Of Donations, Islam and The Real Malays

April 6, 2016

Of Donations, Islam and The Real Malays

by Cmdr S Thayaparan


The oppressors do not favour promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

It is never a good sign here in Malaysia or anywhere else in the world, when rival Islamist parties agree with each other. PAS and Amanah finding common ground against UMNO is like two siblings agreeing that their parents have been unfair to them.

PAS Vice-President Iskandar Abdul Samad in a statement that was revealing of the UMNO strategy but at the same time an unintentional condemnation of Islam, questioned the efficacy of the use of dubious funds in the eradication of Muslim poverty, here in Malaysia.

Would it have been acceptable to PAS if the so-called gift from The House of Saud was used to “uplift” Muslims here in Malaysia?

Of course, PAS splinter group Amanah is equally myopic in its version of how Islam is practiced in Malaysia.

When pundits throw around the term “Arabisation”, most Muslims or at least those Muslims who favour the kind of politics advanced by PAS, UMNO and Amanah would find no problem with such a description.

Only in Malaysia could PAS and Amanah bemoan the fact that illicit funding was not used to help the cause of their brethren and still go on about how we are all “Malaysians” or some such variants.

PAS and Amanah (Kadir Sheikh Fadzir) laughable

The Political Ulama and The Confused Mamak

Many others, and I have argued that despite the so-called special privileges Malay politicians vociferously defend, Muslims form an underclass that supports a system that cuts them of from the mainstream of Malaysian society – a mainstream defined by an urban class and contextualized by UMNO and opposition politics, which favours a specific class.

Islam, as UMNO, PAS, Amanah and every Malay politician knows very well, is used to form political and social control meant to sustain “Malay” hegemony in a fast changing Malay polity.

PAS and Amanah attempting to gain political mileage from presenting an “Islamic face” to this corruption scandal is laughable and indicative of the kind of intellectual and spiritual legerdemain that Islamist tend to use to drum up support.

It also reeks of the kind of racial politics that plagues this country but unfortunately sustains Malay political power structures. After all only in Malaysia, is a “Malay” automatically a “Muslim”.

Hence the underlying dissatisfaction expressed by these defenders of the faith is the problem that there is no evidence that illicit funding had improved the lot of the Malays in this country.

Moreover, let us face the reality that the urban Malay middle class was created by the former Malaysian Prime Minister, who is now hell bent on taking down, the current Prime Minister, who used the system the former created, to further entrench a system of patronage.

If there is no evidence that the fortunes of Muslims have improved with the House of Saud gift or the long UMNO watch for that matter, what evidence is there that Muslims fare any better under a “pure” Islamic system of governance that PAS has in Kelantan or has been advocating all these years?

Muslim utopia?

As recently as 2013, a UNICEF surveyed showed Sabah and Kelantan recorded the highest number of children living in poverty and undernourishment. The survey also found of the dire need for doctors in Kelantan.

Furthermore, Kelantan and Labuan also recorded the highest numbers in child mortality rate. The report stated: “The risk of a new-born child in Kelantan to die before reaching the age of five years old is twice higher than the risk of a newborn in Kuala Lumpur.The risk of a Malay new-born to die before reaching the age of one year old is twice as high as the risk of a Chinese new-born,”

In addition, let us not forget that Kelantan under PAS has always recorded the highest rape cases.

Amongst the numerous social problems it faces, is a high drug use amongst youths, high unemployment rate, women discouraged from entering the civil service, high percentage of female HIV cases and to my mind the worst problem of all, a state government who attempt to impose hudud, with the justification that it would solve all these problems.

I would argue that UMNO has done more for Muslims in this country by doing nothing for them or at least chaining them to a feudal system of governance, than PAS who through Islam has done everything in its power to envision a Muslim utopia.

No sense of logic

Meanwhile “spiritual advisor” to Amanah, Ahmad Awang – what does a spiritual advisor actually do – said that things have gotten worse for Muslims. He comes to this conclusion with:

1. “[…] none of the Islamic movements was given government aid.”

So let me get this straight. Federal and state governments have at their disposal various instruments that supposedly offer aid to Malaysians based on their race and religion.

