FEER was set up in 1946 with seed capital provided by the Kadoories, Jardines and the Hong Kong Bank. The South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong, had majority ownership of the Review from 1972. In 1986 Dow Jones, a minority shareholder since 1973, took over full ownership in a deal with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which had acquired a controlling interest in the Post. News Corp bought Dow Jones in 2007.
FEER targeted markets in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Southeast Asia. It reached an elite group of readers from the government, the business world and the academic sector. The magazine had a circulation of 93,055 in 2003. In September 2006, the magazine was banned in Singapore.
The Far Eastern Economic Review was started in 1946 by Eric Halpern, a Jewish immigrant from Vienna, who initially settled in Shanghai and ran Finance and Commerce, a biweekly business magazine. Later on, when China was in the midst of the Chinese Civil War, he decamped to Hong Kong and founded the weekly publication, FEER, focusing on finance, commerce and industry.
After Halpern's retirement in 1958, Dick Wilson became chief editor and publisher. He operated an office in a colonial building along the waterfront where the Mandarin Hotel now stands. During Wilson's tenure, coverage of the magazine extended from China and Hong Kong into other regions around the world, from Japan to Australia to India and to the Philippines.
In 1964, Wilson was succeeded as editor by Derek Davies, a Welsh journalist, who had served in the British Foreign Office. Between 1964 and 1989, the flamboyant Davies built FEER from a small weekly into one of Asia's most authoritative magazines, with a circulation of nearly 90,000. At its peak, FEER had an editorial team of nearly 100 news staff in 15 bureaus across Asia – the largest news team of any regional weekly.
After serving 25 years as senior editor, Davies was succeeded by Philip Bowring. In 1992, Bowring was forced to resign due to differences with Dow Jones' Vice-President Karen Elliott House over the magazine's editorial direction.
In November 2001, Dow-Jones merged the editorial operations of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Asian Wall Street Journal in an attempt to cut costs. In 2004, the magazine ceased to exist as a weekly and was changed to a monthly publication with Hugo Restall as its editor. In September 2009, Dow-Jones, now a subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corp, announced that the magazine will be shut down permanently.
An account of the closure of FEER is detailed by John McBeth in a chapter called 'Death of a Magazine' in his book entitled Reporter. Forty Years Covering Asia.
The magazine ceased publication in December 2009 due to falling readership and advertising revenue. This was the reason given by its owner, Dow-Jones. But insiders cite other reasons. "Every ex-Review staffer knows that its days were numbered the day Dow Jones bought it. The Asian Wall Street Journal never enjoyed the kind of readership and readers' loyalty as that of the Review. And it wasn't a secret that the Americans wanted the AWSJ to supplant the Review." Philip Bowring pins the blame for the Review's decline on Dow Jones. He says that its executives parachuted in from New York and wanted to homogenise the reporting. But according to Banyan, despite Dow Jones' missteps, FEER's business model was based on advertising revenue which floundered when prosperity declined.
'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'.
Dow Jones proclaimed the savings from the death of FEER will "catapult the company's growth in the burgeoning Asian marketplace." In response, J. Manthorpe commented, "As the FEER has been in a vegetative state since at least 2004 when it was made a monthly instead of weekly magazine and its staff was cut from 80 to five, only two of whom are journalists, it is hard to imagine the proceeds of closure catapulting anything anywhere."
‘Dow Jones's marketing people didn't know how to sell it as it competed with the Asian Wall Street Journal – they ignored it and killed it by sheer neglect,' said VG Kulkarni, a former editor at the Review.
Prior to the formal closure in 2009, FEER died many deaths—in 1992 when Bowring was forced to resign as editor; in 2001 when it was merged with the Asian Wall Street Journal; in 2004 when it ceased as a weekly and was published as a monthly after being downsized to a staff of two. "The death of the Review came by a thousand cuts inflicted primarily by Karen House," said Bowring in 2004: A succession of failed makeovers and revolving editors; the dumbing down of the magazine in an effort to make it "more readable"; moving away from hard-hitting, controversial coverage of corporate and financial scandals; a shift from in-depth coverage of business and politics to soft-centred features of the sort that appear in airline magazines.
