Monday, May 31, 2004

The engine overhaul at my own server is now completed.

You may view Screenshots with its interactive commentaries from readers at from now.

Sorry for the inconvenience inthe last 5 days or so.

NST loses more readers

The latest report from Nielsen Media Research (NMR) indicates that the No. 3 English Paper (daily circulation 135,000) has lost another 13.3% in daily readership since Kalimullah Masheerul Hassan took over as the Group EIC on January 1.

Significantly, the pull of gavity was at work. The 2004 general election and the high-octane spin-doctoring around the announcement of Pak Lah's Cabinet did not help boost readership for the Big-Mind Big Man's paper.

According to NMR report, which monitors daily media consumption of all adults aged 15+, the average issue readership of the New Straits Times has dropped to 278,000 in Q1, 2004 from 321,00 in Q4m 2003.

In comparison, The Star has dropped from 990,000 in Q4, 2003 to 960,000 in Q1, 2004, while theSun has dropped from 173,000 to 155,000.

It is noticed that the NST and theSun are the only two English papers which registered a 2-digit decline in daily readership during the period, at 13.3% and 10.4%, respectively.

In comparison, all Chinese press - except Nanyang Siang Pau - and Tamil newspapers have registered improved daily readership across the board.

Another newspaper from the NSTP stable, Beritan Harian, has dropped 2.1% from 1,402,00 to 1,373,000 in the Q-to-Q comparison of the daily readership, while Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia dropped 2.5% from 1,448,000 to 1,412,000.

One consolation for NSTP is that its English and Malay tabloids, known for their sensationalised and saucy frontpages, have seen upward trends in readership.

The Malay Mail, which is now distributed beyond the Klang Valley, improved by 9.6% in daily readership, increasing from 114,000 in Q4, 2003 to 125,000 in Q1, 2004. Harian Metro improved by 7.7%, shooting from 982,000 to 1,058,000 during the same period.

One wonders was it because of the trials of Canny Ong and Noritta's murders that helped boost the tabloids' readership?

The Audit Bureau of Circulation Malaysia (ABCM) has not released the 2003 statistics at this point in time, so I only have the 2002 figures with me, which had been blogged some time back.

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Pak Lah: 'Don't deprive the 128 top-scorers'

We are still staring at the plight of 128 students who obtained straight A's in their examination but have failed to get admission to pursue medicine in public universities.

Was PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi shown - the rakyat weren't - the list of 128 top-scorers and their Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) details? Were the affected students from STPM or matriculation examination?

I must say the government has not been transparent on this aspect as officials at the Ministry of Higher Education have been conspiciously silent on this part of the facts.

Nevertheless, Abdullah said, via a Bernama dispatch from Shanghai, that he has "some ideas" on resolving the case of affected 128 students.

"I think we should support them and not deprive them of the opportunity to continue their education...that is very important," he said.

However, he said he would discuss the matter with the Cabinet tomorrow before making an announcement.

Meanwhile, deputy minister of Internal Security Noh Omar wanted all parties to stop debating the issue in the open, according top Utusan Online. He said such debates are very sensitive and may disrupt peace in the country as theyhad triggered racial sentiment among the people.

However, Awang Selamat outright disagrees with Noh, saying that Noh's decision is unwise.

Awang says the issue of national peace being disrupted does not arise. as Malaysians are now mature enough to handle such issues in a responsible manner. Most importantly, Awang says, people's grouses and suggestions should be heard in order to find a solution to the problem.

Utusan Malaysia's leader turns milder in tone compared to Awang Selamat's commentary on Sunday.

In tandem with Abdullah's imperative that he would bring this up at the Cabinet tomorrow, NST comes out with a last-minute leader (not available on online version as I blogged this) titled: Points of contention, which talks very much along racial divides of meritocracy. Excerpts:

Last year, a student needed a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.88 to study medicine at oneof the public universities. This year, the bar is higher. The maximum CGPA of 4.0 is needed. A total of 907 applicants have that, but there are 779 places. So, 128 failed to make the cut, and so did the rest of the applicants with CGPAs of 3.99 and below. The 128 are naturally dissatisfied and their parents disappointed. They have been joined by politicians, activists and the general public who are not only sympathetic to their plight, but have kicked up a storm to give them a chance to fulfil their dream of becoming doctors. Their prospects have become brighter since the Prime Minister has said the Government is looking into ways to help them

The No. 3 Paper continues to fill the subsequent paragraphs of the leader with rationales skewed towards Bumiputera-ism and alleged racial discrimination, which the paper says, is doing "great injustice to Bumiputera students". More excerpts:
Bumiputera students have been saddled for far too long withthe prejudice that they do not go to university on merit. It is three years since the quotadriven affirmative-action university admission policy was dismantled. But it seems that the dissatisfaction, resentment and culture of victimhood is created still colour the perceptions of many Malaysians.

