UMNO: “All mine! They’re All Mine! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
To those who haven’t been reading the news lately, the ruling party is again consolidating their grip on the media by corporate takeovers and mergers; this time the New Straits Times Publication is reported to be merging with the Utusan group.
The resulting scenario is pretty scary since the very same people running NSTP are running all the non-RTM free terrestrial TV channels (TV3, 8TV, Channel 9 & NTV7) and of course several nationwide radio stations. So add in RTM which is owned by the Government (duhh) and Astro, which crony-run, and also all the relics of the British era laws (ISA, OSA, Printing & Publication Act etc.) and what do we have in terms of non-government-biased media?
Well, it has been that way for ages, true, but this is becoming a lot more blatant isn’t it? Attached is a statement by some concerned NGOs, but lets read the report from CIJ first:
Less than two months after ruling party MCA sold its stake in the Nanyang Daily to tycoon Tiong Hiew King, resulting in ownership concentration of four newspapers in his hands, the Utusan Group and New Straits Times Press (NSTP) are planning a merger that will put UMNO, the largest ruling party as the direct owner of most media in the country. The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is deeply concerned that the merger would erode completely the plurality of expression, which is already severely curtailed in the country.
Newspapers reported on Nov 28-29 that the UMNO owned Utusan Group, which publishes Malay language papers Utusan Malaysia, KOSMO and a stable of magazines, is merging with the NSTP, which owns English dailies New Straits Times (NST) and Malay Mail, as well as Malay dailies Berita Harian and Harian Metro. The merger would also give UMNO direct control over TV and radio stations now under Media Prima Bhd, which has a stake in NSTP. The stations are TV3, ntv7, 8TV and Channel 9, and radio stations Fly FM and Hot FM. ‚Äì from CIJ
Civil Society’s Joint Statement:
Proposed NSTP-Utusan Merger signifies dangerous trend
Civil Society calls for Select Committee on Media Laws Reform
We from the civil society groups oppose the rumoured merger between New Straits Times Publications (NSTP) and Utusan Melayu. If this happens, it will worsen the concentration of media ownership, resulting in a colossal media empire under UMNO which will control four television channels, two radio stations, all Malay language national dailies, two English language national dailies and a stable of magazines. We call for immediate establishment of a Parliamentary caucus to study improving communication rights including the introduction of anti-monopoly provisions.
In the long run, such dominance in broadcast media and in the Malay and English language print media will allow the new media conglomerate to dictate terms ‚Äì especially pricing – to readers and advertisers. For Malay-language journalists, there is the threat of post-merger lay-offs and reduced career options.
What is more worrying is that the merger process may not stop with the Utusan group. UMNO-linked Media Prima may start eyeing its competitors in the English print media who will be at a disadvantage without any access to broadcast audiences and Malay-language readers. Market pressure could even lead to further mergers with the remaining English-language papers.
Media Prima had recently acquired an advertisement group, BigTree, and is speculated to be interested in further extending its media empire into the cable TV market.
The proposed NSTP-Utusan merger therefore cannot be taken lightly. Against the backdrop of Tiong Hiew King’s recently-completed control of four top Chinese dailies, the merger of Malay dailies may be just the tip of the iceberg which could result in a Singapore-like media environment ‚Äì “one nation one paper”. This will surely threaten Malaysia’s already narrow democratic space as news can be more effectively controlled and public opinion more conveniently manufactured.
Even though both the Utusan and NSTP groups are presently controlled by UMNO directly and indirectly, a consolidation of control under a single corporate command will enhance the party’s capacity to set the nation’s political agenda and mobilise Malay-speaking Malaysians. The majority of this group depend on Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian and TV3 for news and entertainment. According to reports, the merger will involve a new company formed, in which the largest stake is controlled directly by UMNO, with a 20% stake controlled by Media Prima. This means that the largest political party directly controls most of the printed and broadcasting media.
We reject completely the flawed logic that since the Malaysian media is already heavily controlled, further dominance by the UMNO-led ruling coalition can therefore be justified or tolerated. The solution to a liberated and responsible media – instrumental to accountability, transparency, integrity and national integration – is to undertake comprehensive reforms of media laws reform. This must include the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), the Sedition Act, the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Official Secrets Act (OSA). In their place, a Freedom of Information Act and effective anti-monopoly provisions in relevant legislation must be introduced.
In line with the call by 37 civil society groups on May 3, 2006 and 47 groups on October 19, 2006, we demand that the Government establish a Select Committee on reforms to media laws. If the Prime Minister still believes in reforms and wants to listen to the truth, he must ensure that the Cabinet acts on this immediately. We also ask all parliamentarians to initiate or join a multi-party parliamentarian caucus on communication rights, including media law reform .
This statement is initiated by
1. Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI),
2. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
3. Youth Section, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (Youth, KL-SCAH)
4. Women Development Collective (WDC)