Millions of ringgit have been used [or so we are told] to help Muslims in this country. Then why is there a need for Islamic movements? The answer is simple of course. All these so-called Islamic movements and charities are part of a cottage industry that have blossomed under the long UMNO watch.

These so-called movements are there to sustain a system of governance and to profit its members and superficially to alleviate the plight of the Malay underclass.

2. “Even if Najib has an NGO (that he aided), it would be the ‘wasatiyyah’ (moderate) ones…”In other words, the so-called spiritual advisor to a supposedly moderate Islamic party is bemoaning the fact, that illicit funds could have benefited “moderate” Muslim movements.

Does anyone else see the absurdity of this, or has the recent Citizens Declaration finally drained any sense of logic and rationality from the Malaysian political ecosphere?

Apparently, not only Malaysian taxi drivers are living under a system of modern day slavery.

Recently Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar said this:

“If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practice Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you,” he said, adding: “I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia. That is your right but I believe there are Malays who are proud of the Malay culture.”

My wish was that monies from that supposed gift from the House of Saud, should have been used to help those Muslims who want to be like the “Arabs” to migrate Saudi Arabia.In this way, the real Malays would have an easier time integrating with the rest of us Malaysians.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

Facebook Politics –Reaching out to Cambodians

March 24, 2016

Cambodia: Facebook Politics –Reaching out to Cambodians

by Caitlin McCaffrie

Facebook is a powerful tool in Cambodia, and the nation’s political leaders are all too aware of it. Caitlin McCaffrie reports. 

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has the second highest level of Facebook ‘engagement’ of any world leader, according to social media monitoring site Social Bakers.

Samdech Techo Hun Sen’s Facebook–Staying in touch

This level of engagement is unsurprising for anyone connected to the PM’s Facebook account, as he regularly posts photos from meetings he attends, selfies from hospital beds, photos of himself playing golf or relaxing at home with his family.

In addition to self-promotion, the Prime Minister also regularly uses the social media site to announce policy changes, often as a first port-of-call. In January, a week after enacting a long-awaited and generally unpopular new traffic law, the PM responded to public outcry by posting a video to his page cancelling the need for a drivers licence for anyone driving a motorbike of 125cc, declaring that anyone who had already purchased a licence should request a refund.

Such populist policy amendments may seem minor, however they create a belief that laws are malleable and that the Prime Minister wields ultimate control. Furthermore, Hun Sen’s regular Facebook ‘engagements’ work to weaken state institutions.

Last week two people arrested over an ongoing land dispute in Kampong Speu were released on bail a mere hour-and-a-half after Hun Sen called for their release on Facebook.

As well as being used to boost popular support, Facebook has also been used to target dissent. Earlier this month a teenager who made a post calling for a “colour revolution” was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. Defamation suits based on Facebook posts are becoming increasingly common, and the Deputy Opposition Leader Kem Sokha is currently embroiled in a Facebook scandal of his own, after an anonymous source posted audio he alleges is of Sokha and a mistress.

Cambodia PM Hun Sen poses for a selfie. Photo from his Facebook page.

Although only 33 per cent of Cambodians have access to the Internet, according to Asia Foundation data, 94 per cent of those who do have internet access have a Facebook account. Not only do Cambodians use Facebook for social networking, they also overwhelmingly use it as a source of news: approximately a quarter of all Cambodians use the platform as their primary source of news.

Cambodia’s two main political parties have been tapping into Facebook to boost their popularity since the 2013 election. For a long time, the opposition Cambodian National People’s Rescue Party (CNRP) has had a stronger Facebook presence and closer ties to the youth vote. Many attribute CNRP leader Sam Rainsy’s use of Facebook as a key reason for his party’s significant jump in the polls three years ago.

Since much of Cambodian media is still controlled by the state, the CNRP was forced to turn to social media accounts to get their message out, and their strategy was a huge success with the youth. As two-thirds of the Cambodian population is aged under 30, this is a critical market.

With the 2018 elections fast approaching, the CPP has been actively working to tap into the market traditionally held by the Opposition.  Although an account linked to Hun Sen’s name has been around for a few years, he only officially acknowledged ownership of it once it surpassed one million ‘likes’ in September 2015.