"The final insult to the Review, and indeed to Asia, was Dow Jones' refusal to sell the title. It has had plenty of offers – which would benefit its own shareholders," says Bowring, "There is a parallel here between Time and Asiaweek. Time bought locally-born Asiaweek even though it appeared to be in direct competition for readers and advertising. Not so long afterwards, Time closed Asiaweek rather than its ailing Time Asia. It was corporate imperialism more than commercial sense which brought Dow Jones to buy control of the Review, which was a direct competitor for niche regional advertising. It is clear that the closure of the Review, as of Asiaweek, represents an attack on diversity and further reduction in the variety of print media."
"The magazine lost its way because people in New York thought they understood what the readers wanted more than those who were on the ground in Asia," wrote Bowring in the South China Morning Post. Bowring claims that Ms. House infused FEER's editorials with the right wing and furiously pro-western sentiments of The Wall Street Journal.
Under its previous editor, Derek Davies, the Review had carved a name for itself for the excellence of its economic reporting, its refusal to be cowed and its wide-ranging book reviews. When Dow Jones took over the Review it introduced pompous "editorials", indulged in numerous revisions to the format, each more disastrous than the last; brought in large numbers of American journalists and editors at the expense of well-established writers who knew the region; moved the focus from business and politics to "innovation" and "lifestyle", neither of which was of interest to its core readership; and dramatically reduced the scope of the book review section. When Dow Jones took control of the magazine, efforts to introduce more lifestyle features sparked protests from Review loyalists – as did its decision to make it into a monthly rather than a weekly title.
"I don't think Dow Jones ever understood what our culture was and they never really put in the effort to make the magazine succeed", said McBeth who joined the magazine in 1979. Dow Jones turned it into a snappy, happy, trend-conscious delight for the Internet age. It was a failed effort "to lure readers who presumably don't care about thoughtful coverage of politics and economics but do want to know which wine goes with which chilli pepper". The reporting staffs of the Review and the Asian Wall Street Journal were merged in 2001. More significantly, at that time the ad sales staffs of the two publications were also merged. Two senior correspondents said they had frequently been asked by executives at Asian corporations they covered why the magazine's advertising staff were hard to reach and would often not return phone calls. "There was no effort put in," said one. "They didn't even try."
TJS George, co-founder of Asiaweek, says, "In due course, Time Inc. killed Asiaweek and Dow Jones (now a Murdoch property) killed the Review. Murdoch-Dow's Wall Street Journal and Time Inc.'s Time magazine now fly the American flag over Asia, unchallenged by lesser flags."
Besides qualified business reports, FEER was also the pioneer of independent journalistic establishments throughout Asia. Many of the articles from the first few decades were exclusive sources of information on the development of China, such as the report on where chairman Mao Zedong, the Cultural Revolution and the economic opening initiated by Deng Xiaoping.
For the first issue, the inaugurator, Halpern, declared a brief but enduring Editorial Statement:
"The purpose of this weekly economic publication is to analyse and interpret financial, commercial and industrial developments; to collect economic news; and to present views and opinions with the intent to improve existing conditions. Politics and economics being connatural, it will be inevitable that this publication may at times appear to transgress its primary objective by reporting on, and dealing with, political affairs. At any time and in every case unbiased and dispassionate, factual and balanced reporting will be our aim and policy."
The Review aimed to report and analyse financial, commercial and industrial developments in the Southeast Asia and Pacific regions with specific emphasis on Hong Kong and China. It gathered the most incisive and provocative commentary in Asia through leaders from every ideological stripe, background and profession. Articles were selected according to their potential progress toward prosperity, security and well-being for all Asians. Besides free-lance contributions and viewpoints from professionals, FEER's journalists also travelled around the region reporting from their own perspective with the intention of improving the local economic and political zone.