It, however, give an aesthetic makeover to the Op-Ed piece by saying that, "It is time we became colur-blinded and looked at education in a neutral light."

BN PARTY HELPING OUT. Despite the racial posturing in Utusan Malaysia and the NST, MCA has asked the 128 top-scorers to file their appeals and not to give up in despair.

Yesterday, the MCA headquarters were swarmed with over 400 frustrated students who voiced their grievances and intent to appeal for places in the public universities.

According to MCA Youth chief Ong Tee Keat, mostof the students were not offered the courses they applied fro or were offered courses which were incompatible with their studies.

He said theparty would go all out to help the students in their appeals because "we don't want another round of brain-drain to happen".

On the other hand, health minister Dr Chua Soi Lek said the government loses on average one doctor EVERYDAY as the number of doctors who retire or quit to join the private sector is about 300 per year. As a result, only about 700 doctors are left in government service at the end of each year though the six IPTA and six IPTS that offer medical programmes can train about 1,000 doctors annually.

Dr Chua said Malaysia still needs 3,300 doctors, 700 specialists, 600 pharmacies, 500 dentists and 5,000 nurses in order to achieve the 1:650 doctor-patient ratio by 2015.

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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Prayers from Beijing: 'Big Brothers and Mainstream Press unite!'

Big Brothers of mainstream papers unite!

That's the holy grail a Big Businessmen's Journalist (borrowing from Pak Kadir's stereotyping) discovered while in the land of ex-communists. Was it because of Das Kapital? I'm not sure.

Significantly, with the revelation last Sunday, Star's Wong Sulong, NexNews' Ho Kay Tat and P. Gunasegaram must be seen in the same light - and shadow - of the Big-Mind Big-Man from now on, no matter it's aligned with or against their wish, unilaterally or otherwise. The brotherhood is already cast in print (daily circulation: 135,000).

I do not attempt to quote things out of context, but I do derive satisfaction that bloggers get mentioned - ahead of bereaucrats and politicians, and in that particular order - in two of three snippets in a half broadsheet-page of a Sunday column, apparently dispatched from Beijing:

A changing China

What has changed in China, you would wonder. No access to information? God, aren’t we lucky in Malaysia that anyone can slander another on a blog, websites and through the SMS and poison-pen letters? [...]

The greater freedoms would come. It would be an irreversible process. There would be a day, not too far in the future, when China would have the freedoms that Malaysians have taken for granted.

Thankless job

In five months back as a journalist, I again begin to see how thankless a job it really is. Fulfilling at times, satisfying at others, exciting, but, still thankless.

Everyone is an expert. There are journalist wannabes who attack editors like The Star’s Wong Sulong and people like me, expecting us to guide editorial policy the way they think it should be.

Never mind that they have never been journalists for even a day but they have opinions on everything.

When Sulong, Ho Kay Tat, Gunasegaram of The Edge and I don’t do what they do, we are libelled and slandered. Even racial slurs are thrown at us.

And these "good men" talk about Press freedom? God forbid they ever have a say in decision-making or head a newspaper.

Then there are the petty bureaucrats who see an agenda behind any article that expresses an alternative view. Or politicians ....aaah, politicians, opposition or government alike. [...]

An editor at another newspaper who has been on the receiving end of some venomous attacks says that if we are nice to the "bloggers" and acknowledge their "power", they will lay off us.

But senior editors at other newpapers and I do not believe in being intimidated by such petty slander and racial slurs, painful though it may be.

We have discussed this many times and we see great hope and expectation in Abdullah’s openness and commitment to greater freedoms.

The Malaysian Press has it much easier now than in recent memory, and the atmosphere is, to be unimaginative in my choice of words, great.

And just like China, I believe we will see greater changes in the area of Press freedom in the months and years to come.

When bureaucrats and politicians see criticism in the light it is made, when journalists and bloggers do not pursue personal agendas, and when editors do not get labelled anarchists for doing the right thing, Malaysia would have taken that extra step. Amen.

I remember well that peasants and literati - journalists included - were not entitled to even an iota of opinion under Mao Zedung. That was also about the time some 30 years ago when Razak first stepped foot at Tien-An-Men.

It's hilariously amazing to note how, 30 years after Malaysia-China established bilateral diplomatic relationship, an archaic mind in modern suits has been annointed to lead Abdullah's spin - now by publicly taking along senior editors from other newspapers down the commune path.

Big Brothers of mainstream press unite?

Let him shout. But bloggers can and should do NONE of this! It's pure-play Maoism and Stalinism in the eyes of my generation of information consumers - thinking allowed, thinking aloud.

Haven't we seen enough tragedies under the tyranny of media blackouts?