For many years Sam Rainsy outranked the self-proclaimed “Father of Facebook” in terms of numbers of followers. However since January Hun Sen has held the lead, and as of writing he outstrips his opponent by some 400,000 ‘likes’. Recently though, these numbers have been called into question.

Analysis conducted by Social Bakers and published in the Phnom Penh Post revealed that only 56.3 per cent of the Prime Minister’s ‘likes’ were from Cambodian accounts. His overseas support doubled in the last month, with most support originating in India, the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia, bringing Hun Sen’s total foreign support to 1.25 million from an approximate total of 3 million.

The data revealed that Sam Rainsy significantly outranks Hun Sen for domestic support, and commentators were quick to suggest that the Prime Minister has been paying for overseas ‘click-farms’ to boost his numbers — an allegation he has publicly denied, claiming the support reflects his popularity overseas.

It remains to be seen whether the recent allegations of ‘like-buying’ will harm Hun Sen’s well-constructed image. Regardless, the policy of governing via social media seems set to continue in Cambodia. On 18 March a cabinet reshuffle was announced through a letter posted to the Facebook page of the Counsel of Ministers, in a move which is becoming typical.

With the 2018 election fast approaching it seems most of the race will play out on social media; for better or worse.

Caitlin McCaffrie has an interest in Southeast Asian regional politics and is currently based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where she works on fair trial rights and justice issues.

Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

March 23, 2016

Blocked Site’s Closure Underscores Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

Blocked Site’s Closure Underscores Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) interviews Malaysian Insider editor

On March 14, The Malaysian Insider abruptly closed its editorial operations less than a month after the state media regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, blocked local access to its news site.

The Edge Media Group, owner of The Malaysian Insidersaid in a statement that despite the site’s “courageous news reporting” it “did not receive enough commercial support to keep it going.” In a statement posted on The Malaysian Insider website, Editor-in-Chief Jahabar Sadiq confirmed the site was closed for commercial reasons.

The closure of the English language portal comes amid a government clampdown on independent media, particularly outlets that have critically covered the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal that has engulfed Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration. In recent months, CPJ has documented how authorities have censored, harassed and threatened individual journalists and media outlets in retaliation for their critical coverage.

In an email interview, Sadiq spoke about the government pressure his now-shuttered site experienced and the broad deterioration in press freedom in Malaysia.

CPJ: Last month, The Malaysian Insider’s website was blocked by the state’s media regulator. What article did authorities cite to justify the censorship and why did they consider it sensitive?

Sadiq: Until today there is no official explanation by way of a letter to The Malaysian Insider as to the reasons for the block. All we have is a minister saying we were blocked for an article that was confusing the people of Malaysia and a foreign ministry statement saying that the article was a threat to national peace and harmony.

The news related to an unidentified panel member in the local anti-graft authority saying they had prima facie evidence to back criminal charges against the Prime Minister over a huge sum of money found in his private bank accounts. The Attorney-General had earlier said there was insufficient evidence for a charge.[EDITOR’S NOTE: Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing.]

CPJ: Before the commission’s censorship order, did The Malaysian Insider face any official harassment, warnings or threats over its critical news coverage, including of the 1MDB scandal?

Sadiq: We faced investigations for another case last year, but not related to this. However, the Internet regulator issued a general warning to all news portals last July over news coverage, specifically the 1MDB scandal, and the need to avoid using “unverified” news from other sites. There has always been unofficial harassment and threats by supporters and activists linked to the government.

CPJ: How did the government’s blockage of your news site impact your readership? Were readers able to work around the block or was your site, in effect, blacked out?

Sadiq: Our news site saw traffic decline up to 30 percent after the block. Most readers were able to work around the block and traffic remained ahead of other news portals, but eventually it affected our earnings more as advertisers pulled out. In a sense, that loss of revenue led to a permanent blackout.

CPJ: How did the censorship impact your news site’s financial situation? Do you think Najib’s government has a deliberate policy of using economic means to bring down independent online media?

