Though politicians have been keeping track of political coverage in traditional heavyweights Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian, both Umno-owned, it is the tabloids that are setting the sales pace. Kosmo and Harian Metro have both eclipsed the circulation and reach of their big stable-mates, whose sales have been in steady decline since 2004.
Fuelled by sex and scandal, the two tabloids have surged ahead. Metro, launched in March 1991, overtook the two big guns in 2004 and now sells as much as BH and Utusan combined. Kosmo, launched in 2004, had a long way to catch up, but overtook the two heavyweights on their way down in 2009 and is now ahead.
While the sensational propelled the tabloids, political sensation has done little for the big two as they continue to wage political war on the Pakatan Rakyat opposition, on behalf of Umno.
The rot sets in after 2004 elections
One-sided political coverage has been blamed for the decline, as highlighted by many political analysts and commentators. The sales chart clearly shows the decline coinciding with the general election of 2004, in which Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government was returned with a large majority.
But that was also when Harian Metro powered ahead — an important additional cause of the decline, as it indicates that the tabloids are cannibalising sales of the big two. Their readers could also be less interested in the constant churn of political stories from he said she said ding-dong reporting, and with generally insipid political coverage.
Umno-BN leaders should reconsider whether their heavy-handed approach in press control is taking a toll, by being counter-productive. Readers are being turned off.
Press controls were slightly loosened after the 2004 elections but were of little help to the big two: they came in for heavy criticism while major political events and controversies welled up in the years leading up to the 2008 elections. There were frequent calls for boycotts.
Tabloids have more weight now
The big two still command a respectable number of readers, but the mass market has gone with the scandal sheets, which now have potential for far greater political influence in the years to come.
That potential is shown by the British experience when tits-and-bums newspaper The Sun, owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and the market leader with about 4mil daily sales, claimed to have swung the general election of 1992.
With its provocative headline, now a political catchphrase, the paper claimed to have provided the Conservatives an unexpected victory. The headline was used again in 1997 when Tony Blair’s Labour upset the Conservatives.
However there is a healthy overlap in Malaysian media, with smaller, more politically-focused newspapers like Sinar Harapan (see below) and the party organs Harakah of PAS, Suara Keadilan of PKR and the Rocket of DAP. All provide extensive analyses and commentaries and enjoy a good readership — one reason for recent action against them by KDN for flouting permit conditions by selling to the general public.
The inherent unfairness of the KDN permit requirement, favouring Utusan and Berita Harian — also party-owned and functioning almost like party organs — has continually been glossed over by KDN and federal government officials. Obviously Umno-BN leaders and their advisers don’t wish to see the equivalent of The Sun Wot Won It in Malaysia.
Utusan sales figures highlighted in blue. ABC figures. (Sinar Harapan and the other papers do not submit to audits and are not included.)
Kelantan people don’t read Utusan says Nik Aziz
from Harakah Daily via Malaysia Chronicle
Tuan Guru Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat believes that the majority of rural people in Kelantan now rarely read Utusan Malaysia in contrast to Sinar Harian which he said provided balanced coverage to both sides. Kelantan people “have become less interested in papers which are one-sided,” he said at a Hari Raya gathering at the weekend attended by reporters of Utusan Malaysia, Sinar Harian, Bernama, Harakah, Sin Chew Daily and Astro Awani.
He criticised the media’s “new style” of journalism in which they no longer had the courage to report the truth, especially on issues involving Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.
Tuan Guru: Give us our TV licence
Nik Aziz also urged those in the journalism fraternity to start a campaign for approval of radio and television station licences. PAS had long applied for a broadcast licence, but approval from the federal government was still not forthcoming.
» Malaysia Chronicle
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