Arts Media Model Presentations (Summary)

LASALLE College of the Arts, F309
24 May 2019, 2:00pm

In this session, Sharmilla Ganesan (Malaysia), Chikara Fujiwara (Japan) and Kathy Rowland (Malaysia/Singapore) presented overviews of the different models that arts media in their respective countries operated on.


In the case of Malaysia, Sharmilla shared that with the exception of The Star, traditional print media outlets tended to either cover the arts under the lifestyle and entertainment sections (e.g. Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia), or through market/economic-oriented lenses (News Straits Times and The Edge). On a similar but different note, broadcast media outlets like BFM 89.9 and Astro Awani tended to cover the arts in relation to current affairs, rather than standalone. Generally speaking, critical coverage of the arts is present only in alternative media.

Through her experience delivering critical broadcast reviews of the arts with BFM 89.9, Sharmila surmised that there is potential for arts coverage in Malaysia to flourish if traditional media outlets recognised the intrinsic value of the arts to society. Unfortunately, this is not the case because of changes in the way media is being consumed, with the advent of social media. With easy access to quantifiable metrics, media companies now prioritise funding content that receive the most number of clicks – which has proven to be a quick, but superficial way of deciding what is being worthy of being read and shared.


Fujiwara shared his experience co-founding and writing for ENGEKI SAIKYO-RON-ing, an all-in-one website that provides a directory of upcoming theatre shows in Japan and publishes critical articles (both in Japanese and English) about theatre. The website has been operated by entertainment enterprise Lawson Entertainment since July 2015. Lawson Entertainment, which also provides ticketing services, was keen on taking over the operations of ENGEKI SAIKYO-RON-ing because it wanted to boost its branding and presence within the Japanese theatre scene.

While Fujiwara expressed gratitude towards Lawson Entertainment’s support in sustaining ENGEKI SAIKYO-RON-ing and ensuring that its writers were paid, he also lamented the challenges that arts critics still face with regards to mobility. Using the amount of administrative work that him and his co-founder Kyoko Tokunaga still have to undertake for ENGEKI SAIKYO-RON-ing as an example, Fujiwara pointed out that critics like himself do not enjoy as much support in these aspects unlike artists and producers, and as such do not have the time or space to prioritise building international networks. As such, their exposure to theatre beyond Japan is limited – especially for younger writers who are newer to the scene.


Rowland began her sharing by bringing the Roundtable’s attention to Kakiseni, Malaysia’s first online arts magazine which she co-founded and ran with Jenny Daneels between 2001 and 2009. Aside from running advertisements, syndication of content and ad-hoc projects, one of Kakiseni’s largest sources of income was hosting the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, with sponsorship from Boh Plantations – which Rowland deemed as much needed for the financial sustenance of the company, considering that commissioning articles incurred the most expenses and ironically brought in the least income.

In 2016, Rowland and Daneels decided to start ArtsEquator, which they envisioned to be conceptually similar to Kakiseni, albeit with a focus on covering the arts in Southeast Asia. In its earlier years, ArtsEquator depended largely on start-up funds from both co-founders and a Seed Grant from the National Arts Council. While ArtsEquator’s sources of funding has since diversified, Rowland nevertheless expressed her desire to work towards crowdfunded models of funding. Citing the examples of Exeunt Magazine, Witness and Aeon, Rowland opined that the way forward for arts media was really for readers to pay for the content that they peruse.