Malaysia's news sites shrink as funds dry up

Malaysian Insider is one of many Malaysian news sites that have since closed down.
Malaysian Insider is one of many Malaysian news sites that have since closed down. PHOTO: EPA

Three years ago, Malaysia's news industry was expanding fast with the sprouting of online news sites, the entry of new players in Web broadcasting and the birth of a new business weekly.

Today, the news media is a lethargic business with few investors keen to place advertisements, or at least contribute to keep online journalism afloat.

In turn, the media itself became the news, especially with the closure of The Malaysian Insider (TMI) at midnight yesterday. It joined KiniBiz, The Rakyat Post, The Ant Daily, and ABN News, among others, that have either shut or downsized their operations.

The Edge Media Group, owner of TMI, has also been downsizing since its January announcement to staff that it is restructuring by streamlining operations and conducting layoffs.

Looking to hire a journalist? There are some 100 of them out there looking for jobs.

Added to the lack of fund inflow into the online news business is stricter enforcement by the authorities, as they rally around Premier Najib Razak, who is trying to fob off allegations over financial donations and mishandling of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

According to independent watchdog Freedom House, Malaysia's press status as of last year was "Not Free" and the organisation noted that self-censorship is common due to threats of legal action.

The Edge Media Group cited a lack of finances in shutting TMI.

"Despite the fact that TMI is one of the top three news portals based on traffic in Malaysia because of its courageous news reporting, it did not receive enough commercial support to keep it going," group chief executive Ho Kay Tat said. Its announcement came two weeks after the government blocked the site for violating the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Mr Ho said: "We will be letting go of all the 59 TMI staff and they will receive a severance package as required by law."

In a separate statement, TMI editor Jahabar Sadiq said it had worked to "make all voices heard in this marketplace of ideas".

Opposition MP Lim Kit Siang said the government is headed towards a "dark age" by blocking TMI and disregarding the country's Multimedia Super Corridor pledge to ensure no censorship of the Internet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysia's news sites shrink as funds dry up'. Print Edition | Subscribe