The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) has expressed its concern over content quality and media ethics, which it fears will be negatively affected by a rapid change in the media landscape after the arrival of digital terrestrial-TV channels.
"The quality of content will definitely be affected. Where speed is a priority, accuracy will get compromised. Media ethics [accuracy, impartiality and public interest] will definitely be affected and compromised, because the same content may be reproduced for additional platforms – and at times with the same mistakes repeated from the original one," SEAPA executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran told The Nation last week.
Based in Bangkok, the alliance is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation campaigning for genuine press freedom in Southeast Asia.
She said there was a tendency for audiences to repeatedly consume the same content, which may already have been manipulated for political purpose or commercial gain.
Among the new players in digital terrestrial-TV business, major newspapers are also diversifying into this battlefield by securing digital-TV licences at a high cost. This direction seemed to be a key part of a business survival strategy at a time when print business was in decline, she said.
She added that this was a trend that the industry had anticipated, because media companies would want to maximise the use of content on multi-platforms in order to minimise cost and generate more revenue.
"We fear that the industry is moving away from what is supposed to be service in the public interest," the executive director said.
The head of SEAPA also predicted that the number of digital-TV stations would have to shrink over time, because there were too many channels that do not match the availability of content providers, especially the good ones.
Towards the end of such a process, audiences would be forced to watch only a few channels that they liked, given their limited time and pre-existing biases, she said.
Additionally, there appears to be a huge challenge ahead in regard to the labour force in the industry, she suggested.
Venkiteswaran added that even without digital TV, the broadcasting industry had already suffered from a deficit of experienced resources due to its fast-growing nature. Young, ambitious and reckless graduates have joined the industry, but then left shortly afterwards to join other professions, giving the industry no time to prepare for the new generation of news people.
There is definitely a brief period of euphoria about digital TV, but the industry should not anticipate a major impact from digital-TV’s programming and content on audience demography as yet, she said.
For one thing, investors are racing against time to fill too many time slots with content in this highly competitive environment, which will affect the quality of content and programmes.
For another, the human resources they are mobilising are a mixture of young, inexperienced news people and veterans who have operated in old work or organisational cultures.
They will need time to develop the team, and also the station’s approach, given the new formats and needs, she said.
"We are not sure that this will necessarily give audiences the diversified content that it [digital TV] promises," she added.