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'Brain-deaditis' sabotaging meritocracy system

To the pundits, 128 is a very 'ong' number that is perceived to promise prosperity and good fortune.

But not for our 128 top-scoring students in STPM and matriculation examinations. They have been denied admissions into medical courses at our public universities (IPTA) under the meritocracy system. All 128 of them.

In fact, the best student in last year's pre-U examination was denied a place in the university of his choice for his medical course.

No, they are denied entry not because they are brain-dead.

It's officials at the Ministry of Higher Education, who prepared their placing, who appear to be suffering from 'brain-deaditis' (sorry, I coined this term for want of better ones). Because, the bureaucrats are now blaming the computer for making the blunders.

Last Friday, Screenshots faulted the NST, the Malay and Chinese for putting racial colours on the issue and forewarned that the university admission-by-meritocracy issue may be made controversial.

It is fast becoming a racial issue, as if certain media is reading from a prepared script. Yesterday, the DPM was quick to raise the alarm bell.

The crux of the issue is this: While we talk so much about stopping 'Brain-Drain' and to institute a 'Brain-Gain' effect to help Malaysia charge forward as a developed country by 2020, where human capital reigns supreme, how much commitment do we have as a country to develop our budding local talents and retain them?

And this is what happened for this round of university admission, supposedly grounded on meritocracy and assisted by computer-aided selection. This is what has affected the aspirants for medical courses, which is but a facet of the problems, via Star Online:

The Star highlighted on Friday that the 128 STPM and matriculation students who obtained the maximum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 4.0 had failed to get a place in medicine, their first choice. Only 779 out of 907 top students who applied were successful.

On hindsights, we are enlightened with three types of reaction coming out of this: ( 1 ) From the mainstream media ( 2 ) From the political parties ( 3 ) From the budding talents whose future the braind ead dictates.

1. From the mainstream media.

As usual, Awang Selamat came out with a Sunday commentary for the propaganda machienry to gain a grounding.

This is how Awang dispensed with his verdict:
Masalah tentu akan timbul jika sistem meritokrasi terus dipersoalkan. Hakikatnya, terdapat juga pelajar Melayu yang layak tetapi tidak mendapat pengajian pilihan masing-masing. Mereka juga kecewa seperti para pelajar Cina dan India.

Apa yang hendak Awang tekankan ialah permasalahan ini tidak boleh dilihat dari sudut perkauman, seolah-olah yang tercicir itu hanyalah pelajar Cina dan India. [...]

Awang tidak terkejut jika pelajar-pelajar Cina yang gagal mendapat pengajian yang mereka pilih menolak pengajian yang ditawarkan kepada mereka dan akan ke IPTS.

I expect the spin in the Malay media and the bureaucrats to sustain this posture until the issue is swept under the carpet, and to be revisited the same time next year. The Malay press simply love the messy-go-round in higher education as far as their past records can attest.

2. From the political parties.

Thus far, MCA minister Dr Chua Soi Lek, MIC minister S. Samy Vellu and Gerakan deputy minister Kerk Choo Teng have spoken up on the issue.

Generally, their grouses centred on one issue: The frustrations voiced by students who had obtained excellent results but had failed to gain entry into medical schools, and others who could not gain admission into courses or public universities of their choice.

Health Minister Dr Chua said he will propose to the Cabinet that the public universities offering medical courses increase their intake and admit the 128 top-scoring students in the STPM and matriculation examinations who had been denied admissions.

He said: "There are six public universities with the facilities to conduct the medical course. If each takes in another 20, I'm sure this (problem) can be solved." This are his rationales, from the 'Brain-Gain' point of view, as told to The Star:
He said it was good to know many young and talented students chose to pursue medicine as this would help resolve the doctor shortage in the country and for it to achieve a 1:650 doctor-patient ratio by 2020.

Dr Chua said between 900 and 1,000 medical graduates from local and foreign universities join the public service each year, but the doctor shortage in government hospitals still stood at 3,200.

This, he added, was because of the increasing demand for healthcare services in government hospitals but between 300 and 350 doctors leave the public service each year.

Dr Chua said allowing the bright students to do medicine locally would help prevent a “brain drain.”

This is, by far, the only perspective that cuts across the clutter of seeing things from the racial point of view.

Meanwhile, MIC president S. Samy Vellu has also joined the chorus of protests, saying he would take the plight of the top students to the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

DAP chief Lim Kit Siang revealed that last year's best STPM science student Koong Lin Yee, one of the 52 students who scored 5As, was denied a place for medical study at his first choice university.

(If you remember, Koong of SMK Tunku Ampuan Durah, Seremban was specially mentioned by the Malaysian Examinations Council chairman, Prof Dr Abu Hassan Othman, as the best student in the Science stream while Nuraidila Abdul Razak, of SM Victoria in Kuala Lumpur, was the top Arts student.)

