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Malay Mail poised to change hands again

Malaysia In The News

 

KUALA LUMPUR, May 30 — A unit of media company Redberry is poised to acquire 75 per cent of the Malay Mail, one of the country's oldest newspapers, which has been struggling with continued losses despite a change of ownership more than a year ago.

Redberry, which is privately held, has quietly made a name for itself in Kuala Lumpur's advertising industry, having corralled the rights to advertise in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, most of the country's major highways, many of Kuala Lumpur's buses, and in three of the city's largest supermarkets.

The media company is controlled by businessman Siew Ka Wei and his ethnic Malay partner Mohamad Al-Amin Abdul Majid. The latter is also chairman of the state agency Small and Medium Industries Development Corporation and is known to be a confidant of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Currently, the newspaper is owned by Media Prima, a listed media company owned by a unit of Umno, and businessman Ibrahim Mohamad Nor in equal parts. For his part, Ibrahim bought out the Malay Mail last year from its previous owner, the New Straits Times Press, the country's largest publisher.

Redberry, according to executives familiar with the matter, is coming in as a white knight because the newspaper is reeling from losses of RM7-8 million. Media Prima will completely exit while Ibrahim will hold the residual 25 per cent interest. It isn't clear how much Redberry will pay but given the fact that it will assume the newspaper's almost RM11 million debt load, it may not be much.

The executives said that the newspaper will, once again, change its editorial and business direction by printing a limited number of newspapers that will be distributed free and aggressively going on-line.

Siew and Mohamad intend to recall Ahiruddin Atan, a blogger who used to edit the newspaper when it was under the NSTP, as the daily's editor.

It will not be easy. Ibrahim began with similarly high hopes only to run afoul of the global financial crisis. Print advertising in Malaysia is down by nearly a third compared to a year ago.

The 111-year-old Malay Mail has gone through several incarnations. Two years ago under the NSTP, it underwent a makeover that eschewed hard news and business reports for a more hip entertainment and sports-led format. That failed and Ibrahim attempted bringing back the old format but sales remain at around 20,000.

Indeed, the newspaper's circulation has slid from its peak of over 60,000 in the mid-1980s. Advertising revenue has kept in step, plummeting to RM10 million annually from its peak of RM70 million in 1997.

Much of the Malay Mail's problems were self-inflicted, not so much by the editorial side but by the publishers. In 1997, for example, the Malay Mail was the NSTP's single most profitable unit through its grip on classifieds which, in the nature of a virtuous cycle, actually intensified its popularity.

When the Asian financial crisis broke in 1998, The Star, Malaysia's largest-selling English daily and NSTP's biggest rival, gave huge discounts to property agents and car dealers — the ones most affected by the crisis. The Malay Mail couldn't, or wouldn't, offer such rebates — and it prompted a shift to The Star. Once readers moved, the rival paper's massive circulation ensured that they would stay, and the Malay Mail's circulation plummeted. — Business Times Singapore

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