What now for the Star, caught between its readers and politician owners?
Which way will the Star move?
What will the MCA do with its prize property, a RM1.2bln cash cow that gives the milk of a RM25mil dividend, now that the market has shifted?
Will the owners allow the paper to change its editorial stance, with the mass desertion of its core readership away from the MCA at the general election?
Will the owners allow the paper’s journalists more elbow room, as some editorial executives pleaded with the owners to do before the general election?
Will opposition politicians recognise that most of the working press chafes at their chains and the self-imposed restrictions of newsrooms in the Barisan Nasional empire?
Will opposition politicians continue to ignore the real frustrations of the working press which, once every five years, erupts in cheers and applause in the newsroom at every little gain by an opposition politician, in the face of grim, sulking executives?
Will the DAP cool off and pull back from its aggressive, often abusive and sometimes vindictive relationship with “mainstream” journalists — the wellspring of which seems to lie in the egoism and ambitious self-interest of politicians starved of their oxygen of publicity.
Will the general public recognise that not all opposition politicians who champion a free press, generally A Good Idea™, are driven by altruism? That self-interest is a strong motivator for many of them? That the working press do not all agree with a view of a free press being one that exists merely to create mass adulation of opposition grandees?
Star management buyout?
Fong Chan Onn, chairman of the Star, said on Tuesday: “I have received calls from the media making enquiries as to whether there are plans of a management buy-out. I regard such talk as malicious and speculative in nature. It also appears to be politically motivated as it comes at a time when the MCA is undergoing a difficult period.”
“Malicious”, Dr Fong said. Given the background to the words “management buyout”, it’s hard not to agree. A “management buyout” is what happened to the New Straits Times Press in the 1980s, when a Gang of Four management executives, on behalf of Umno deputy president Anwar Ibrahim, took over the company before injecting it into MRCB. (Anwar would later say that 70% of the shares were held by Mahathir Mohamad and that “it’s nothing to do with me”. NST insiders at the time also often called it Mahathir’s paper.)
If anything, talk of a “management buyout” will put in a bad light, by innuendo, the advertising grandee Vincent Lee, deputy executive chairman of the paper, whose agencies ran the MCA’s anti-DAP anti-PAS fearmongering election ad campaign; and the chief editor Wong Chun Wai, now the chief operating officer.
Massive drop in sales?
In the wake of the appeal by Bersih’s Ambiga Sreenevasan for a month-long boycott of the four big BN-owned newspapers (Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, New Straits Times, and the Star) came this breathless account through email and Facebook:
In just 2 days, after the launching of the boycott of Star, NST, Utusan, by Ambiga, the Star’s knees are trembling and they are seeing stars. A call was received at about 11 am this morning from the Stars circulation department asking for help. We were wondering what had prompted them to make the call. Simple: circulation has dropped, even those who had signed up for 1 years sub were cancelling, despite having to forfeit their unutilised sub, and sales at newspaper out lets were down.
Perhaps those circulating the shocking news forgot about the thousands of extra daily copies sold at bulk rate for free distribution by politicians and others. That stack in the photo at left is what remained one midnight of a single bulk order of 3,000 copies of the Star.
The New Straits Times had distributed at least 15,000 sponsored copies in the Klang Valley alone, and thousands of other copies of NST, Berita Harian and Metro given away at Barisan Nasional ceramahs and 1 Malaysia Welfare Club community-dinners-cum-ceramah.
End of World Cup soccer, drop in sales.
End of Olympics, drop in sales.
End of war, drop in sales.
Newspaper readers are fickle, driven by excitement.
So are some opposition supporters. Many thrive on provoking mass hysteria, out of a near-religious zeal, in this case desperate to urge the masses to rise up against the Star in support of Ambiga and the opposition. So would you, probably, if your job, income or future prospects depended on regime-change agents.
Maybe it’s a plot by Balai Berita circulation department.
Or perhaps a plot by Mergers & Acquisitions in support of some “management buyout” team?
There’s opportunity in chaos. Businessmen are well aware of that and know how to cash in.
So do politicians.