Sadiq: The block led to the permanent blackout as revenue plunged. Only one advertiser insisted on putting advertisements despite the block and, ironically, it was a government agency. I have no proof that there is a deliberate policy to use economic means, but advertising agencies have told us that government-linked companies have been discouraged from advertising with us. In our time, only one bank, CIMB, which is owned by the state sovereign wealth fund Khazanah [Nasional Berhad,] has consistently advertised with us. The others did not.

CPJ: What role, if any, did government pressure play in the final decision to close The Malaysian Insider?

Sadiq: As far as I know, there is no government pressure in the decision to close down The Malaysian Insider. The shareholders had indicated from January that they wanted to sell the business and received several inquiries. But the continued block was a factor that affected the sale price of the news portal and perhaps pushed the decision [by the Edge Media Group] to shut it down rather than sell at a lower price.

CPJ: How has Malaysia’s independent online media’s reporting on the 1MDB scandal differed from the state-influenced mainstream media’s coverage?

Sadiq: Well, it is as clear as night and day between both mainly. Several mainstream print media have tried to be as comprehensive as the online media’s wall-to-wall coverage, but the threat of losing their license has curbed them. Most of them have been defending the government in the 1MDB scandal, while the online media has reported the issues and exposés reported by foreign media and whistleblower websites.

CPJ: The Malaysian Attorney-General has proposed intensifying penalties, including possible life in prison and judicial caning, for violations of the Official Secrets Act. What impact would such revisions, if implemented, have on journalists, whistleblowers and press freedom in general?

Sadiq: The proposals, if true, are chilling. No one would want to work as journalists or if they did, they would just censor themselves rather than run the risk of jail or caning for reporting something remotely seen as a secret. There are whistleblower laws but this seems to contradict the laws that seek to keep the government transparent and accountable. Such revisions, if passed, will just mean the death of professional journalism in Malaysia, and what a sad day that would be.

CPJ: What is your broad assessment of the press freedom situation in Malaysia? Is there still a future for independent journalism, or is the government effectively moving to outlaw its existence?

Sadiq: I have always maintained that there is press freedom in Malaysia and our existence was proof of it. But I guess I am wrong now–we don’t exist. There is a future, but it is under severe attack if people shy away from funding it or think that it is someone else’s problem to fund and run it. The government does not have to do much except ensure that there is enough sycophantic media to lavish praise at it while market forces and bureaucracy stops us from doing our job.

Today, news sites can only exist and do well if they don’t actually cover the real news of governance and scandals that plague Malaysia. The authorities would be happier if we covered entertainment, gossip and travel shows. Anything else threatens their well-being and, in turn, the media’s well-being.

Reprinted from the Committee to Protect Journalists website, CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin is based Bangkok in where he has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 15 years.  

Independent Malaysian news site closes

March 16, 2016

Independent Malaysian news site closes amid government clampdown on media

Oliver Holmes in Bangkok


Editor says he ‘won’t be blinkered or turn a deaf ear’ after authorities blocked Malysian Insider for articles critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Malaysian Insider office: the site was blocked after it ran a controversial report on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Photograph: Ahmad Yusni/EPA

A leading Malaysian news website that had been blocked by the government following critical coverage of Prime Minister Najib Razak has shut down.

najib duit

The Malaysian Insider editor Jahabar Sadiq told the Guardian that the news portal had closed for commercial reasons. He said the website had suffered from months of pressure from the government to dissuade advertisers from working with it.

“State-owned companies have been told not to advertise with us,” he said on the phone from Kuala Lumpur.


Jahabar and two other editors from the website were arrested last year on suspicion of sedition and the news portal was blocked in February this year, part of a recent crackdown on the media.

The Malaysian Insider had published several reports on the troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and investigations into $681m deposited into Najib’s personal accounts. The Prime Minister denies any wrongdoing, saying the money was a gift from a benefactor in the Gulf.

The Malaysian Insider, an independent news site that was blocked by the Malaysian government, has announced it is to close. This is the image that appears on its website now.

The Malaysian Insider, an independent news site that was blocked by the Malaysian government, has announced it is to close. This is the image that appears on its website now.

The Malaysian Insider has announced it is to close. This is the image that appears on its website now. Photograph: Malaysian Insider.

