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Singapore reports on financial woes of Malaysia’s anti-establishment media, moots independent websites will sell to Najib allies

Malaysiakini article about pressure from the PM

Malaysiakini article about pressure from the PM

The future of Malaysia’s domestic news media is looking financially precarious, particularly online outlets that hold the government to account, according to a report in Singapore’s Straits Times yesterday headlined ‘Malaysian news business takes a hit’.

The Edge, which had its publishing licence suspended last year following a report on alleged corruption involving government investment vehicle 1MDB, is scaling back operations, and websites that take on the government, such as The Malaysian Insider – which The Edge owns – Malaysiakini and Free Malaysia Today are vulnerable to take-over by pro-establishment buyers, the ST reported.

A leaked memo from company bosses obtained by the Singapore newspaper revealed that the suspension of The Edge had hit the magazine’s business hard, and the company planned to “re-centre our resources on our core business,” leading to speculation that The Edge may offload eight year-old opposition website The Malaysian Insider, which it acquired in 2014.

The Edge is parting ways with the long-standing managing director of its publishing arm, Edward Stanislaus, Marketing reported earlier this month.

Meanwhile Kinibiz, the commercial arm of Malaysiakini, is to cease operations next month after a period of ongoing losses, according to Straits Times sources.

The ST quoted the former chief editor of New Straits Times, Abdul Kadir Jasin, as suggesting that moves were being made by allies of prime minister Najib Razak to “buy or control independent news portals such as Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider and Free Malaysia Today.”

Yesterday, Malaysiakini moved to quash speculation that it is up for sale.

Chief executive Premesh Chandran said that the website, which has been in operation for 16 years, had not been approached by such parties “nor will the co-founders entertain them.”

Malaysiakini staff feature in story on staying independent

Malaysiakini staff feature in story on staying independent

In the story on Malaysiakini, he reiterated the need for consumers to play their role in keeping the country’s independent media free by buying a subscription, as indie players lack major financial backers.

He wrote: “We have to be more cautious with our growth, and without deep pockets we have to cut back in areas we are making losses.”

In the ST article, Kadir was quoted as saying that Utama Malaysia, which is owned by ruling party Umno, and pro-government New Straits Times, have also been bleeding money.

However, government-friendly The Straits Time has not had it easy in its home market either, neither have websites that take a critical line of the establishment. Singapore Press Holdings’ ad revenue dropped by 7.4 per cent last year, and the company’s finances were polished by the luxury shopping malls that it owns.

Online Singapore news portals such as The Middle Ground, The Online Citizen, Mothership.sg and The Independent have struggled to compete in an advertising market that is dominated by traditional media, and been heavily leant on by the country’s media regulator. Local news site Coconuts has kept its head down by not covering politics.

Singapore ranks six places below Malaysia in the Reporters without Borders press freedom rankings; they rank 153rd and 147th, respectively. But despite low press freedom scores, both countries seem to enjoy a high degree of trust from the general public.

According to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, released last week, faith in the media to “do the right thing” in Singapore is the highest in the world – second only to China – and has increased rapidly over the last year.

In Malaysia, trust among the informed elite in the media rose higher than anywhere else in the world, which Edelman APACMEA boss David Brain attributed to extensive coverage of the 1MDB scandal. However, trust in the media is significantly lower in Malaysia than in Singapore, according to the study.

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