Marketing Guide

Mainstream and Alternative media

Malaysia’s media is said to be one of the most dynamic when it comes to advertising and marketing. Basically, they are divided into 2 types namely mainstream and alternative media which have their own set of benefits.

Mainstream media in Malaysia

The state of Malaysia mainstream media content and control generated mixed responses from the public. The history of beginnings for Malaysia mainstream media can be traced back to 1990s when government decided to encourage private operators to set up media organizations.

Media companies growing

Since Malaysia is a multi-ethnic state, these new media organizations created various newspapers, TV channels and radio stations to cater to the three main ethnic groups in the country – Malays, Chinese and Hindus.
While these new media organizations are commonly known as privately-owned, it is somehow affiliated to political parties like:

  • United Malay National Organization (UMNO)
  • Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
  • Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC)

State-controlled media companies

Do you know that Media Prima is a shareholder of NSTP Group? The group owns a total of four free-to-air television channels in the country namely TV3, NTV7, 8TV and Channel 9. Another broadcast media, Rancangan Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) which is a government-funded group owned the two remaining free-to-air television channels, TV1 and TV2.

The best-selling English daily, The Star under Star Publications (M) Bhd is under the control of Huaren Holdings Sdn Bhd. Other mainstream papers such as Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times, Harian Metro and Berita Harian are under government controlled through the practice of restrictive laws such as PPPA, ISA, Sedition Act and OSA.
Meanwhile, The Edge and The Sun newspapers are owned by Vincent Tan. Despite fighting for freedom of speech, these mainstream media still practiced self-censorship to avoid their license being revoked by government.

While many tend to associate mainstream media with state intervention or government-controlled, Malaysian government 'has never meddled' in news management in mainstream media including government-funded RTM.
The government has often claimed that it had not meddled in the management and selection of news reported including those aired by RTM and that these media are free to decide and select news.

According to the ministry, the media organizations are free to think what exactly is news value and select news based on priority. Government has never interfere with their selection of news. But some scholars argued that Malaysian government ensure that the world will never witness the ugly side of the country. Only the good things about the country or government will be published in the media. The journalists in mainstream media are merely following the 'cues' given by the government.

End of mainstream media in Malaysia?

So is this the end of mainstream media? Apparently not. Even though alternative media is at your fingertips, the older generation still rely heavily on mainstream media such as newspapers. Mainstream media such as newspapers (The Star, New Straits Times, Berita Harian, Harian Metro, Utusan Malaysia, China Press, Sin Chew Daily) still serve the majority by feeding them with facts obtained directly from the government.

While these media lack of critical commentaries and articles to educate the readers, it still serves as a source of information. However, since the Reformasi movement in 1997, mainstream media has lose its credibility as more readers are turning to alternative media for news and insightful commentaries. As a result, mainstream newspapers are exaggerating and sensationalizing news to maintain and boost readership.
But can you survive a week without reading any of the newspapers or watching free-to-air television channel? I doubt so. So perhaps mainstream media will still be around for some time.

Alternative Media rising in popularity

As mainstream media lose its credibility, readers have no other option but to turn to alternative media such as Malaysiakini, MalaysianMirror and The Nut Graph for information and latest happenings in the country.
Even though the mainstream media dominates Malaysian media scene, alternative media on the Internet is catching up as younger generations prefer to read and obtain news directly from the Net. According to Nielsen Media Index, Internet penetration has seen a tremendous growth in the last decade. These days, the Internet has reached about 8 out of 10 people in Malaysia. It simply showed that more Malaysians are reading online news.

The updated content is one of the pulling factors that encourage Malaysians to opt for alternative media. But then again, loyal readers and news seekers have not abandoned print media totally. Nine out of 10 people still prefer hard-copy news.

Alternative media is blooming in the country as Malaysians are seeking alternatives for unbiased news. Generally, alternative media also known as independent media offers different viewpoints from mainstream media. These independent media serves as a platform for the people to voice out their ideas and opinions on the latest happenings (particularly against the ruling party – government).

Freedom of speech is important in democratic society. A democratic society allows the citizens to voice out their thoughts without fear. Unfortunately, freedom of speech has its limit in democratic Malaysia.
Since the mainstream media practiced self-censorship (or are controlled by the government), thus alternative media in Malaysia gained wider acceptance from readers who value insightful commentaries and thoughts.

Not easy for free speech

Sadly, these alternative media have to pay their price for publishing unbiased news. For example, on January 2003, police raided

Malaysiakini's office to investigate a controversial letter questioning policy for the bumiputras that was published on January 9, 2003. As the editors refused to reveal the identity and name of the writer, police seized 19 computers from their office in Bangsar.

It gained support from readers as some decided to donate money to support Malaysiakini's operation. Later on, over 200 people gathered outside their office and held a candlelight vigil over the matter.

Besides that, another alternative media – Aliran also struggled to make their voices heard. Run by a team of volunteers, this monthly magazine sometimes failed to publish on time due to lack of manpower and fund. Over the years, Aliran has published stories about the minority groups such as rural farmers, ethnic minorities, refugees, detainees, women, migrant workers and lower income group to raise awareness among the people.

Back in 1980s, Aliran applied for license to publish the magazine in Bahasa Malaysia. Unfortunately, the application was rejected. Aliran and any other alternative media in Malaysia aim to create a space to make their voices heard, raise public awareness and publish unbiased stories (different perspectives). However with the restrictive laws in Malaysia, these independent media have a long way to go.