Malaysian news business takes a hit

The Edge faced a three-month ban after its 1MDB coverage was deemed detrimental to national security but the courts quashed the government's decision on Sept 21 last year, eight weeks into the suspension.
The Edge faced a three-month ban after its 1MDB coverage was deemed detrimental to national security but the courts quashed the government's decision on Sept 21 last year, eight weeks into the suspension.ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

The Edge group retrenching staff; business news unit of Malaysiakini site to close down

Several media outlets known for hard-hitting reports against Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration will shrink their operations this year, as economic headwinds take their toll on Malaysia's news business.

According to an internal memo seen by The Straits Times, The Edge Media Group - which last year ran a series of reports claiming that billions of ringgit were siphoned out of state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) - is retrenching staff due to financial difficulties and gloomy prospects for the next two years.

Sources also revealed that Kinibiz, the business reporting arm of the largely anti-establishment Malaysiakini, the country's oldest news site, will cease operations next month after a three-year run during which it accumulated losses. 

The Edge memo, signed off by owner Tong Kooi Ong and chief executive Ho Kay Tat, said a two-month suspension of its print publications "had a significant impact on our financials".

The Edge faced a three-month ban after its 1MDB coverage was deemed detrimental to national security but the courts quashed the government's decision last Sept 21, eight weeks into the suspension.

"We are re-organising and right- sizing our operations to re-centre our resources on our core business i.e. as a provider of news on the economy, corporate & markets, property, personal finance and premium lifestyle," the memo read.

Neither Datuk Tong nor Mr Ho responded to requests for comment. But employees from The Edge Media Group confirmed that some staff have already been let go.

The memo did not mention The Malaysian Insider (TMI) despite the group having operated the news portal since acquiring it in June 2014, fuelling speculation that it is available for purchase.

The Straits Times understands that some Umno-linked entities have made proposals to take over the website that came into prominence following the 2008 general election, which saw record losses for the ruling party. 

Veteran newsman Abdul Kadir Jasin has claimed that there is an attempt by Datuk Seri Najib's camp to purchase or control news portals including TMI.

The former chief editor of the pro-government New Straits Times (NST) claimed that efforts were under way to "buy or control independent news portals such as Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider and Free Malaysia Today".

"Talk among media practitioners is that one news portal owned by a Chinese tycoon has kowtowed to (Deputy Prime Minister) Ahmad Zahid (Hamidi) while the owner of another turned down a lucrative financial aid offer," he said.

He noted that the circulation of the Umno-owned broadsheet, Utusan Malaysia, has been on a steep decline. NST, too, has been losing sales for nearly a decade.

A sale of TMI would not be the first time that Mr Tong had divested of his media holdings, having taken control of free national daily The Sun in 2002 before relinquishing it in 2008.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysian news business takes a hit'. Print Edition | Subscribe