Dr M: Reading culture has gone digital

Digital influence is so huge that traditional reading sources such as newspapers and books are increasingly sidelined, he says


PRIME Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) has called for the production of more quality digital reading materials in the country as Malaysians shift their reading habits online.

Dr Mahathir, who is also acting education minister, urged publishers to know their readers and offer content and stories that are reflective of developments in the digital age.

“For us to cultivate reading habits in Malaysia, there must be concerted efforts to publish quality content. Writers, editors and publishers must be actively involved in this initiative,” he said at the launch of the National Reading Decade initiative at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Bangi yesterday.

“One of the challenges we face today in encouraging the reading culture is the digital influence on society. This digital influence is so huge that traditional reading sources such as newspapers and books are increasingly sidelined,” the PM said, adding that the book industry must also consider people’s purchasing power for it to be competitive and affordable to Malaysians.

“Many newspaper companies have been forced to shut down due to poor sales, while books remain on library shelves collecting dust,” Dr Mahathir said.

“This, however, does not mean that the people have stopped reading. What has changed is the source of the reading material.”

Over the last two decades, publishing and newspaper companies worldwide have been forced to consolidate their businesses, cut their workforce and turn to digital subscription as their new income module.

American billionaire Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, yesterday said daily newspapers “are all going to die” as revenue streams collapse on the back of technological advancements.

Local newspapers are also struggling financially in recent years, with some companies forced to restructure leading to retrenchment of workers.

Dr Mahathir, however, warned that with the digital push comes the challenge of distinguishing truth from false news. The PM said technology has made it easy for anyone to spread fake news and content which can be detrimental to society.

“This is the biggest challenge when it comes to reading today — differentiating between fact and fiction,” he said. Also present at the ceremony was Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching and and Education Ministry secretary general Datuk Dr Mohd Gazali Abas.

Misinformation about Covid-19 has sent governments across Asia to arrest social media users linked to posts deemed as malicious.

In Malaysia, the police have reportedly opened 13 investigation papers over fake news allegations on the epidemic.