The home ministry has rejected the explanation by the Star last week about its publication of a controversial Erykah Badu photograph, which caused the singer’s scheduled concert to be banned.
Amidst fears that the government intends to suspend the paper, the ministry asked the Star to provide “a more affirmative proposal” to the ministry of measures to ensure that further instances do not recur.
This is being interpreted to mean indirect pressure by the government to promote more Malay or Muslim journalists into editorial executive positions; the KDN has hauled up the Star on several occasions before about its coverage on Islamic matters.
Two editors of the Star’s features section Star2 were suspended by the paper last week, and two senior editors who are Muslim have been assigned to oversee the section’s content.
Unconfirmed information is that ministry officials were seeking to meet with Star management.
If the paper is suspended — which would be unlikely in current circumstances with the government having to face elections within a year — it would only be for the second time since 1987 when its publishing licence was revoked. Sin Chew Jit Poh, Watan and the Star were suspended in September 1987, in the midst of an intense internal power struggle within Umno, leading to the government launching a large security operation in which more than 100 politicians, academicians and activists, and some priests were detained under the Internal Security Act.
Any KDN action against the Star will please Islamic conservatives and some sections of PAS, who mounted a steady barrage of criticism in the PAS online newspaper Harakah Daily after the Star published the Erykah Badu photograph, an official publicity photo obtained from her record label to illustrate a pre-concert publicity interview. The photograph had also been displayed on Erykah Badu’s web site for weeks (but the site has since been blanked out after the concert ban).
Suspension of the Star would also be of immediate benefit to its Umno-owned competitor the New Straits Times, whose average daily circulation has now fallen to below 70,000 fully paid copies, and to the recently-relaunched Malay Mail, owned by Redberry Group, whose owners are believed to be allies of Umno president Najib Razak. The Mail, now a national morning paper, is believed to have a circulation of below 30,000 a day.
During the Star’s six-month suspension in 1987-88, the NST doubled its circulation to 300,000 copies a day; sales dropped sharply after the Star was allowed to resume publication and have been on the decline for the past decade.