Channel News Asia at 10: Making of a pan-Asian news channel

Asian voice in a global village

Asian voice in a global village

“We’re the messenger for all the stories that might not have been told…that’s our job,” says Glenda Chong, the Shanghai-based China correspondent (and former anchor) of Channel NewsAsia (CNA), the Singapore-based Asian regional news broadcaster that just turned 10.

For a decade, CNA has covered Asia for Asians and the rest of the world. It has uncovered stories missed – or ignored – by other, global news channels. Just as important, it has also found the Asian voices and angles in mega stories originating from Asia that gripped the world’s attention — such as the outbreak of SARS, Indian Ocean tsunami, earthquakes in Sichuan and Kashmir.

Started on 1 March 1999 and owned by Singapore’s MediaCorp, CNA is now a major Asian news broadcaster with programmes telecast to more than 20 Asian countries and territories. Visit CNA’s 10th anniversary website for a look back…and forward.

“In the early days, when we talked about a news channel from Singapore, you could cut the cynicism with a knife,” said Woon Tai Ho, managing director of MediaCorp News.

That was inevitable for any media venture anchored in Singapore, ranked currently at 144 out of 173 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. But CNA has shown that geography need not be destiny.

Asians telling their own story

Asians telling their own story

In 10 years, it has emerged as a primary source of news in Asia, and along the way, has picked up a plethora of high-profile awards — including two silver medals at the New York Festivals 2009 and three awards at Asia Television Awards 2008.

Channel News Asia turns 10 – article in Today newspaper, Singapore: 2 March 2009

Started as a business news channel at the tail end of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, CNA later evolved into a fully-fledged news and current affairs channel covering all facets, aspects and territories of Asia – the world’s largest region, home to half of humanity. Map showing CNA geographical coverage

Ironically, CNA enters double-digits chronicling the region once again in the midst of a financial crisis, this time of global proportions and repercussions.

Unlike Al Jazeera English (AJE), the global news channel launched from Qatar in November 2006, CNA has relied on Asian talent for anchoring and reporting. While AJE has shamelessly and desperately tried to ape the BBC, CNA has forged its own identity in offering a world class product.

Whereas AJE tries so hard to please its audiences in Europe and North America (is it so anxious for western acceptance?), CNA has focused its energies in telling the myriad stories of emerging Asia primarily for Asia’s upwardly mobile, burgeoning middle classes.

For example, when an interviewee gives his/her views in a language other than English, Channel NewsAsia does not voice-over the original audio with an anglo-saxon voice like other major news channels do. Instead, an English subtitle appears, preserving and complementing the original audio.

At TVE Asia Pacific, we have had a positive experience of engaging this regional broadcaster. In late 2005, we were looking for a broadcast partner to co-produce a documentary looking back at the first year after the Indian Ocean tsunami through the eyes of eight survivor families – in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand – that we had tracked on video under the Children of Tsunami project. We had a mass of professionally and ethically filmed material, and a unique collection of stories we were keen to be amplified to the world.

When we approached Channel NewsAsia through a friend, they immediately welcomed the collaboration. They invested their time, resources and talent to edit Children of Tsunami: No More Tears, a half hour that distilled some of the stories that we had painstakingly captured for a year. No money changed hands. Legalities were kept to a minimum. CNA saw we had a story that was relevant and important for their viewers. They found the story authentic, as captured by local crews who spoke the language in each country and who lived through the traumas of the tsunami themselves (no ‘parachute film crews’ were involved). So CNA just did it — with none of the airs of pomposity and self importance that so characterise the BBC in any collaboration.

CNA producer Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau shared her experience in telling this story at a regional event we organised in December 2006. The full experience is now documented in a chapter in our book, Communicating Disasters: An Asia Pacific Resource Book.

Children of Tsunami: No More Tears was first broadcast globally on Channel NewsAsia in the last week of December 2005 to mark the tsunami’s first anniversary with this intro: “Young survivors of the Asian tsunami let us into their lives to personalise the mass of statistics, aid pledges and recovery plans. ‘Children of Tsunami’ is a tapestry of intimate stories, woven by voices of individual and collective resilience, heroism and recovery.”

Children of Tsunami: No More Tears Part 1:

One Response to “Channel News Asia at 10: Making of a pan-Asian news channel”

  1. Sandra Says:

    We congratulate Channel News Asia for completing ten years. It is a long time in the world of news broadcasting. One concern I have, as a regular viewer living in Sri Lanka., is that the channel is far more focused on East Asia (China) and Singapore and not enough on South Asia. This may be due to their own audience profile and demographics but unless there is more South Asian coverage they would miss out on significant number of English speaking viewers in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

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