Nanyang Takeover - A Settling Of Scores

MGG Pillai

12:15pm, Tue: A straightforward business deal in which an MCA media company bought out a Chinese newspaper is now mired in political controversy. The deed is done. Huaren Holdings bought control of the Nanyang Siang Pau and its associated publications.  The parent company Nanyang Press Holdings, after the George Lee family gave up control, was owned by interests friendly to the MCA.

The latest takeover brings the party in direct control of the newspaper, as it did over the Star and its publications.

The MCA president, Dr Ling Liong Sik, is gungho about it, even if the deputy president, Lim Ah Lek, and others are opposed to it.  Now, the prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, supports it, and swears to high heaven that it is not politically motivated, which in Malaysia's highly-charged political atmosphere, means it is.

The deal is rammed through, the new owners ordering the Nanyang's senior editorial and administrative executives frogmarched out of office. The takeover has all the signs of a vendetta, with the new owners getting rid of those it considers responsible for reports that redounded on the MCA leaders.

A core of the newspaper's contributors threaten to stop writing for Nanyang under new management. The opposition - political parties, NGOs, journalists, concerned citizens - are up in arms. The opposition to it is more than over jobs and money; it is over the removal of yet another voice that sings a different tune.

However one looks at it, the Nanyang sale is caught up in the fractious uncertainties of Malaysian politics. The MCA is in the same boat over this as Umno is over the rescue of cronies and their businesses.

The MCA leaders, in the purchase, misunderstand the ground, is seen today as having done the community in by removing yet another relatively independent voice of the Chinese. The Anwar Ibrahim imbroglio, by extension, spreads to the politics of MCA and MIC, and the MCA in a spot over its purchase of Nanyang.

Culture and newspapers

The MCA buys the Nanyang when the Chinese community is at odds with the party. This is viewed not as an attempt to preserve a Chinese newspaper in trouble, as indeed the Nanyang is, what with falling circulation and advertisements, but deliberately to make it its mouthpiece. Whether that is its plan is irrelevant; it is perceived to be so.

In the 1980s, the MCA initiated a move to ensure that no Chinese newspaper in Malaysia would be forced to close down for lack of funds. When the Sin Chew Jit Poh got into financial difficulties, Chinese business men took it over not as a business proposition but to preserve it as as a cultural icon. That gave it the freedom to reorganise itself into a well-regarded newspaper, and is the leading Chinese newspaper in the country.

The Nanyang, as the more stolid newspaper, went public, brought in politically-motivated investors who went in for the money.  It unofficially represented the official worldview of Malaysian politics, represented. But businessmen who invest in newspapers with their accountants in tow would meet a brick wall soon enough. As it now has. Nanyang should have been rescued as Sin Chew was.  But leaving well enough alone is not the MCA style.

The purchase would put Nanyang on a firmer financial footing, but only if it regains lost ground from Sin Chew. As the New Straits Times found to its cost, it needs readers to make this work.  It is money and arrogance, not culture and profitability, that dictate the MCA's purchase. Ling insists that "if it is a good deal, they (Huaren) will go ahead". But it faces a political brick wall.

Left-handed compliment

Dr Mahathir, in his left-handed compliment that the MCA buying Nanyang is not politically motivated, also talks of political parties having their own organs. As usual, he fudges the issue. The DAP's Rocket and PAS' Harakah are published under strict laws that deny them to appear more than twice a month. They are party organs. 

They are not daily newspapers directly and indirectly controlled by the Barisan Nasional coalition, such as the New Straits Times, Berita Harian, Utusan Malaysia, Utusan Melayu, Nanyang Siang Pau, Sin Chew Jit Poh, the Star, the Sun and others.

That people would prefer the Harakah has a higher profile than the mainstream newspapers underlines the dilemma Dr Mahathir infers. He has ruled out publishing licences to non-BN parties for daily newspapers. That he has to justify the MCA purchase of Nanyang by pouring scorn on twice-monthly opposition publications makes it more important than a business deal.

More interesting is his comment that anyone can take over newspapers. When Tong Kooi Yong, then of the Phileo Allied group, took over the Sun newspaper and revamped it to challenge the New Straits Times and the Star, he had to abort the deal and now lives in exile with his business empire no more under his control.

That was politically motivated because at one time in the near past, he was in the ?camp? of the jailed former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim. Another is Quek Leng Chan, who before its sale to Huaren, ultimately controlled Nanyang Siang Pau. Umno roots out those who back Dr Mahathir's nemesis in fearsome revenge. He now wants MCA too. However one looks at it, it is a settling of scores.

The MCA is defensive when it explains the buy, is divided if it should. Umno is the ?dalang? (master puppeteer). Ling would not have ignored his own central committee and step into a quagmire otherwise.  The opposition to the MCA can only strengthen as Ling is seen as a satrap of the Umno president and not a representative of his own community.

Which is why the Chinese cultural heartland is so against the MCA and its president, and over this deal. This belief that only one point of view - its own - should be allowed is prevalent amongst all members of BN. It worked at one time. But when it presumes it knows what its community wants when it does not, sparks fly. As now. Money and arrogance cannot overcome a cultural hurt or slight.

M.G.G. Pillai

Artikel ini dibaca oleh:orang