Malaysian Insider shuts down after 8 years

Mr Tong's The Edge Media Group has shrunk since its reports on 1MDB.
Mr Tong's The Edge Media Group has shrunk since its reports on 1MDB.PHOTO: THE EDGE
The Malaysian Insider's Petaling Jaya office. The portal was one of Malaysia's best-read news sites, with over a million unique visitors a month.
The Malaysian Insider's Petaling Jaya office. The portal was one of Malaysia's best-read news sites, with over a million unique visitors a month.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Mr Ho said The Edge group has had $3.3 million in losses since acquiring TMI.
Mr Ho said The Edge group has had $3.3 million in losses since acquiring TMI.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Mr Jahabar, TMI chief editor, led a management buyout but a deal for the site failed to be reached.
Mr Jahabar, TMI chief editor, led a management buyout but a deal for the site failed to be reached.PHOTO: SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

News site's closure highlights decline of The Edge media empire after slew of controversial exposes on 1MDB

The Malaysian Insider (TMI) was updated for the final time last night, before powering down at midnight after an eight-year run that saw it become one of the best-read news sites in the politics-obsessed nation.

In June 2014, it was the marquee addition to what was The Edge Media Group's brave expansion project. Ironically, the sudden closure of what has been a staple read for hundreds of thousands of politics junkies also marks the shocking pace at which Datuk Tong Kooi Ong's media empire has shrunk since courting controversy with a slew of exposes on the govern- ment's investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The Edge Media Group said in a statement that the shutdown of the site, which drew over a million unique visitors per month, came after it failed to "receive enough commercial support".

 

"TEMG (The Edge Media Group) has incurred losses of around RM10 million (S$3.3 million) in the 20 months since we acquired TMI in June 2014, and we are no longer in a position to keep it going," said chief executive Ho Kay Tat.

Mr Ho said three existing media players showed interest after The Edge made it known the website was for sale. TMI chief editor Jahabar Sadiq also led a management buyout.

But the fact that an agreement failed to be reached for what is Malaysia's top free-to-read news website reflects deeper problems that have plagued The Edge's operations in the past two years.

Mr Ho cited "the recent problems TMI had with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission" as the key stumbling block in negotiations which began even before the regulator ordered Malaysian Internet providers to cut off access to the website on Feb 25 due to the publishing of "unverified reports".

The Straits Times understands that while many have been able to work around the block, the site lost about 20 per cent of its eyeballs but The Edge refused to budge on its asking price.

TMI's closure comes just a fortnight shy of a year after Mr Ho, Mr Jahabar and three others were detained overnight over an article claiming that Malaysia's nine rulers - influential heads of Islam in their respective states - had rejected a proposal to introduce Islamic criminal law, which the royals denied doing.

The Edge had also been running exposes on 1MDB's controversial dealings. In July, Mr Tong and Mr Ho admitted to obtaining reams of stolen data from Swiss national Andre Xavier Justo, who was being held in Thailand for blackmailing his former employer PetroSaudi, an energy firm that was a joint venture partner with 1MDB.

But the revelation that hit Mr Tong's credibility was the admission that he never intended to pay Justo the promised US$2 million (S$2.8 million) in exchange for about 400,000 pages of documents. The government swept in just days after, suspending The Edge's printing licence on the grounds of national security.

By the time it overturned the decision in court two months later, the damage had been done. Other business titles had filled the void and advertisers began to view The Edge as toxic, in a market where government relations are all important.

In January, The Edge told its staff that it had to restructure due to headwinds expected across 2016/2017.

By then, some staff had already been asked to leave, its attempt at a regional magazine had failed, and the loss-making TMI had to be taken off its books.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysian Insider shuts down after 8 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe