Agnes Lam: Macau needs more independent media

Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Issue 721, Page 3
Word count: 1178
Published in: Macau Daily Times

Poyi (Natalie) Leung

In a small city like Macau, interpersonal networks play a significant role. And within the local media industry, there is no exception that such kind of relationships to some extent even influence how news is reported.

Yet, Agnes Lam Iok Fong, assistant professor of the University of Macau’s (UM) Department of Communication and chairwoman of the Macau Civic Power, calls for a change.

Speaking to the Macau Daily Times at the university campus yesterday, Ms Lam did not only talk about why Macau needs more independent news reporting especially in the lead-up of the two elections, but also about the vision behind that drives her to run for this year’s Legislative Assembly election.

Self-censorship

From Ms Lam’s point of view, self-censorship exists in all media organisations in Macau, no matter what the language is.

But the different degrees of self-censorship, or what Ms Lam also called “self-check”, differentiate the media organisations from each other.

According to the assistant professor, self-censorship is driven by a combination of political, economic and cultural reasons.

“In Macau there aren’t many newspapers that can survive on independent resources and rely completely on the market rather than the government or a consortium,” Ms Lam said.

“In Hong Kong, all newspapers are market-oriented, which is different from Macau where most of the newspapers can’t survive by selling on new stands and advertising revenue,” she added.

In this case, news coverage is somehow being affected due to issues related to “the boss or supporters behind”, she said.

Although Ms Lam said the local media will certainly be more “cautious or even avoid” to report stories that China must deem is “an act of secession” such as Taiwan and Tibet’s independence, she believes “interpersonal connections” play a more dominant role in attributing to self-censorship.

“Because you know the person in the story, it may restrict you from publishing the news,” she said.

Hence, she told the MDTimes that Macau media need to do more independent reporting which is not interfered by friendship or any other kinds of relationships.

Yet, she stressed that it is not that the local media are not professional enough, but it may be their “world view” or they are still very used to the traditional way of news reporting when Macau only had 330,000 population.

“It’s Macau’s culture that newspapers do not disclose a person or company’s name explicitly in a story.

“If food poisoning happens in a hotel, all newspapers in the world will make a big story on it, in contrast Macau media tend to minimise it and never reveal the hotel’s name,” Ms Lam said.

She said the local media will automatically “filter” negative stories before publication.

“People in Macau are more concerned about relationships. They don’t like to be straight-forward, direct conflicts or confrontations,” she added.

The assistant professor named Chinese newspaper “Cheng Pou” and Portuguese newspaper “Jornal Ponto Final” as examples among “the small number of local newspapers” that are able to function in the direction of being neutral and independent.

Chui Sai On running for the Chief Executive election, according to Ms Lam, is a very important indicator of whether the local media report news in a “normal way” – that is to report directly about what actually happened and give equal coverage to people who either support or oppose Chui.

When asked what role the media should play especially in the lead-up of the Chief Executive and Legislative Assembly elections, Ms Lam said fair coverage is necessary at the very first place.

At the same time, she said the media should function well in “delivering messages” to the public, and also serve as a “watchdog” to monitor whether there are any unlawful behaviours taking place.

“An election provides a very good opportunity for society to reach a consensus on some significant social issues. The media thus need to be active to find out and analysis how each of the candidates look at those issues,” she added.

The assistant professor wrote in the “Blue Book of Macao – Annual Report on Economy and Society of Macao (2009-2009)” that the Macau media have been threatened by their Hong Kong counterparts in terms of audience or readership.

Ms Lam said not only have the Macau media been lacking entertainment news from the very beginning, their “implicit” reporting style also makes local people turn to Hong Kong news.

“Leisure life in Macau is also very important. A survey found that people watched Hong Kong TV channels mainly for entertainment.

“And later on, people started to find that the Hong Kong media’s reporting style is more explicit and direct. Because of market-orientation, they have to write stories in a more eye-catching and bold way,” she said.

According to her, there are many people in Macau who want to see a “new newspaper with a different style and content”.

“As long as the media organisations are willing to put more efforts and resources in in-depth reporting and news analysis, an independent newspaper without political, economic and cultural interference will be able to survive in Macau,” she added.

Yet, she said that the National Security Law will not impose much pressure to local journalists until Macau reports the first case of prosecution.

Legislature needs new blood

Ms Lam, who founded the Macau Civic Power last year, is planning to run for this year’s Legislative Assembly election along with three to five of the association’s members.

“The Assembly’s political structure has been fixed for 10 years or even longer, with the presence of major associations and businesspeople and a small group of opposition and democrats.

“But over the past years, society has changed and I think lawmakers will have to come from a more diversified background,” she said.

She said the Legislative Assembly needs to have “the third force” such as “professionals and intellectuals” to push forward reforms in the political system and the legislature’s function, and also promote a higher level of acceptability of public opinions in the government.

The legislature in last month passed the bill which will see the government provide down payment credit guarantee to first home buyers, despite the majority of the lawmakers did not support the bill and said it would get residents trapped in negative equity.

Ms Lam said it reflects that the Assembly “lacks of independence”, even though it is given such power to turn down government-drafted bills if deems inappropriate.

“If no matter how the lawmakers will still cast a favourable vote, why do we still need a Legislative Assembly?”, she added.

On the other hand, if she is able to get a seat in the Assembly, Ms Lam said she wants to bring the “unfairness phenomenon” in society such as in the job market to the public spotlight.

She said local companies usually hire someone because of connections, even though their capabilities are not as good as the others.

“The government should take the lead and open positions to society fairly. By doing this true talents can be obtained,” she added.

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