Malaysia's media firms click to next page

Competition moving online with growing demand for unbiased, timely English news

 

If there was an unwitting winner at the recent general election in Malaysia, it would have to be the relatively unfettered new media and independent sheets favoured by Malaysians over the government-controlled mainstream newspapers.

The ground-shifts taking place in the country's English media space, after the bitterly fought election, are proof of that.

Stung by criticism of lopsided political coverage that favoured the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, the country's top-selling English-language daily, The Star, is fighting back.

"We are going for more independent and bold coverage," said The Star's group chief editor, Mr Wong Chun Wai. The publicly listed media group is controlled by a BN component party, the Malaysian Chinese Association,

Background story

MEN BEHIND THE BUZZING MEDIA SCENE

Malaysian tycoons, particularly the ones with close ties to the Barisan Nasional-led administration, appear in a hurry to grow their media empires.

Many of the privately held media interests, in the English-language media space at least, are in the hands of non-Malays. An exception is Berita Publishing, owned by veteran journalist Kadir Jasin, which publishes the fortnightly Malaysian Business magazine and several Malay-language magazines.

In the independent Malay-language newspaper segment, a rising upstart is the daily Sinar Harian, launched five years ago and owned by Mr Hussamuddin Yaacub via his publishing firm Kumpulan Karangkraf. It stands out in a segment dominated by government-linked Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia for its neutral and fair reporting stance.

Tycoon Syed Mokhtar Albukhary - the only Malay in Forbes' list of the top 10 richest men in Malaysia and whose business empire spans utilities, infrastructure, automotive, postal services and ports - owns a stake in Utusan Malaysia, a right-wing Umno-controlled Malay newspaper.

Other prominent businessmen who have ventured in a big way into the English-language media scene are:

Mr T. Ananda Krishnan, Malaysia's second-richest man, controls Astro, a satellite television operator which boasts a subscriber base of some three million. Astro is an integrated cross-media group which also provides its own local news content aired over a few channels.

Mr Tong Kooi Ong, a savvy media magnate and former banker, controls The Edge Media Group which publishes The Edge in Malaysia and Singapore. He has over the past year made big moves into Singapore, acquiring a controlling stake in Singapore's Catalist-listed real estate agency HSR Global and a substantial interest in mainboard-listed UPP Holdings.

Low-key billionaire Vincent Tan, of conglomerate Berjaya Group, owns The Sun newspaper, a free daily tabloid which between 2002 and 2008 was also partly owned by Mr Tong Kooi Ong.

Mr Siew Ka Wei owns Bursa Malaysia-listed Ancom, an investment holding firm with subsidiaries involved in industrial and agricultural chemical products and property development among others. Ancom, in turn, wholly owns the Redberry Group, a media and entertainment group.

Redberry bought the Malay Mail, then a free afternoon tabloid, from Media Prima in 2009, and in January last year, relaunched it as a paid-for morning paper which appears five days a week. In an aggressive marketing blitz, a million copies of the paper were circulated nationwide last December with a three-page exclusive interview with no less than Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Mr Clement Hii is executive chairman of private vehicle HCK Capital Group which owns Focus Malaysia, a business weekly magazine that was launched last December and is seen as a rival to The Edge. Mr Hii is expected to start a news portal soon.

Mr Kenneth Eswaran, a businessman who has long aspired for a slice of the media action, owns ABN Media Group, a new cable television operator. Competing against Astro will not be easy, given that 50 per cent of Malaysian TV households are the latter's subscribers.

Anita Gabriel

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