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Monday, 20 November, 2000, 17:11 GMT
Malaysia's first online paper
The site strives for objectivity
By Janet Abbott

Malaysia's first newspaper to publish exclusively on the internet celebrates its first year in business this week.

Little-known outside south-east Asia, the team running has much cause to feel a sense of achievement at their ability to survive in a climate that does little to foster journalism.

Dr Mahathir: no internet censorship
Dr Mahathir: No internet censorship
Steven Gan and his team began Malaysiakini (Malaysia Now) out of a sense of frustration at having stories pulled by politically-sensitive editors worried about having their licence forfeited - or worse, being jailed under the prohibitive interpretations of the law of defamation.

It is one of the few media organisation providing independent news in the country.

Under existing media regulations in Malaysia, newspapers and broadcasters are permitted to practise at the discretion of the government on application for the necessary operating licence.

Prime Minister Mahathir's pledge to place Kuala Lumpur at the centre of the cyberworld in the region has led to a loophole in licensing for media outlets - Mr Gan and his team, a thorn in the side of the establishment, can operate without a licence.


Mr Gan previously worked as a columnist on Malaysia's newest title, The Sun.

His inspiration was the editor's promise that this newspaper would strive to fulfil the ideals of journalism, in particular objectivity concerning government activity and its record on human rights.

He soon became disillusioned when his column was either spiked or changed beyond recognition.

The final straw came in 1996 when his editor shied away from printing an exclusive on the plight of migrant workers reported to be dying of malnutrition in Malaysian work camps.

The workers' case was eventually exposed to the media by human rights worker Irene Fernande, who was subsequently arrested.

She was charged with ''spreading falsehoods'' and the workers' plight was ignored. Her trial started in 1996 and continues to this day, breaking records as the longest-running trial in the country.


On 20 November 1999, Malaysiakini fired up with its first story - an expose of the practices of Malaysia's biggest Chinese-language newspaper.

The paper Sin Chew Jit Poh published a photograph of members of the ruling party, but doctored it so that the controversial figure of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was replaced.

After the damning revelations on the web and its resultant world-wide infamy, the paper came clean and apologised.


Mr Gan and his expanding team see themselves as crusaders for freedom of speech, effective opposition, and crucially, media watchdogs.

In the beginning there were just three journalists turning around two or three stories a day.

Now 12 full-time journalists are employed, attracting an average of 117,000 visits daily.

The full extent of Malaysiakini's reach is difficult to assess, but Mr Gan is aware of students making hard copies of news items and distributing them to their families in the outlying areas of Malaysia.

"There is a hunger for real news and truth out there," he says. "We just have to make sure we survive."

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See also:

03 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian press curbs under attack
01 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia curbs opposition paper
15 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Malaysia's strongman Mahathir
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