Day of the Malay newspaper is over
The day of the Malay newspaper is over — but the day of the Malay-language newspaper is at hand, and it has a bright future.
So said Zam (Zainuddin A Maidin) at yesterday’s ITM forum on the future of Malay newspapers, where four news professionals confidently cut through the “doom and gloom” chatter arising from falling sales of Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian.
Zam said the two papers should recognise that they could no longer regard themselves purely as vehicles of Malay nationalism, Malay culture and Malay language.
Population changes and the increasing level of education and sophistication of the reading public combined with a range of opinions easily available online meant that the two papers were becoming merely vernacular newspapers — that is, newspapers published in the Malay language and thus no different from the other vernacular newspapers published in Mandarin, Tamil or Punjabi.
At the news stand: many more Malay papers on sale
But they had failed to grasp that this change was taking place, Zam said.
Malay-language newspapers were not the sole preserve of the Malay community any more, Zam said. The Malay language was no longer the possession of the Malay community alone.
The Malay languge had truly become the national language, used at all levels of society. It was for all Malaysians and was living up to the term Bahasa Malaysia, created to herald its universal acceptance among all Malaysians, a testimony to the far-sightedness of Tengku Abdul Rahman and other Merderak era leaders such as Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Dr Ismail, said Zam.
The forum’s theme “Survival Akhbar Melayu” had set an ominous tone in seeking meaning from the steady falls in circulation of the two Umno-owned Malay heavyweight newspapers.
But panel members Azman Ujang, Chamil Wariya and Adi Satria Ahmad cut through the chatter, keeping the focus on newspapers as a business venture and criticising the over-emphasis on Malay nationalism. In the second session Zam picked up the theme with his characteristically cheerful brusqueness, energy and plain speaking bulldozing the way.
(Typically, he started off by dismissing the MC’s re-invention of “survival” in a Malayanised form pronounced as “soor-vee-vahl”. Zam would have none of that, sticking to “survival”, a word that he said even kampung people understood.)
Zam and the other two journalists on the panel, Azman Ujang and Chamil Wariya, with figures and charts in hand, pointed out that Malay-language newspapers, taken as a group, sold more copies than all the other newspapers put together.
The future of Malay-language newspapers was not in doubt, they stated. Population changes and the widespread use of Bahasa Malaysia in society meant that the future was, instead, bright.
Society needed to come to terms with the structural changes taking place, and to realise that many non-Malay people now excelled in Bahasa Malaysia and that there was a growing readership among them.
It was not just Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian whose sales were dropping, Zam pointed out. Except for Sin Chew, whose sales have been steadily rising, all other newspapers were also in the doldrums.
Sales of the two main English-language newspapers had declined, and the other Chinese-language newspapers were stagnant, while Metro and Kosmo were rising spectacularly and the Star’s M-Star online site was making good progress.
Adi Satria Ahmad, Utusan’s chief of ad sales, provided the marketing nous, to back up Azman and Chamil’s point that all newspapers depended on advertising for commercial survival.
The bulk of print advertising expenditure went to the English-language press, with The Star alone commanding 26% of all advertising expenditure — more than the ad sales of all the rest of the press combined.
The four media figures discussed the historial and marketing reasons for the advertisers’ preference for the English-language press:
- purchasing power of the target readership,
- the advertiser’s need to maximise the reach of the ad spend
- avoiding duplication of media in reaching the consumer,
- the international flavour of the highest-spending consumer products,
- control of advertising expenditure by a cartel of media buyers,
- control of the advertising industry by international agencies and non-Malays
Malay papers, as a whole, far outsold all newspapers in the other languages
The factor of race, in the shape of Malay nationalism, was unavoidable in such a forum and its setting: hosted by an institution that was 95% mono-ethnic, and the theme of the forum seemingly an attempt to raise a false alarm bell, with the sub-text of another threat to Malay interests.
