Spurred by an expected economic slowdown, Media Chinese International Limited - the country’s largest Chinese press group - is poised to undergo a drastic consolidation plan.
According to industry sources, this will lead to a complete overhaul of the Chinese-language newspaper market.
The group, owned by Sarawak timber tycoon Tiong Hiew King, has four publications - Sin Chew Daily, China Press, Guang Ming Daily and Nanyang Siang Pau - in its stable.
Sources revealed that the yet-to-be finalised plan aims at cutting costs by repositioning the Chinese dailies to address a significant fall in revenue in recent years due to the shrinking of the print advertising market.
Sin Chew , which boasts the highest circulation among the Chinese newspapers, will remain as the group’s flagship publication and the main national daily. Whereas, China Press, according to sources, could be remade as an evening paper.
Meanwhile, Nanyang Siang Pau is expected to be transformed into a full-blown financial newspaper to be published only three times a week, while Guang Ming may confine its focus on the northern region market.
According to sources, the plan is designed to also eliminate competition among the group’s newspapers.
When Tiong acquired Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press from MCA in 2006 to add to his Sin Chew and Guang Ming , the rivalry among these newspapers helped quash public fears that the monopoly would lead to news being controlled by one tycoon.
Sources told Malaysiakini the new plan has already been put into effect when Sin Chew and Guang Ming ceased their evening editions this year in five states - Perak, Malacca, Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu.
It was also revealed that Guang Ming planned to down size or shut down all its bureaus, maintaining operations only in the northern region in order to compete with another regional Chinese newspaper, Kwong Wah Yit Poh , which commands a strong following in Penang.
Currently, Kwong Wah Yit Poh and Oriental Daily are the only two Chinese newspapers which do not belong to Tiong’s media conglomerate.
As for Nanyang Siang Pau , sources said its revamp could begin either in March or April.
Top guns tightlipped
Malaysiakini was informed that Nanyang Siang Pau’s top management held a briefing for its workers’ union last Wednesday but there was little mention of the upcoming revamp.
The management nevertheless said there would be changes in human resources, hinting possible staff cuts, due to the daily’s ailing financial performance.
Malaysiakini has attempted to contact Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd Group chief operations officer Liew Sam Ngan and the daily’s editor-in-chief Chong Choong Nam for comment on the matter but the duo have yet to respond.
Meanwhile, Media Chinese International chief executive officer Tiong Kiew Chiong refused to comment when contacted. Guang Ming editor-in-chief Poon Chau Huay also chose to remain tightlipped.
Although the plan has yet to be announced, news of the revamp has been circulating in the media circle in recent weeks.
As the issue could not be confirmed, National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president and Sin Chew union chief Chin Sung Chew also declined to comment.
Media Chinese International’s interim financial report shows that Tiong’s media group is facing a dramatic drop in profits.
According to the report, for the six months ending on Sept 30, 2014, the profit for the group was US$18,493,000, a reduction of 28.22 percent, compared to the corresponding period in 2013, which recorded a profit of US$25,765,000.
The group, which is listed in both Hong Kong and Malaysia, conceded that it faced a “tough business environment” in the first half of 2014/2015 financial year.
“Against the background of weak consumer sentiment, negative impact from MH370 and MH17 tragedies and absence of political advertising from last year’s (2013) election, (Malaysia) segment
revenue declined by 8.9 percent, or US$12,961,000, to US$132,197,000,” the report says.
The report points out that the four Chinese dailies have 70.4 percent share of the Chinese newspaper market in Malaysia and took approximately 74.5 percent of the total advertising expenditure (Adex) for Chinese dailies.
Fear over Nanyang’s future
Among the affected dailies, the fate of Nanyang Siang Pau has attracted the most attention.
Certain quarters have expressed concern that the newspaper, which was established in 1923, will eventually meet its demise once its frequency is slashed from daily to three times a week.
MCA took control of the newspaper, along with China Press , in 2001 through its investment arm Huaren Holdings amid much public uproar, with some even describing it as the darkest period in country’s Chinese media history.
The Chinese community and numerous clan associations mounted a campaign to oppose the MCA takeover while a slew of columnists threatened to cease writing for the publication.
Five years later, Huaren sold 21.02 percent of the shares to Ezywood Options Sdn Bhd, a private company owned by Tiong, which saw the tycoon controlling 44.76 percent of the daily. MCA subsequently divested all its shares in the two newspapers.
Tiong subsequently merged his Chinese daily companies in Malaysia with his Ming Pao group in Hong Kong to form Media Chinese International.