Last year, Malaysia blocked a UK-based news blog, the Sarawak Report, and also two financial papers, the Edge Weekly and the Edge Financial Daily.

Both papers are owned by the Edge Media Group, which also owns the Malaysian Insider.

In a leaving note, Malaysia Insider editor Sadiq wrote: “Goodbye readers from near and far, and those reading us in Malaysia despite the government block.“We worked as impartial journalists to inform Malaysians and other readers so that they make informed decisions,” he wrote.

“But our work in The Malaysian Insider has now come to an end in a Malaysia that more than ever requires more clarity, transparency and information.I won’t put down my pen, I won’t lay down my camera, I won’t shut up and I won’t be blinkered or turn a deaf ear to what goes on in Malaysia and the world. And I urge all of you to do the same.”

shooting cat

Dozens of activists, dissidents and lawyers have been arrested under the country’s sedition law, an act implemented under the British empire. The opposition complains that Najib has attacked media freedoms to protect himself from the 1MDB scandal.

A Malaysian government spokesperson said the media in Malaysia “is freer than it has ever been”.

The spokesperson said that since assuming office in 2009, the Prime Minister has eliminated bans on opposition party newspapers, removed annual renewal requirements for printing licenses, repealed the Internal Security Act and passed the Peaceful Assembly Act, which enshrines in law the right to protest.

“There is an open and robust online space in which opposition voices and outlets are given free rein, and there is immediate access to critical opinions – the true test of media freedom in a democracy,” the spokesperson said.

The press environment in Malaysia has come under international scrutiny in recent days when two Australian journalists working for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) were arrested on Saturday for trying to question the premier over the corruption allegations.

Four Corners reporter Linton Besser had questioned Najib as he walked into a mosque, asking why hundreds of millions of dollars had been deposited into his bank account.

Besser and ABC camera operator Louie Eroglu were later arrested, questioned in a police station for six hours and their passports were taken, the ABC said.

The Police said the pair were arrested for failing to comply with police instructions after they crossed a security line and “aggressively tried to approach the prime minister”.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Monday that she was concerned “when there are instances of a crackdown on freedom of speech – in democracies particularly”.On Tuesday, the country’s P olice said they would not be charged and would be deported.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division for Human Rights Watch, said the arrests were a “kneejerk reaction … To arrest them demonstrates the incredible lengths that the authorities are prepared to go to protect Prime Minister Najib from any sort of hard questions about his actions.It’s shameful that the Malaysia government is apparently willing to shred the country’s already diminished reputation as a rights-respecting democracy to shield one man from serious allegations of malfeasance.

“With the recent shutdown of The Malaysian Insider and these arrests, freedom of the press has become increasingly endangered in Najib’s Malaysia.”

Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen pays tribute to The Malaysian Insider

March 15,2016

Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen pays tribute to The Malaysian Insider


Influential Malaysian Website Closes Down

Malaysian Insider’s Talented and Courageous Editor Jahabar Sadiq

Malaysian Insider, one of Malaysia’s two most influential independent news websites, has shut down publication after eight years, the victim partly of financial difficulties and more because of unrelenting political pressure on the part of beleaguered Prime Minister Najib Razak, sources in Kuala Lumpur said.

The closure of the Insider leaves Malaysiakini, which has published since 1999, as the leading independent news site. It now carries English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil editions.

  “We worked as impartial journalists to inform Malaysians and other readers so that they could make informed decisions,” said Editor Jahabar Sadiq in a parting note on the website. “We worked to make all voices heard in this marketplace of ideas. But our work in The Malaysian Insider has now come to an end in a Malaysia that more than ever requires more clarity, transparency and information.”

The website was said to be losing RM300,000-400,000 (US$73.000-93,000) per month before it was hit hard when the government blocked it permanently on Feb. 25. It printed a story quoting a source from the panel that oversees the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission saying there is sufficient evidence to file charges over alleged financial misdeeds by Prime Minister Najib Razak. Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali refused to use the evidence to charge the Prime Minister with wrongdoing in January. The blockage put it into even more financial peril.

Growth under Edge

Malaysian Insider was taken over by The Edge Media Group in 2014 and expanded considerably.  However, it actually became a casualty of the enormous scandal over the state-funded 1Malaysia Development Bhd. that has engulfed Najib and expanded to several countries.

