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The Malaysiakini Story... (or How We Began)
Published:  Oct 14, 2009 3:01 PM
Updated: 9:48 AM

NONE It was November 1998 - two months following the expulsion and arrest of deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

The mainstream media were publishing only government-sanctioned views of the leadership feud which had gripped Malaysia.

"The need for independent news was clear. At one of those late night supper discussions at a mamak restaurant in Petaling Jaya, there were suggestions to set up an underground newspaper," said co-founder Premesh Chandran, a former journalist at The Sun who was then working for the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress.

NONE "However, a more sustainable alternative was mooted – a news website."

The original idea called for a group of not more than four people to publish three to five stories a day. The website would be sustained by donations and through income from running a cybercafe side-business.

Humble beginnings at a cybercafé

Premesh wrote a one-page concept paper and this was distributed to interested individuals. The project's working title was 'The Daily Diet – it's free, fast and true'.

After dozens of presentations and much scepticism, six individuals put together RM30,000 to buy over a cybercafe in SS2, Petaling Jaya.

It was to be the operations centre for the website. The name Malaysiakini became the final choice of the site and with it a new tagline was coined - 'Only the news that matters'.

NONE The domain was registered in April 1999. However, by July, the cybercafé was running at a loss and had to be sold.

"It looked like the project wasn't going anywhere. But then, we managed to convince the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance - a coalition of journalist organisations in the region - to provide us a US$100,000 grant," said co-founder Steven Gan, who was then an editorial writer in The Nation , a newspaper in Thailand.

Blueprint of the website

Malaysiakini opened its office on Oct 1 at a fourth-floor shoplot near the now-demolished Jaya Supermarket in Section 14, Petaling Jaya. Gan, who had returned from Bangkok days earlier, moved into the office.

"We were not given any time to settle in. Within weeks, then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad surprised everyone by calling a snap election. At that time, most had expected the polls to be held in 2000," said Gan.

"It was decided that the launch would be done earlier - Malaysiakini would go live on nomination day, Nov 20, 1999."

Work began on the blueprint of the website.

azlan The Malaysiakini version 1.0 was maintained by a 19-year-old web designer, Sarah Shazreena Sharin.

With five days to go before launch, Malaysiakini 's first three full-time journalists - Ng Boon Hooi, Hidayatul Ein Azmi and Ajinder Kaur - reported to work, along with a handful of volunteers.

And without much fanfare, on nomination day of the 1999 general elections, Malaysiakini went live.

We were born.

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