Jui Chakravorty, Don Durfee & James Pomfret
The Far Eastern Economic Review, one of Asia’s leading print publications, will be shut down by News Corp as it struggles with losses and a dwindling readership migrating to the Internet.
The 63-year-old magazine, which was run by News Corp’s Dow Jones and enjoyed a weighty reputation for its fearless and in-depth Asian business and political coverage since World War Two, will close in December, Dow Jones said.
The announcement marks the denouement of what observers and former staffers said had been a gradual decline in the fortunes of one of the great titles in Asian journalism, once considered essential reading for the region’s intelligentsia.
‘The decision to cease publication of the Review is a difficult one made after a careful study of the magazine’s prospects in a challenging business climate,’ said Todd Larsen, chief operating officer at Dow Jones Consumer Media Group.
In 2004, Dow Jones fired most of FEER’s reporters and transformed it into a monthly publication. Articles were largely commissioned and only a skeleton editorial staff was retained.
David Plott, FEER’s editor at the time, described the upheaval in 2004 as a loss of one of the ‘greatest concentrations of knowledge and expertise about the region assembled anywhere’.
The magazine’s demise comes as publishers gravitate towards electronic media and advertising revenues dwindle. In 2001, Asiaweek, another respected Asian weekly magazine, folded after 26 years.
‘It’s paradoxical that as the region becomes more and more important, there are fewer and fewer publications producing quality coverage,’ said Hugo Restall, FEER’s current editor. Restall will remain on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, also run by Dow Jones.
A string of notable figures and correspondents have worked for FEER, including John King Fairbank, the Harvard sinologist, and the writer Ian Buruma.
Throughout its history, FEER’s investigative and critical journalism has sparked tussles with Asian governments. The magazine is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the Singapore government, with the island state’s High Court ruling it defamed elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew and his son, incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
FEER subsequently appealed the verdict.
‘If we lose that then there’s a question of whether they want to try to enforce the judgment in Hong Kong. Conceivably it could continue,’ said Restall.
Another FEER editor, Philip Bowring, also grappled with a lawsuit by the Singaporean government before he left the Review in 1992.
‘It’s important that these sort of battles are fought even if you don’t win. At least you must put up a good fight,’ said Bowring.
‘The one thing I do wonder about is the timing of this closure — whether or not Singapore is going to drop that suit now that (Rupert) Murdoch has said that he’s going to close the magazine.’