Inside a contested profession: A comparative study of journalism in Singapore and Vietnam

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch


  • Emilie Tinne Lehmann-Jacobsen
Journalism is a contested profession. Normative assumptions based on its connection to democracy infuses a variety of expectations as to what journalists should and should not do. These norms have made it particularly difficult to discuss and study journalism in non-Western or non-democratic countries where the profession has often been defined as a Western “other” – as what it is not. This dissertation takes another approach and investigates journalism in Southeast Asia from the bottom-up leaving room for journalists’ own interpretations and understandings of their profession.
Through a comparative study of journalism in Singapore and Vietnam based on qualitative interviews and extensive document research, the dissertation intends to uncover perceptions of journalism, role orientations and role struggles among journalists – though without disregarding forces conditioning the two journalistic fields. It furthermore discusses how, and to what extent, similarities between Singapore and Vietnam reflect a particular Southeast Asian model of journalism.

A combination of Bourdieu’s field theory and role theory is applied to scrutinise structures of the journalistic profession on micro, mezzo and macro level. Whereas role theory works as both a discursive tool in conversations with journalists and as an analytical tool sensitive to agency processes on a micro level, field theory adds relational aspects and helps to connect the micro level analysis to macro level structures, uncovering the forces conditioning the profession.

The analysis reveals political forces to be most dominating in structuring and conditioning the journalistic profession in both countries which leads the dissertation to suggest a reconceptualization of Bourdieu’s field model to account for political capital. Though economic capital and cultural capital (profession-specific forces) also conditions journalism, political forces structure the profession on a number of levels. The state’s active involvement in the profession in both countries through laws and regulation and with promotion (and to some extent enforcement) of normative scripts influence journalists’ perceptions of ideals, routinized practices and role orientations. But with different approaches to media management, the states’ interference in the two countries’ media environment manifests itself differently with Vietnam taking a more hands-on, yet inconsistent, approach compared to Singapore’s subtler self-administered approach where the media take part in enforcing rules and regulation.

Although journalists in Singapore and Vietnam generally agree on many journalistic ideals (such as objectivity and facticity), practices (including similar news values) and role orientations (in particular more neutral roles), they prioritise and realise them differently – which correspond with the nature of normative expectations they are met with and the internal structures of their fields.
Though the dissertation cannot, based on this study, provide evidence of the existence of a Southeast Asian model of journalism, it does find parallels between the two journalistic fields which could lead to the conclusion that they might be different reflections of similar conditioning forces or even of related media systems. These similarities might have nothing to do with the countries’ shared location in Southeast Asia but instead mirror their complex state-media relationship. In its final chapters, the dissertation therefore advocates for an expansion of Hallin and Mancini’s media system theory to account for, and differentiate between, systems characterised by strong state inference.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDet Humanistiske Fakultet, Københavns Universitet
Number of pages239
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2017

Note re. dissertation

Ph.d. afhandling forsvaret 2. november 2017

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - Journalism, Media systems, field theory, Vietnam, Singapore, Southeast Asia

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