Malaysia is a federation of 13 states covering an area of 329,750 square km. A parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, Malaysia shares a border in common with five of the 10 ASEAN countries, namely Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, and the Philippines. It has a population of 26.6 million, comprising the three major ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese, and Indian, and smaller ethnic minorities. The literacy rate is 93.5 percent, and newspapers are published in the Malay, English, Chinese, and Tamil languages. Radio and television programs are also broadcast in these languages.
The British had a great influence on the development of print and broadcasting in Malaysia, as well as the laws related to its press. It was the third European power to colonize Malaya after the Portuguese (1511) and the Dutch (1641). While the Portuguese and the Dutch confined their interests largely to Malacca (present-day Melaka), the British acquired the island of Penang in 1786, and expanded their influence to Singapore (1819), Malacca (1824), and from 1874 the Malay states. British interests introduced the press to Malaysia 200 years ago, and created a press system based on laws and regulations. The first newspaper, the Government Gazette, was published on March 1, 1806. Following the practice in the three East India Company presidencies in India, the editor had to submit proof sheets of his newspaper before publication to the government for censorship (Mohd Safar 1996).
The Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984, the law governing the press, can be traced to the Indian Act No. 11 of 1835, a law to repeal all laws and regulations pertaining to censorship of the press in Bengal, Bombay, and Madras which was extended to Singapore, Penang, and Malacca. The law required owners of printing presses to register their equipment, in effect creating press freedom in the colony. It was in force until 1920 when, following “lawlessness” involving vernacular newspapers, the Straits Settlements government in Singapore reintroduced licensing of the printing presses by turning it into Printing Presses Ordinance. A similar law was enacted in the Federated Malay States in 1924. Later, in 1939, the government further amended the ordinance to include the requirement of a publishing permit to counter Japanese propaganda. These two landmark provisions continue to this day in Malaysia (Mohd Safar 1996).
In February 2006, some 67 publishing permits of newspapers were issued by the Ministry of Internal Security, a requirement under the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984. Of these, 58 newspapers are in publication, five are still pending, three have ceased publication, and one was suspended indefinitely by the government for reprinting caricatures of the prophet Muhammad previously published by a Danish newspaper (the owners themselves also decided to cease publication following the incident). There are 26 newspapers in Chinese, 14 in English, 14 in Malay, and 4 in Tamil. Most of the 34 newspapers are based in peninsular Malaysia, while nine are based in Sabah and 15 in Sarawak. Leading newspapers are the Star, the Sun (free newspaper), New Straits Times (in English); Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, and Harian Metro (in Malay); Sin Chew Daily and Nanyang Siang Pau (in Chinese); and Tamil Nesan and Malaysian Nanban (in Tamil). Political parties publish party newsletters using special permits. Such newspapers include the Rocket of the Democratic Action Party, the Harakah of the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party, and Suara Sosialis of the Parti Rakyat. The Keadilan Party also publishes a newsletter, Suara Keadilan, without a permit, as its application for one has not to date been approved by the government.
Broadcasting in Malaysia began in 1921 as an amateur effort by nearly a dozen wireless societies in Malaya. This early experiment led to the formation of the Radio Service Company of Malaya (RSCM) in 1933, and two years later the British Malaya Broadcasting Company (BMBC) was set up. After the Japanese occupation, the British set up Radio Malaya in 1946. Following the unsuccessful communist revolt in 1948, radio became an important source of communication with the people. Radio broadcasting has come a long way since then, with government and commercial radio stations operating side by side. In 2006, the Malaysian government operated 30 radio stations at national, regional, and local levels in various languages and dialects. There are also 26 commercial radio stations, including Astro’s eight channels (Media Guide 2006).
Initially, television was owned and operated by the government through Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM). It started with black and white broadcast on December 28, 1963 which was followed by a second channel six years later in November 1969. With the introduction of an international standard satellite earth station in Kuantan, Pahang in 1970, a television link was established to Sabah and Sarawak. Color television arrived on December 28, 1978. The private commercial station TV3 started in 1984, ending the government monopoly. Ten years later, in 1995, the government licensed two more private TV stations: Metrovision and Mega TV. The first was a terrestrial UHF channel in the Klang Valley. The second was a 10-channel (initially five-channel) cable TV station. Astro, Malaysia’s first satellite broadcasting station, with 23 TV channels and eight radio channels, joined the competition after Malaysia launched its first satellite, Measat 1, in January 1996, followed by Measat 2 a little later. Another commercial TV station with nationwide coverage, NTV7, began operation in 1998. Another station, Channel 9, was also approved but its operation was delayed. Metrovision (Channel 8) went through a hard time and was eventually bought over by Media Prima, but Mega TV closed down.
Broadcasting is now concentrated in three major entities, the government, the Media Prima group, and the Astro group. The government operates RTM1 and RTM2. Media Prima is the only group to own print publications as well as radio and television stations, i.e., TV3, Channel 8, Channel 9, and NTV7, while Astro owns the satellite channels. Astro doubled its number of channels in 2007 with the launch of the Measat-3 satellite on December 12, 2006, and its full commissioning on January 26, 2007. The new satellite not only increased the capacity of its key orbital location, but expanded the three Measats’ “footprint” to over 70 percent of the world’s population across three continents. Two newcomers in the broadcasting scene are MiTV (interactive TV) and Fine TV. MiTV is the second pay, or subscription, television channel in Malaysia, using digital terrestrial broadcast and IP or UHF technology, while Fine TV is an interactive on-demand pay television channel, the third in Malaysia, which went on air on December 26, 2006.
Most newspapers also have an online version but Malaysiakini is the only online newspaper apart from news portals and blogging sites. Malaysia’s Multimedia Bill of Guarantee provides for no censorship of the Internet.
- Mohd Safar Hasim (1996). Akhbar dan kuasa [The press and power]. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press.
- Mohd Safar Hasim, Sarji, A., & Gunaratne, S. (2002). Malaysia. In S. Gunaratne (ed.), Handbook of the media in Asia. New Delhi: Sage.
- Media Guide (2006). Media Guide 2006. Kuala Lumpur: Perception Media.
- Thomas, P., & Nain, Z. (eds.) (2004). Who owns the media? Global trends and local resistances. Penang: Southbound; London and New York: Zed.