Tong Kooi Ong, the owner of the Edge Group, and Ho Kay Tat, the publisher, ran into deep trouble with the government last year when they printed a detailed series of articles based on emails stolen by Andre Xavier Justo, a Swiss national, from a mysterious Middle Eastern oil exploration company called PetroSaudi International that implicated Jho Low, the flamboyant financier who helped to set up the troubled 1Malaysia Development Bhd. fund, backed by the Malaysian government. The documents detailed a huge web of misuse of public money.

The government cracked down on The Edge, Malaysia’s most influential financial publication, suspending it and its sister news operations from publication for three months, later shortened to two months by the courts, and temporarily jailing Tong and Ho. The suspension is said to have played havoc with The Edge’s finances, cutting circulation and frightening away advertisers.

In a press release put out March 14, Ho Kay Tat said The Edge Media Group had incurred losses of RM10 million in the 20 months since it had acquired Malaysian Insider. Negotiations with three existing media groups to take over the publication fell through, he said. “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,” he said.

“A lot had to do with political pressure,” a political analyst in Kuala Lumpur said in a telephone conversation. “It may have been a commercial decision, but the major problem was political pressure on Tong and The Edge. Both Tong and Kay Tat  have been hailed in by the Police twice over the Insider’s reports on the MACC, so in the end they decided that because it was losing money, it was also putting too much pressure on the other businesses, so what’s the point? It was a business decision.”

In its eight years of operation, Malaysian Insider established a standard of professional journalism that is rare in Malaysia, especially in websites but in the mainstream media as well. All of the major media in the country are owned by component political parties of the ruling Barisan Nasional, or national coalition. Impartial news does not leak out of any of these black holes.

“The closure of Malaysian Insider will leave a huge vacuum in independent reporting in Malaysia, regrettably at a time the country desperately needs the media to play its role of protecting the national interest,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.” It is no coincidence that the probing and respected news publication was forced to close down a month after the government media regulator blocked access to its site. Najib clearly hopes that by censoring and intimidating the media that the 1MDB scandal story will simply go away. But the more pressure he puts on the media, the more guilty he looks and the more damage he does to his already battered legacy.”

Najib is fast becoming a pariah in international diplomacy, not just because of the extent of the scandal but because of the astonishing lengths he has gone to in his attempts to contain it, including firing his deputy prime minister and the attorney general, eviscerating investigative panels looking into the matter and neutralizing other investigations.


Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen

Two suspicious deaths have occurred in connection with Najib’s affairs involving his personal bank accounts at Ambank in Kuala Lumpur. In one, Hussain Najadi, the founder of the bank, was gunned down in a parking lot in 2013. His son, Pascal Najadi, has charged that his father had complained loudly about Najib’s  financial activities and those of United Malays National Organization figures seeking to involve him in what Pascal said were suspect financial dealings.  In the second, Kevin Morais, a senior investigator looking into Najib’s accounts for the MACC was murdered, his body stuffed into an oil barrel and rolled into a river last September. (READ: Malaysia’s AG: Whistle-blowing Detrimental to Health)

Najib has systematically sought to close down all dissenting voices. Sarawak Report and Asia Sentinel, the two most active international websites, have been blocked.  At least 33 opponents of the regime have been charged with sedition including seven opposition members of parliament for making remarks critical of the government, the judiciary or Malaysia’s sultans. Last year the government pushed through amendments to the Sedition Act to increase penalties for violations and make it easier to use the law against online speech.  Dozens of people have been arrested for participating in peaceful protests.

The government also brought back indefinite detention without trial by passing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which allows a government-appointed board to impose detention without trial for up to two years, renewable indefinitely with no possibility of judicial review. In December, it passed a sweeping National Security Council law that allows the prime minister to declare security areas within which restraints on police power are suspended.

The Malaysian Insider depended on Ah Kong

March 15, 2016

The Malaysian Insider depended on Ah Kong, not Ah Jib Hor like Utusan Malaysia


COMMENT:  We bid a sad farewell to The Malaysian Insider (TMI).I’ll leave it to those better qualified to speak at length about their many achievements and contributions.

