Thursday, April 4, 2013

Election 2013: Testing times for Malaysia’s old media

Intended or otherwise, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s labelling of election 2013 as the “social media election” may have been acknowledging what is blindingly obvious to Malaysian voters: that the influence of its traditional media has somewhat diminished.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Pic: AP.
As with other countries who have headed to the polls in recent years social media has usurped print media as the main channel to access voters. With more than one-quarter of the Malaysian electorate voting for the first time this year and a Facebook ‘population’ of some 13m, more emphasis has been placed on the social media effect, just as bloggers dominated alternative media ahead of the 2008 election.
But the election might yet prove a watershed for Malaysia’s slavish newspapers, which are struggling to remain relevant in the digital age, with readers and influence ceded to the their more vocal online counterparts such as Malaysiakini and Malaysia Today.
The print and broadcast media in Malaysia remains dominated by large media companies with close links to political parties associated with the ruling National Front coalition, and its international standing has been hammered in recent years.
The country fell 23 places in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index to 145th out of 179 countries ― the country’s worst showing in the benchmark since 2002. That placed it lower than Southeast Asian neighbours such as Brunei, Indonesia and Cambodia.
While its major English language dailies – The New Straits TimesThe Star and The Edge – have seen readers desert since 2008, they aren’t circling the plughole just yet. But the upcoming election might entrench the idea that the old media hasn’t moved with Malaysian voters.

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