It's strange the things you start to miss when you're away from home. Friends, family and certain foods aside I unexpectedly found myself missing something else: reading the newspaper. Of course there are ways and means now of catching up with the news online but theses apps and websites don't quite cut the mustard. Call me old fashioned but I like newspapers in all their ink-staining, stuffed full of supplements, impossibly-stubborn-to-turn-or-fold glory.
Because of this in Kuala Lumpur I picked up and read The Star, an English language Malaysian newspaper. Then in Singapore I spread The Strait Times across our humongous King and Queen sized bed in Marina Bay Sands. In Thailand I quickly got used to reading The Nation or Bangkok Post by the pool or on the beach.
Not only have these English language newspapers allowed me to satisfy my strange desire for filthy fingertips but I also believe I've gained a new insight into my host countries, cultures and people. The style of reporting, the coverage of events near and far, the selection of lifestyle features has impacted on my opinion of each country in both good and bad ways. The Star with it's bright red logo and front page reliance on big colour photos appears more tabloid yet the reporting was fairly middle of the road yet featured mostly regional business and political news in the opening pages. Interestingly I found out that The Star is ultimately owned by the current ruling political party.
The broadsheet The Strait Times read fairly pro-government in both subtle and unsubtle ways and was also very focused on business and economic growth in Singapore. It seemed to play it safe and traditional, yet the articles were well written. Unlike Thailand and Malaysian newspapers I read, The Strait Times in Singapore's most popular newspaper.
In Thailand the floods, the new-ish Prime Minister and the on-going highly contentious debate about the country's lese majeste law consistently dominated the front pages. Maybe it's because I read more editions of these newspapers because we were in Thailand longer, but both Bangkok Post and The Nation seemed more critical of current government (Bangkok Post more so certainly) than the Malaysian and Singaporean publications I read, albeit in a slightly cagey way. What did surprise me were the lifestyle features in weekend editions, which would regularly feature shops or restaurants or fashion buys - all of which were extraordinary expensive even by Western standards. I struggled to think that a 3,400 Baht (approx £680) wooden stool featured in a Sunday edition of The Nation was a realistic potential purchase even for the ex-pat or upper/middle class English-speaking Thai readers.
Not surprisingly all three newspapers featured more regional Asian news than their European counterparts yet their coverage of non-Asian events and news was perhaps more than Western press gives to Asia outside of the business pages. In all the publications I read I found the "Opinion" and "Comment" style columns featured interesting yet safely selected issues, which were certainly not as passionately researched or written about compared to the British newspapers I am used to. With all the deserved bad press and scrutiny Fleet Street is currently receiving, compared to these publications some of which are considered liberal in their respective countries, the British right to freedom of speech and the freedom of the British press is exercised with far greater force and regularity.
It is of course worth reiterating that these are English language publications and their readers, certainly in Malaysia and Thailand, wouldn't be typical of the average Joe in each country so their content and my opinion on that cannot be applied too rigidly to these countries' majorities. However, for me reading a local newspaper is now part of my travelling experience and a way for me to get to know a part of the country I am visiting a little better.
Frances M. Thompson
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