Lim also cited the case of another top STPM scorer with 5As, Murrali Silvarajoo, who scored 5 straight As and obtained a CGPA of 4.0, had his application to do medicine rejected. Instead, he has been offered a place to study chemical engineering at University of Malaya, his sixth choice.

On the other hand, according to Oriental Daily News (May 31, Page A2), Gerakan's Kerk wanted officials at the Higher Education Ministry must be taken to task for allowingthe issue to recur.

"I believe there is nothing wrong with our meritocracy policy, but the anomalies lie with implementation," he said. "We made so many suggestions but the problems still persist. Looks like the officials at the Ministry of Higher Education must make the relevant reviews."

Whereas, MCA Youth Education Bureau chief Dr Wee Ka Siong cited the case of Malaysia's best student who was denied a place in the university and highlighted that there were systemic errors in the selection process.

He termed this an administrative bias of the ministry officials and, like Gerakan's Kerk, demanded an immediate correction of the mistakes.

Wee said STPM students, particularly those with straight As and not offered any of the eight choices they listed in their applications to enter public universities, should be allowed to put in additional options in their appeals.

Gerakan National Youth Chief Mah Siew Keong, commenting on the same issue, said the Higher Education Department should consider hiring foreigners to overcome the shortage of lecturers at local universities, an issue often used by the bureaucrats to justify their selection criteria. He told The Star:
"It is very sad to know that there are no places for students who scored perfect results to study medicine despite a shortage of more than 3,200 doctors at government hospitals.

"Universities in neighbouring countries are waiting to take them in and we have no place for our own students," Mah told reporters before chairing the Gerakan Youth committee meeting here yesterday.

Both MCA Youth and Parti Gerakan will deliberate on the issue this evening, respectively, before coming out with an official announcement.

3. From the budding talents whose future the brain-dead dictates.

Sorry, I have not seen Utusan Malaysia, NST or representatives from other Barisan Nasional component parties ever bothered to help articulate their views. But you have plentiful of the candidates' unhappiness in the vernacular press. I'd appreciate if anyone could update us on what is published in the Tamil press on this issue as I am handicapped in the language.

If you probe further, higher education at IPTA is very much a kin to Robinhood. If the 5As students have to give way to the mediocre ones for the top places in universities, then the only twist to 'Robinhoodism' is that you are allowed to rob the knowledge-rich to aid the knowledge-poor.

That is to say that it's all zero-sum game in our higher education where all variables like student-lecturer ratio are read as somebody's gain must be somebody's loss.

Thirdly, the same bunch of people who set Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) as the definitive criteria for university admission cannot up-keep its merits.

All this, when read together, is another brain-dead showcase of our thinking faculty.

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Mandarin 'rojak'

"Wo de sejarah fail le!"

That utterance, which means "I failed my history paper" is the type of Mandarin spoken by today's secondary students.

It's made up of three languages. Minister of Transport Chan Kong Choy terms it as 'Rojak Mandarin'.

He suggests the Malaysian Mandarin Standardisation Committee set up by the Ministry of Information look into the matter to prevent further pollution of the language. Via Oriental Daily News (May 31, Page A14).

'Bahasa Melayu rojak', raised by Dr Rais Yatim, now has a contemporary.

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Saturday, May 29, 2004

'I'm tall and white, not short and Indian'

That's an amusing headline in Singapore Sunday Times today.

It's a remark by Miss Universe hopeful, Gabriela Oviedo, 21, who caused a furore in Bolivia, one of the Western hemisphere's poorest countries. She has been accused of being racist and pressured to withdraw from the beauty pageant.

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Enemies in our own backyard

Two hot issues that need urgent clarification:

  1. Nuclear arms black market: The arrest of B.S.A. Tahir, the Sri Lankan businessman accused of brokering black-market deals for nuclear technology, who has been detained in Malaysia under Section 8(1) of the Internal Security Act and Section 43(a) of the Federal Constitution.

    New evidence has been unearthed. But what's the story?

  2. Separate the separatists. Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA) lecturer, Associate Professor Dr. Wan Abdul Kadir Che Man, has been implicated as a leader of the United Front for the Independence Patani (Barisan Bersatu untuk Kemerdekaan Pattani - BERSATU).

    Dr Wan Abdul Kadir was appointed as an associate professor in the Politics Department, UIA, in 2001 on a contract basis. Prior to this, he has been a lecturer at Universiti Brunei Darussalam and several other local universities.

    What's happening? What has been found on his trails?

Meanwhile, agencies AFP, AP and Reuters reported that unknown assailants yesterday decapitated a villager and threatened more killings of Buddhists if Muslims continued to be arrested in southern Thailand.