Suffice it to say here that they will remembered as one of the most widely read and impactful online news publications Malaysia has ever seen.

Perhaps this is a good time to take a step back, and reflect on just how vulnerable alternative media is in Malaysia, as well as the role that everyday, normal Malaysians, will have to play in order to keep alternative media alive.

The Internet revolutionised media in Malaysia. From a situation where any form of mass media was controlled by the same people who controlled the government, there suddenly arose a publishing platform that the powers-that-be completely failed to control.

With the advent of the Internet, and published, uncensored truths filling the country like a gush of fresh air, public discourse in Malaysia would never be the same again.

After a number of popular blogs laid the foundation, Malaysiakini blazed the path by being the first formal, professional online news organisation. Soon, many others followed, TMI among them.

All want, nobody wants to pay


Malaysiakini Founders–Still Going Strong with Generous Subscribers and Friends

I remember Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran defining for me what a ‘social asset’ meant, a long time ago. He said, “A social asset is something everybody wants, but nobody wants to pay for.”

As news websites became more and more popular, and grew in size and stature, a persistent concern was funding.

Media conglomerates such as Media Prima or the The Star Media Group have very little to worry about, as they have the government backing them at every turn, and have what is practically a monopoly in their fields. That position of course severely compromised the independence and credibility of their publications.

When alternative media burst upon the scene to fill that gap, the public response was overwhelming.Of course, the only way to be and stay a truly independent media is to be truly financially independent.

Vulnerabilities of ad revenue models

For alternative media, achieving financial independence focuses on two areas: ads and subscriptions.Ad revenue is a particularly precarious landscape for online publications.

After all, selling ad space on publications deemed ‘unfriendly’ towards the government is already a challenging task, given how most businesses are unwilling to risk earning the ire of the powerful.

To make things worse, what happens when the sites on which you are selling ads run the risk of being shut down at any moment, the way TMI or Sarawak Report was?

In a blink of an eye, a blocked publication will have gone from providing a useful service to companies that bought advertising space, to providing absolutely zero service.

Even if websites are not shut down, in a country like ours, it isn’t difficult for someone in power to make a few phone calls and pressure companies clearly advertising on alternative media to pull out. There may even be hints of ‘consequences’ for failing to do so.

Ah Kong-owned vs owner-operated

With ad revenue so unpredictable, we are left with subscriptions. This is of course another major challenge, as many people balk at the idea of paying for news.

Why pay, when there is so much free news out there?Part of the answer lies in thinking about why or how all that free news got there.

It costs serious money to run a professional news organisation, and is often impossible without an ‘Ah Kong’ (slang for big backer with a ‘generous’ heart) or some other source of funds. (In terms of quality journalists alone, all the glory and thrill of writing for an independent publication can easily and understandably wither away in the face of mainstream newspapers that are willing to pay twice the salary.)

The trouble with relying on ‘Ah Kong’ of course is the risk that one might be shut down at any time, maybe for ‘commercial’ reasons, such as those the given by The Edge Media Group for shutting down TMI. Such publications only exist as long as ‘Ah Kong’ decides it is good for him.

It is no coincidence that perhaps the only owner-operated news publication in the country is also the only publication that charges a subscription fee for its online material. How else can they be expected to remain independent?

Up to us

No doubt there’s a lot independent publications can do to make it easier for us to support them; perhaps with a little more breathing space financially, they’ll be able to focus on making those improvements.

In the meantime, as Malaysia heads into some seriously dark times, we may have to let go of the mentality that someone else will pay for social assets like quality, independent journalism.

After all, if everyday Malaysians like us aren’t willing even a little to dig into our pockets to help keep truth and freedom alive, then we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves in a future filled with lies and tyranny.

To close, let us take heart from Jahabar Sadiq’s words: “We won’t go gently into the night, well because news never takes a break anyway. We will stay up, one way or another, to inform you and to let you speak to everyone who wants to listen to you.The biggest lesson I learnt is simply this, we are all The Malaysian Insider.”

NATHANIEL TAN had a very enjoyable stint working for Malaysiakini for the first half of 2015.