JOHOR BARU, Oct 13 — A Johor youth leader has voiced his reservations on the reported acquisition of media outlets by an individual that can lead to an unhealthy monopoly in the country.
Johor Member of Youth Parliament Nor Mohamad Shawaludin Abdul Malik claims that well-connected billionaire Syed Mokhtar Albukhary’s takeover of Umno’s former media stake will soon enable Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to have personal control of the media for political purposes.
He alleged that there is a clear agenda because Syed Mokhtar’s relationship with Dr Mahathir has been well known since the latter’s first term as the country’s prime minister.
“This would raise concerns as it is previously known that Syed Mokhtar had taken over Media Prima, Utusan Malaysia, The Malaysian Reserve and recently there were rumours of him buying The Star,” said Nor Mohamad in a statement issued yesterday.
His response was to news reports that Syed Mokhtar was poised to be the country’s next media mogul after his takeover of Media Prima and Utusan Malaysia shares.
The Media Prima acquisition will give him control over four newspapers, four free-to-air television stations, four radio stations, a production studio, an outdoor advertising company and also digital media.
Nor Mohamad, who is also Johor youth group Dewan Muda Johor member, said when Dr Mahathir was the country’s fourth prime minister, he used the Print and Publishing Act 1984 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to shut down the press and arrest several editors.
He accused Dr Mahathir of using the newly-acquired media platforms to control the minds of the Malays and the rural population as he found support for Pakatan Harapan to be low and failure of his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) to be popular among the Malays.
“In addition, it is not yet clear when the transfer of power from Dr Mahathir to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will take place as the agenda now becomes clearer and may trigger a national political conflict in the long run,” said Nor Mohamad.
He added that Syed Mokhtar’s efforts are extremely suspicious and will at the same time kill media freedom in Malaysia, contrary to what was promised by PH before the 14th general election (GE14).
“The rapid rise of digital and online media has also led to the decline in print media.”
Nor Mohamad said despite the government’s promise of several media transformations such as the setting up of the Media Council later this year, it is still not enough.
“This is because the media companies belong to just a few individuals that will bring Malaysia back to the ‘Mahazalim and Mahafiraun’ era of yesteryear,” he said, in reference to claims of Dr Mahathir’s authoritarian regime during his 22-year tenure as the nation’s fourth premier.
Nor Mohamad said it is hoped that all parties including the Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo, the ministry and media practitioners express their views now before it is too late.
In an announcement to the stock exchange on October 7, Utusan Malaysia’s publishing company Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd said it would sell a 70 per cent stake in its wholly-owned subsidiary Dilof Sdn Bhd to Aurora Mulia Sdn Bhd, a company that is believed to be controlled by Syed Mokhtar.
Dilof is the holder for the publishing licences issued by the home ministry for the group’s newspapers – Utusan Malaysia, Mingguan Malaysia, Kosmo and Kosmo Ahad.
In July, Aurora Mulia was reported to have bought Umno’s 11.09 per cent stake in Media Prima Bhd. In two more deals in July and August, Aurora Mulia raised its stake to 20.56 per cent.