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Friday, May 28, 2004

Centrifuge figure placed under ISA

B.S.A. Tahir, the Sri Lankan businessman accused of brokering black-market deals for nuclear technology, has been detained under the Internal Security Act in Malaysia yesterday, reports AFP.

However, the agency does not say under which section of the Act he is being held, except by stating that he was a threat to national security because of his activities and could be detained without trial.

Star Online reports that the 44-year-old Tahir was detained at 11.30am in Bangsar yesterday and was immediately sent to the Kamunting detention centre.

Tahir was said to have gained PR status after he married the daughter of a mid-level Malaysian diplomat in 1998.

If you still remember, Khan and his associates used Scomi Precision Engineering Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Scomi Group Bhd substantially owned by PM's son Kamaluddin Abdullah, to make parts for centrifuges, which can be used to enrich uranium for weapons. Scomi said it had been misled into the deals with Tahir.

His activities came to the attention of the US Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's MI6 following the seizure of "centrifuges" on board a vessel in Italy on Oct 4.

The seizure drew worldwide attention and comments from US President George W. Bush who named him as a key link in a clandestine network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the disgraced father of Pakistan's nuclear programme, who confessed to leaking nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Bush described Tahir as the network's chief financial officer, money launderer and shipping agent, "using his computer firm as cover for the movement of centrifuge parts to various clients".

Meanwhile, the United States hailed Tahir's arrest by the Malaysian authorities,, saying it could be a breakthrough in global efforts to dismantle Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's ilicit nuclear network.

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Corporate governance? Wrong place!

We are very much a third-world country as far as boardroom behaviour is concerned - both in form and substance.

A new study by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has revealed that an overwhelming majority of Malaysia’s top 50 largest companies failed to make the grade in corporate governance disclosures.

The survey, using the ratings agency’s corporate governance disclosure scorecard and conducted jointly with the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, found that 74% - or 37 of the 50 largest Bursa Malaysia-listed companies by market capitalisation - attained half or less than half of the total score of 140.

In fact, no company received more than 100 out of 140 points and this represents plenty of room for improvement,” said S&P managing director (Credit market services) Surinder Kathpalia.

Most of the scores were clustered between 45 and 75 points, with the largest band of 17 firms or 34% scoring between 61 and 70 out of 140.

Another band of 15 companies (30%) scored between 51 and 60 points, while the worst performing company among the top 50 scored less than a third – a paltry 44 points out of 140.

The mean score was 64.92 while the company with the best disclosure in the survey scored 94.

The scorecard, that tested 136 items, reflects principles and best practices embodied in international corporate governance codes.

Where they failed. The survey found most of the companies’ audit, remuneration and nomination committees were still far from independent, while there was a lack of transparency in how board members were chosen.

Kathpalia said the challenge was even bigger because the survey looked purely at disclosures.

"It’s just the form and already there’s a huge gap to global best practices; the other challenge is substance, and we haven’t even talked about that yet, he was quoted by StarBiz as saying.

S&P did not publish the scores of individual Malaysian companies but highlighted the top five scoring ones as Malakoff Bhd, Malayan Banking Bhd, Malaysia Mining Corp Bhd, Sime Darby Bhd and Tanjong Plc.

NUS Business School vice-dean Professor Mak Yuen Teen said the study highlighted nine areas where the top five companies were significantly better in disclosure but there was a big difference in scores between them and the other 45.

You may download the report titled: "Corporate Governance Disclosures in Malaysia" at the following resource locators at NUS' Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting Centre (CGFRC):
- The report
- The score card

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theSun: "Khairy a spin-doctor who fails himself"

Oon Yeoh writes in his column in theSun Weekend titled: Sitting cool on hot seat:

It's ironic that Khairy (Jamaluddin) hasn't been able to manage the maelstrom of criticism because one of hos roles was communications chief.

He spun a fantastic image for Pak Lah ahead of the general election - just look at the poll results - but somehow failed to do that for himself.

But then again, spin doctors often have difficulty spinning for themselves.

Yeoh quoted Tony Blair's former director of communications and strategy, Alastair Campbell, as the other spin doctor who did good for his master but short-changed his own career.

The only difference may well be that Campbell has no political ambition whereas Khairy was born into it.

Yeoh cited five reasons why detractors take aim at Khairy: ( 1 ) Jealousy, ( 2 ) Sitting-duck to take blame for Abdullah's shortcoming, ( 3 ) Perceived lack of merit, ( 4 ) Not exactly an accessible guy, and ( 5 ) Young and arrogant.

Nevertheless, Yeoh advocates Umno to "use more bright and liberal-minded young men like him" to fill up places in the public service.

This runs contrary to what I read from many Umno young turks. They prefer to test their OxBridge grooming in real-life corporate boardroom rather than just being servants in public service.

