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AWSJ STS: MCA Paper Takeover Backlash
By Cris Prystay

30/5/2001 4:08 pm Wed

[Mahathir amat memerlukan akhbar Cina untuk memutar minda kaum Cina untuk menjamin keselamatannya dalam pilihanraya yang akan datang. Sebelum ini kahbar seperti Nanyang begitu lantang mengkritik kerajaan sehingga memalukan MCA dan BN.

"Mahathir amat bimbang dengan akhbar Cina. Beliau telah kehilangan sokongan orang melayu dan kini amat bimbang pula sokongan masyarakat bukan melayu," - kata Terence Gomez.

Jika langkah ini diteruskan akan berkuburlah satu lagi suara rakyat yang terbuka kerana 'tidak mungkin hamba akan menyanggah tuannya'.

Isu ini menunjukkan Ling Liong Sik akur kepada kehendak Mahathir dan tidak kepada majoriti masyarakat Cina. Walaupun begitu masyarakat Cina dijangka tidak akan berdiam diri. Mereka akan membantah sehingga patah sebagaimana yang terserlah dengan tindakkan piket dan pemulauan tempoh hari. Ada lagi yang bakal muncul tiba dan itu semua bakal menghumban BN dan MCA nanti. - Editor]

The Asian Wall Street Journal
29th May 2001

Mahathir's Main Ethnic-Chinese Backers Get Deal to Buy Stake in Malay Publisher



KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A bid by the main ethnic-Chinese party in Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's coalition government to acquire two large Chinese-language newspapers could prompt a political backlash.

Last week, the Malaysian Chinese Association -- the country's largest ethnic-Chinese political party -- said its investment arm is negotiating to buy a controlling stake in Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd. from a unit of the Hong Leong Group, a privately held conglomerate controlled by Quek Leng Chan. Nanyang Press -- 70%-owned by Hong Leong's Hume Industries Bhd. -- publishes Nanyang Siang Pau and the China Press, dailies with a combined circulation of 390,000.

Protesters outside the offices of the Nanyang Siang Pau newspaper. Late Monday, Nanyang Press and Hume Industries said they have struck an agreement for Huaren Management Sdn. Bhd, the business arm of the MCA, to acquire a 72.35% stake in Nanyang for 230.1 million ringgit (US$60.6 million). Huaren will purchase the stake from Hume Industries and its unit, Hume Plastics (Malaysia) Bhd., by the end of the month, the companies said.

But the planned deal is stirring controversy among opposition parties, public-interest groups and journalists, who complain that it threatens to tighten government control of the Malaysian press.

Executives close to the deal say Tan Sri Quek -- one of Malaysia's wealthiest businessmen -- has been under pressure from the MCA for months to sell his newspaper holdings to the party. Political analysts suggest Tan Sri Quek, who was widely seen as a business ally of now-jailed former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, may be suffering the same fate as other businessmen perceived to be in Datuk Seri Anwar's camp. In March, a plan to merge two English-language newspapers fell through when Tong Kooi Ong, a former banker with close ties to Datuk Seri Anwar, failed to secure political backing for the deal.

The MCA's newspaper purchase would give the government improved access to the Chinese community -- which represents about 25% of Malaysia's population -- at a time when Dr. Mahathir needs to shore up his support among ethnic Chinese. It would also permit greater control over Malaysia's Chinese-language press, which often publishes more critical news and commentary than does the country's mainstream English- and Malay-language media. In recent months, for example, Chinese-language papers have given broad coverage to an array of language and education issues that have stoked discontent with Dr. Mahathir's government among the Malaysian Chinese community.

The MCA's gambit is risky, however. Over the weekend, 14 Chinese nongovernmental organizations, ranging from education groups to clan associations, joined forces with an influential Chinese civil-rights lobby group and journalists to issue a joint statement condemning the deal. On Monday, about 100 Nanyang and China Press journalists staged a demonstration, holding banners that read "fight for press freedom" and "save the Chinese press." A separate group of 40 free-lance reporters and columnists announced they would quit contributing to both papers and vowed to continue their boycott if the MCA takeover proceeds.

"We don't believe these two papers can remain free with the MCA takeover. We don't want to be the window dressing for them," said Wong Chin Huat, who writes a weekly political column for Nanyang.

MCA President Ling Liong Sik, responding to criticism of the takeover plan, has promised his party won't influence the Chinese papers' editorial policies. But at a meeting Friday, senior Nanyang editors were offered a buyout package by a Hong Leong executive and "asked to leave," according to an editor who was at the meeting. Hong Leong and Hume executives didn't respond to requests for comment on the planned deal.

The Mahathir government's hold over Malaysia's media is already strong. The country's two largest Malay-language dailies are owned by companies with historic links to Dr. Mahathir's United Malays National Organization, as are the English-language New Straits Times and Business Times.

The MCA's investment arm owns The Star, the country's largest English-language newspaper.

"Mahathir is very concerned about the Chinese press. He's losing Malay support and is now very concerned about non-Malay support," said Terence Gomez, a political science professor at the University of Malaya.

The Chinese vote helped shore up Dr. Mahathir's coalition in Malaysia's 1999 parliamentary election, when a large block of Malay voters, disillusioned by the jailing of Datuk Seri Anwar on corruption and s###my charges, defected from UMNO. But Dr. Mahathir alienated many Chinese last year when he likened a group of ethnic-Chinese political activists to communists. The group had called for greater transparency and less corruption, and had urged that merit-based policies replace some of Malaysia's affirmative-action policies, which favor Malays in universities, business and employment.

Write to Cris Prystay at

Straits Times of Singapore
29th May 2001

MCA rift widens over newspaper takeover plan

Deputy president is set to oppose the proposed deal at a meeting, while PM Mahathir says he neither supports nor objects to the Chinese paper takeover

By Joceline Tan

THE Malaysian Chinese Association's bid to take control of two Chinese newspapers is widening the rift in the party, with the party's No 2 planning to oppose the deal at a central committee meeting tomorrow.

Datuk Lim is firmly against the takeover.

MCA deputy president Datuk Lim Ah Lek, who has been at loggerheads with party president Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik, is expected to oppose the takeover of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press on the grounds that ''it goes against the sentiments of the community and the interests of the party''.

Datuk Lim's action will be the most serious opposition yet to the controversial deal, that has galvanised Chinese journalists and influential Chinese NGOs into an alliance with the potential of growing into a formidable groundswell.

The issue took an interesting turn yesterday when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad told reporters that he ''neither supports nor objects'' to the proposed deal.

His remarks will have repercussions at the MCA meeting tomorrow because Dr Ling had told the party presidential council last week that the Prime Minister had given the green light to the proposed deal.

According to a party official, the president had claimed that an acquisition of this nature would not be possible without the Prime Minister's consent.

Subsequently, all but three of those present at the presidential council meeting gave their support.

The three who opposed were deputy president Datuk Lim, vice-president Datuk Chan Kong Choy and central committee member Fu Ah Kiow.

The issue, which has been the talk of the community, has acquired an emotional tone, with many Chinese likening it to the ''death of a free Chinese media environment''.

Opponents of the deal are campaigning on the grounds that ''you cannot expect the servant to check the master''.

The MCA bid, if successful, would effectively result in the Chinese party controlling the two Chinese publications as well as the top English daily, The Star.

Chinese lawyer Ser Choon Ing said: ''Just because the Prime Minister has given the green light does not mean that the Chinese must agree with the takeover.''

Yesterday, journalists and Chinese NGOs picketed outside the two newspapers' offices.