standards and for its website's broad reach.

Sep 07, 2008
The Straits Times

A window for Chinese and Asian readers to understand Singapore.

That was how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described Singapore's main Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao last night as he lauded its coverage of local and regional news.

The newspaper celebrated its 85th anniversary with a gala dinner at the St Regis Hotel, attended by over 300 guests including government officials, leaders in the Chinese community and journalists.

PM Lee congratulated Zaobao for being one of the longest-surviving Chinese newspapers in the world and for 'keeping its pulse on society's changes and constantly raising standards'.

He urged it to keep up the good work, particularly as the newspaper's online edition has become the most-visited Singaporean website in the last three years.

It draws more than five million page views a day, and 85 per cent of these hits come from readers in China, where it is respected for its objective coverage of news in China and the region.

Mr Lee highlighted the fact that many newspapers in China have studied and featured Singapore's political, economic and social developments.

'Before coming to Singapore to do interviews, the reporters did their homework. They read Zaobao articles extensively. They even met up with Zaobao reporters to enhance their understanding of Singapore society,' he observed.

While lauding Zaobao's ability to attract foreign readers, Mr Lee noted that, at the end of the day, it remains a Singapore newspaper and reports from a Singaporean perspective.

This means it maintains a balanced, detached perspective, whether about the Olympics, Tibet or cross-strait relationships. It reports objectively as an 'outsider', not as 'part of the family', he said.

The daily also has a crucial role to play as a transmitter of Chinese cultural values to Singaporeans, he added.

Going ahead, its main challenge is attracting more bilingual young Chinese Singaporeans who are now more comfortable reading English.

Zaobao's readership of 700,000 is an ageing one, with a median age of 48 years.

Mr Lee said the daily must strive to 'add value by offering something readers cannot get in English, because Singaporeans will not want to read the same news twice'.

He felt the newspaper is already doing this, and regular readers such as businessman Soon Kong Ann agree.

'To get a full perspective of developments here and in the region, it is not enough to read just one newspaper. I would say Zaobao's strength is its coverage of Greater China,' said the vice-chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

On local news, Zaobao often has a different take from that of The Straits Times, noted Mr Lee.

Following last week's parliamentary debate on by-elections, for example, The Straits Times' headline was factual: 'House votes no change to by-election law.'

Zaobao's, however, reflected a value judgment: 'PM Lee: Frequent holding of by-elections affects stability of country.'

He concluded, to laughter from the audience: 'If you want to have a complete understanding of this's best that you read both newspapers.'

At last night's dinner, Singapore Press Holdings chairman Tony Tan gave a brief sketch of Zaobao's history.

It can be traced to 1923 when the late Chinese community leader and philanthropist Tan Kah Kee founded Nanyang Siang Pau.

The Lianhe Zaobao title itself came into being only in 1983, after the merger of two former rival Chinese newspapers Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Jit Poh.

Dr Tan credited Zaobao for 'rejuvenating and reinventing itself' through various revamps and for being among the first newspapers here to go online in 1995.

Its editor Lim Jim Koon told The Sunday Times he was gratified at how years of hard work had led to the newspaper being 'held in high standing in the Chinese-speaking world as well as a resonant Singapore brand in China'.

Going ahead, he said Zaobao would continue to use new media to increase its overall reach and work to attract younger readers.