Meanwhile, a little bird told Screenshots that the appointment for Khazanah COO's post has been typed and ready for signing. Khairy should get his dream job from Azman Mokhtar.

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Thursday, May 27, 2004

NST hit by tabloiditis?

May 27, The Economist reported that New Straits Times officials recently paid a visit to The Independent's office in London to study its success story in publishing a tabloid edition for the broadsheet.

In Europe, broadsheets that usually look down on tabloids - exemplified by The Sun UK's Page 3 Girls - are now rushing to downsize - the print format that is.

In Britain, both the Independent and the Times have launched small editions, and the Telegraph may hit the streets with a tabloid edition anytime soon.

This week, Axel Springer, a German publisher, launched a trial run of Welt Kompakt, a tabloid version of Die Welt.

Hence the term, "tabloiditis".

According to the Economist, broadsheets are mostly seeing their circulation slowly dwindle as older readers die and young people choose other sources for news and entertainment.

Broadsheets are also facing tough new competition from free commuter tabloids such as those published by Metro International, a Swedish firm. And the trend is fast spreading in Europe. Spain has no broadsheets left at all, and in Italy Monrif Group switched its three leading papers, in Milan, Florence and Bologna, to tabloid format in 2001.

This is what Economist spoke of the tabloiditis experience at The Independent:

At Britain's Independent, total circulation has risen by about 15% from last year thanks to its small edition. This month it dropped its broadsheet edition altogether. As many as 30 papers from around the world are thinking about doing something similar, according to Jim Chisholm at the World Association of Newspapers. The Independent's London offices have become a place of pilgrimage for newspaper bosses seeking ways to hold on to readers, he says—Malaysia's New Straits Times Press is one of many firms that have visited.

Can the answer to the woes of the broadsheets really be so simple? Though many readers prefer it, the tabloid format brings its own problems, one of which is that advertisers refuse to pay as much for the same fraction of space. It requires a big rise in circulation to offset that drop in ad revenue, and few popular broadsheet papers are likely to get the same boost as the Independent, which has a relatively small and young readership. Those with lots of older male readers will risk losing them if they go tabloid—these people tend to object the most. For that reason the Times has had to continue to publish its big edition, and thus has higher costs than if it could opt for one or the other.

Can someone tell if NST is paper for the young or for the old. Probably, those who have just come back from their visit to The Independent should know better by now.

Thanks reader Hee Boon for the pointer.

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MiTV: Malaysian-Israeli tie-up in technology?

Was there a technology tie-up between MiTV - the touted second Pay-TV operator bankrolled by tycoon Vincent Tan - and an Israeli broadcast solutions company?

Information unearthed by a little bird revealed that MiTV Malaysia was credited as a planned beta site for Runcom Technologies Ltd, an Israeli company specialising in Digital Video Broadcast for Return Channel Terrestrial (DVB-RCT), or what is commonly called Interactive DTTV.

Runcom made the announcement of its planned beta site at MiTV, alongside Singapore's MediaCorp, in a presentation paper delivered at a DVB-RCT seminar in Orvieto, Italy in February last year.

According to information obtained from the Internet, Runcom is a technology company headquartered at Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv.

It was founded in 1997 by Dr Zion Hadad, who was described as an engineer with extensive experience in the development of military and commercial communication systems. He also specialises in the fields of Spread Spectrum (SS), Frequency Hopping (FH), Direct Spread (DS), CDMA, and ECC Adaptive Array Technologies projects.

Runcom claimed that its proprietary Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) technology has been endorsed by international bodies that benchmark industry standards, such as the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) committee, ETSI-BRAN and IEEE 802.16.a.

It also claimed that OFDMA has become the basic infrastructure for the DVB-RCT/ETSI broadcasting standard and is the preferred technology driving the BWA (Broadband Wireless Access) service provision market. In addition, Runcom claimed its technology has been considered as the leading technology for the upcoming 4G cellular infrastructure.

You can download Runcom's claims on the planned beta site at MiTV Malaysia at this URL (see Pages 4 and 22).

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Higher Education: The messy-go-round

We talk of university admission by meritocracy, but the bureaucracy and the media approach it by race!

1. Headline in No. 3 English paper: Bumis continue to do well.

Bumiputera students secured more than 60 per cent of the 38,892 places in public universities, continuing to flourish under the merit system introduced two years ago.

But they did not do as well as their non-Bumiputera friends in science-based courses and their representation was low in some critical courses.

2. Headlines in Malay newspapers:

3. Headlines in the Chinese papers:
  • Sin Shew Daily: Though making up 30.3% of total intake, university admission for Chinese dropped by 1.9%

  • Nanyang Siang Pau: University admission for Chinese dropped by 2% with 12,000 new intakes.