"China's Elite" was a yearly side-publication by the FEER. Focusing on China's leading executives and their way of business, "China's Elite" was often praised as a valuable source of information on statistics, expectations and objective analysis obtained through in-depth interviews with leading businessmen in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The "Review 200" was a tied publication by the Far Eastern Economic Review which ranked the top 200 leading businesses across Asia on an annual basis.
Published every two years since 1989 by FEER, "Managing in Asia" provided entrepreneurs with a clear description and explanation of Asia's business position. The report offered valuable information in the aspects of economic outlook, business challenges and economic issues, personal investment, technology/office automation, brand perception, ownership of products, travel habits,etc.
The "Asia Lifestyles" was published in alternating years. It conducted surveys on business executives and questioned their lifestyles, habits and aspirations.
FEER regularly published special reports focused on topics that were relevant and significant to Asia. For example, a special report on the HIV?AIDS epidemic was published in its 15 July 2004 issue.
FEER regularly interviewed government officials and other important people who had an impact in the region and the business world. In the past, FEER has interviewed Colin Powell, the US former Secretary of State (issue date: 28 October 2004), Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of United Nations (issue date: 22 July 2004), Chen Shui-bian, the Taiwanese President (issue date: 24 July 2003), Bill Gates, Chairman and co-founder of Microsoft (issue date: 14 March 2002), and many more influential people.
In 2002 and 2003, FEER was awarded the "Excellence in Specialized Reporting" by the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA). In 2004, it was awarded the "Honourable Mention for Magazine Front Cover Design" by SOPA. In 2005, it was awarded the "Excellence in Magazines" and "Honorable Mention for Reporting on the Environment" by the SOPA.
In late 1970s, Ho Kwon Ping, the Review's Singapore correspondent, was accused of endangering national security and fined $3,000. Lee Kuan Yew later charged FEER editor, Derek Davies, of participating in "a diabolical international Communist plot" to poison relations between Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia.
In 1987 Lee restricted sale of the Review in Singapore after it published an article about the detention of Roman Catholic church workers, reducing circulation of the magazine from 9000 to 500 copies, on the grounds that it was "interfering in the domestic politics of Singapore". The 4 April 2002 issue of FEER was banned in Bangladesh because its cover story, "Bangladesh: Cocoon of Terror", described the country as besieged by "Islamic fundamentalism, religious intolerance, militant Muslim groups with links to international terrorist groups."
In China the Review's correspondent, Serge Ivanovitch Kost, was arrested during the Cultural Revolution and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He later emigrated to Australia.
In 2006, after the publication of an article of an interview with Chee Soon Juan, party leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, on Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father and minister mentor, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong both sued the publication for defamation, alleging the magazine had suggested they were corrupt. The Singapore government banned the sale and distribution of the journal. In 2007, during the International Bar Association's Rule of Law symposium, then-Deputy Prime Minister, S. Jayakumar, states that FEER did not satisfy regulations for foreign publications in Singapore such as appointing a representative to accept service of any notice or legal process, and submitting a security deposit. The lack of compliance to the regulations led to FEER not being able to circulate its publication in Singapore and was not due to the legal suit.
On 24 September 2008, the High Court of Singapore, in a summary judgment by Justice Woo Bih Li, ruled that the Far Eastern Economic Review and Hugo Restall, its editor, defamed Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in its October 2006 article, "Singapore's 'Martyr', Chee Soon Juan". FEER appealed but lost the case when the Court of Appeal ruled in October 2009 that the Far Eastern Economic Review did defame the country's founder Lee Kuan Yew and his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The Young Inventors Awards (YIA) which began in 2000, was organised by FEER in association with Hewlett-Packard (HP). The purpose of the Awards program was to foster a spirit of scientific invention and innovation among students in the Asia-Pacific regions, including China, Philippines, Singapore, India and Australia. Students who won the award were socially recognised and financially supported for their outstanding efforts and projects. FEER's annual Asian Innovation Awards was associated with Global Entrepolise @ Singapore, which honoured Asia's emerging Technopreneur.