It could very well have played to the Perkasa gallery (and the chubby form of a Perkasa “warrior”, possibly Arman Azha, was spotted in the audience).
The familiar components of jingoistic Malay nationalism were also present, from the opening prayer, to the singing of the national anthem, and the singing of a song Warisan composed by an ITM academic with a video accompaniment illustrating the ills of Malay society — including street political demonstrations and FRU water cannons at play, dumped babies, and celebrity scandals.
Though discussion of Malay interests, as such, was unavoidable in discussing the future of Malay newspapers, the four media professionals were straight-forward and down-to-earth in their comments, viewing the situation factually and not through the prism of ideology.
It was an academic, Nordin Kardi, whose comments contained an ideological thrust, from discussing Jewish control of Hollywood and the media in general, to Jewish attempts to control the world using the example of hybrid high-yield rice strains which subsequently created a culture of dependency in rice farmers as they now needed pesticides, fertilisers and mechanical harvesters and ploughs to cope, all of which would be supplied by foreign, presumably Jewish-controlled, companies.
The metaphor of the foreign-controlled rice hybrid replacing the native strain, playing the strains of the very jingoistic nationalism that Zam pooh-pooed, were echoed in Nordin’s other comments.
Utusan should look further afield and go international — buy up media companies or start an English-language newspaper in South Africa, for example, or launch a Malay newspaper in East Timor.
He said the Timorese were turning to the Malay language as a lingua franca in reaction to the Indonesian of colonial oppression, and Utusan could start a Timor edition to cater to this need, and spread the Malay ideology.
Utusan could also launch a pilgrims edition: a free newspaper for the 30,000 or so people who make the haj every year: this would expose them to Utusan, possibly generating later sales, as well as keep them informed.
And to deal with foreign control of the advertising industry, he suggested that Malaysians launch a “dawn raid” — as in the takeovers of Guthrie and Sime Darby in the 1979s — to take over a leading world advertising agency.
Utusan and the other Malay newspapers should think out of the box to ensure their future, he said, picking up on the “blue ocean” theme now fashionable among the power elite.
It was difficult to tell how much impact his comments made.
But marketing man Adi Satria’s insights into the ad industry made with his animated enthusiasm, certainly stirred the audience.
He pointed out that Utusan was the only one consistently supporting Malay entrepreneurs at discounted prices — yet had difficulty making headway.
“The Star can charge RM40,000 for a full page ad but when I offer people a full page for RM30,000 they ask for RM15,000 — even RM10,000. And our pages are double the size! (Utusan is a broadsheet.)”
And picking up the sad refrain heard among circulation managers and editorial floors of all the politically-owned newspapers, Adi Satria said: “Umno claims to have 3mil members. If only 20% of them buy Utusan every day, I’d be laughing all the way to the bank.”
The same line often cropped up when The Star, newly bought over by the MCA and struggling for circulation sales, faced constant demands by branch and division chairmen for coverage.
And in Balai Berita, too, as the NST’s sales continued its steady decline.
For both of them, the future remains uncertain.
But at yesterday’s forum, the conclusion seemed clear, that for Malay-language newspapers and other media, whether Malay-owned or not, the future remains bright.
- Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin, former chief editor Utusan Malaysia
- Tan Sri Nordin Kardi, former vice-chancellor of Univeriti Utara Malaysia
- Datuk Seri Azman Ujang, former chief editor of Bernama and chairman of the Malaysian Press Institute
- Datuk Chamil Wariya, head of Malaysian Press Insitute and former managing editor of TV3
- Prof. Ahmad Murad Marican of Universiti Petronas
- Encik Adi Satria Ahmad, MD of Utusan Media Sales Sdn. Bhd.
Panel moderator: Dr Rahmat Ghazali, lecturer at the Faculty of Communications and Media Studies at UiTM.
Social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye made an appearance in a video interview, about sending his press statements to Utusan, and the paper’s role in highlighting social issues.
© 2010 uppercaise