Higher Education Department director Datuk Dr Hassan Said announced yesterday that, in total, 24,837 Bumiputeras were offered places in public universities (IPTA), representing 63.8% of the total number of seats available this year.

Chinese students secured 11,778 or 30.3% of places, while Indians got 2,277 or 5.9% of places.

Straight As, Straight rejection. Star Online reports of Murrali Silvarajoo, who scored straight As in the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination, is not eligible for medical course he applied for, neither the university of his choice.

MCA Youth Education Bereau chief Wee Kah Siong says the party's youth wing wanted straight As students to get admitted into universities of their choice. He urged those unsatisfied with the university admission selection to file their appeals by June 6, by extending a copy of their appeal to MCA.

Wee can be contacted at 03-2161 8044. The appeal form can be downloaded at

LAN alienates UEC graduates. Yesterday, MCA president Ong Ka Ting said the Cabinet's decision to recognise STPM or its equivalent, which includes the United Examination Certificate (UEC) from Chinese independent schools, for entry to local private institute of higher learning (IPTS) is valid.

The decision was dated back to March 29, 2000. He said the IPTS would have to abide by the Government's regulations on their entry requirements.

Ong said he had resolved the matter with Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Putrajaya May 26. The latter has promised similar mistake by official at Lemabaga Akreditasi Negara (LAN) would not recur.

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Appointments for Umno and MCA seniors

Malaysia is no longer a parochial village. Current Umno and Barisan Nasional secretary general Khalil Yaakob has been appointed the sixth Governor of Melaka effective June 4.

Khalil will serve a 4-year term. He is a native from Pahang.

Port of Call. Former MCA vice-president and current Serdang MP Yap Pian Hon has been appointed the Klang Port Authority chairman. He will serve until April 18, 2005.

Yap takes over from MCA sec-gen Dr Ting Chew Peh, who took over from former MCA leader Michael Chen four years ago.

Tun Ling Liong Sik? This is the topic in grapevine right now. We will have to wait till the Agong's Birthday next month to see whether it holds water.

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May 28, 3rd Anniversary

If you have been reading into the psyche of Chinese-Malaysians in the last three years, you would have noticed that May 28 is remembered as a "Black Day" for the community.

Three years ago today, MCA under the Ling Liong Sik leadership clinched the deal to takeover two major Chinese dailies - Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press - through the party’s Huaren Management for RM230 million in cash. It was followed by the summary dismissal of the executive and editorial heads of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press in less than 24 hours.

DAP rose to the occasion, clamouring its opinion that the acquisition of Nanyang Press is a blow to press freedom, Chinese education and Chinese culture.

In the aftermath, DAP set up a Committee on Press Freedom headed by then Secretary General, Kerk Kim Hock.

Kerk has since retired from active politics, and little is mentioned of DAP's Committee on Press Feedom.

Meanwhile, Tiong Hew King, the Chinese press magnate who owned Sinchew Daily News and who denied having a hand in the MCA's takeover of Nanyang Press, found his name regustered as the 9th largest substantial shareholder in Nanyang Press' latest annual report.

I expect a total blackout of the May 28 Third Anniversary in the Chinese press today, except probably Oriental Daily News, the new Chinese paper to which ex-journalists and columnists from Nanyang - Chinese Press - Sinchew sought refuge and soldiered on.

Today, even the fighting spirit of Writers’ Action for Media Independence (WAMI), formed by a group of ex-writers in Nanyang and Sinchew, has been seen waning. Some members have dropped out, and one ultimately capitulated to defect to the old cosy camp.

Today, Oriental Daily News, and theSun, are the two remaining newspapers I have delivered to my home on a daily basis.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Pak Lah goes on China trip

Today, PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi begins his 5-day visit to China to commemorate the 30 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Looking at the who-is-who in the entourage, may he have a fruitful and fulfilling trip.

Both countries have progressed by leaps and bounds since Razak's first trip in 1974. We must be doing things differently compared withteh yester-years.

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This blog should have gone up yesterday for timeliness, but held-over due to server hiccups. I will save it in the overall archive when I am ready to bring up the co-lo server, so that you can do keyword search in the future.

MiTV no threat to ASTRO

Do you think the head-on competition between two gaming tycoons will happen over the Pay-TV market, thus ending the de facto monopoly? Or worse, will you get the double whammy of duopoly?

I read some early response from the financial analysts and they general share the same perspective: The field will remain uneven even if we get to see a new player in town.

May 25, Reuters reported in a source story that Vincent Tan Chee Yioun plans to launch Malaysia's second pay-TV operator in October, and at a time when Astro, controlled by Usaha Tegas which is majority own by Tatparanandam Ananda Krishnan, is embroiled in bad press related to the price hike effective May 24.

