Malaysian Chinese party to take over two papers


Ignoring accusations that it would stifle press freedom, an ethnic Chinese party in the coalition government said it will proceed with its proposal to takeover two Chinese dailies, news reports and officials said Saturday.

Ling Liong Sik, president of the Malaysian Chinese Association, MCA, said his party’s bid to buy a controlling stake in the Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press dailies was a business deal and not aimed at influencing the newspapers’ editorial policies, The Sun daily reported.

Ling’s remarks came as about 30 people, including free-lance journalists and writers, waived banners saying “Save Press Freedom” and “Down with MCA” and shouted slogans condemning the proposed takeover outside the party’s headquarters on Saturday. They dispersed peacefully about an hour later.

Spokesman for the protesters, Yong Kai Peng, a weekly columnist with Nanyang Siang Pau, said he and 20 other free-lance journalists would boycott both the Chinese dailies involved in the takeover.

“We will no longer contribute reports or commentaries to the newspapers,” he told The Associated Press. “We (are) willing to sacrifice our income but not lose further press freedom in this country.”

On Saturday, The Star daily quoted Ling as saying that Huaren Holdings, the MCA’s investment arm, has entered talks with Hume Industries (Malaysia) Bhd. for its 70 percent stake in Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd., which publishes the Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press newspapers.

MCA already holds a controlling stake in The Star through Huaren Holdings.

Opposition parties and some Chinese community leaders and editorial staff at the Chinese-language papers have spoken out against the deal, fearing greater political interference from the MCA, an ally in Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s coalition government.

Kerk Kim Hock, secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Action Party, said the takeover of the two dailies showed “a clear desire by MCA to further consolidate its influence over the mass media.”

The English-language tabloid The Star has an estimated circulation of around 273,000, nearly twice its nearest rival, the broadsheet New Straits Times.

The New Straits Times, along with the Business Times, Berita Harian and other papers owned by the Malaysian Resources Corporation Bhd., is controlled by businessmen with close links to the dominant United Malay National Organization.

The Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press have estimated circulations of around 187,000 and 202,000 respectively.

The takeover would give MCA an established inroad into the Chinese language press that has long eluded the group.

The Chinese newspapers have a reputation for more critical political coverage of some issues, mainly those directly affecting the Chinese community, than does the English-language press.

Malaysia has tight press restrictions which require newspapers to submit to an annual review of their publishing licenses. Because the licenses can be revoked, newspapers generally practice self-censorship.