What made TV viewers go ga-ga is the speculation that Tan's Pay-TV station, to be called MiTV, will offer 80 channels and charge a monthly flat rate.

To Joe Public, two questions have become hot topic of discussion:

  • Will Pay-TV viewers enjoy the benefits of the removal of monopoly?

  • To what degree will MiTV challenge Astro in the market share for Pay-TV subscription?

Let me attempt to answer the second question first.

How much competition MiTV will pose to Astro will depend on the total cost of ownership of the station, the break-even point based on x-number of captive subscribers, and the gestation period to secure the ROI. It's the long-term business sustainablity that counts.

This is tied precariously to the technology platform, and the costs of operations related to it.

TECHNOLOGY PLATFORM. Reuters reported that MiTV will be using digital terrestrial television (DTT) which, the agency quoted a source as saying, will drastically reduce costs. Besides, DTT is touted as a viable means to enable the station to broadcast multiple channels using an existing terrestrial bandwidth, and received at the viewers' end via UHF aerials.

Reuters also said MiTV will use terrestrial digital technology which has been used successfully in Britain and said to cost about 1/15th as much as satellite technology used by Astro.

From case studies obtained from the Internet, DTT technology is generally regarded as having the potential of giving the greatest challenge to satellite broadcast, like Astro.

This is because DTT broadcast in digital signals and offers interactivity, greater functionality, and ability to carry data. It is capable of transmitting 6 channels using the spectrum to carry one analogue channel. In comparison, current satellite broadcast utilises the existing analogue technology which is then pumped through digital compression to reach the viewers' home TV.

However, this is not to say that there are no operational challenges for DTT broadcaster.

Firstly, we still live in an analogue world, hence DTT's digital signals must be decoded with a digital TV, or a decoder, to enable our home TV, which is analogue TV, to decode the signals.

Because of technology, MiTV has to resolve some entry barriers before hand:
  • It has to subsidise the CPE (Client Premises Equipment) which includes the decoder. This essential raises MiTV's capital outlay

  • It has to decide the palatable price point for the subscriber to pay for the decoder, after subsidy perhaps

  • Assuming subscriber acquisition is a zero-sum game - meaning one subscriber gained by MiTV is one subscriber lost for Astro - will those who had paid for an Astro decoder take up MiTV's offer?

Next is the question of DTT as a proven business case. Is it that viable?

Though Reuters did not mention the British DTT model by name, it is generally believed to be Freeview, which has been pointed by reader Kamil in Screenshots.

We may not be comparing apple to apple by placing MiTV against Freeview for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, unlike the intended MiTV, Freeview is not subscription-based TV, but a free-to-air DTT broadcast. Those who are familiar with European airwaves would know that Freeview is partly owned by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB, or Sky, de facto UK's foremost satellite-based subscription TV operator. Sky has been noted as having a vested interest in ensuring Freeview's survival.

Freeview's service is marketed by DTV Services Ltd which is a company run by its three shareholders the BBC, Crown Castle International and BSkyB.

Secondly, most of the DTT subscription TV business models in Europe have actually failed due to the high subscriber acquisition costs (SAC). In the European market, a made-in-Shenzhen DTT decoder may cost GBP50 to GBP120, or RM350 to RM750. Over-exposure in subsidising the decoder compromised the stations' affordability to sign-up for quality programming.

MiTV, in fact, will be faced with a third challenge after taking into consideration the first two. To broadcast nationwide, MiTV has to set up transmitters throughout the country, which adds to its startup costs. MegaTV, TV3's now defunct offshoot, failed to do this in the mid-90s, and the choice of analogue broadcast hastened its death.

A caveat. Let me hasten to emphasise that MiTV is backed by a financially strong shareholder. theSun (May 26, Page 6) reported that Tan is investing in MiTV privately and none of the listed companies he controls is involved in the joint venture "with a few bumiputra businessmen". MiTV promoters have plans for an IPO in about two years, according to Reuters.

POWER OF INCUMBENT. Taking into consideration of the start-up, on-stream operations and subscriber acquisition costs, how would MiTV circumvent Astro's well-entrenched position on two counts: ( 1 ) Household penetration and ( 2 ) Exclusivity of programming.

As at January, 2004, Astro has secured a captive market of 1.3 million subscribers, or 26.5% of overall TV households in Malaysia. It projects a 30.1% market share by January, 2005.

Industry sources say Astro has the exclusive rights to carry 15 channels in Malaysia for 2 to 4 years, namely AXN, TechTV, Disney Channel, Star Movies, ESPN, Star Sports, Channel [V], Star World, National Geographic, CNBC, Hallmark Channel, MTV Asia, Nickelodean, TV8 and Pheonix.

Will MiTV be able to offer the variety and quality of programming to rival Astro on this frontier? If not, what would be the compelling offerings to entice Astro's viewers to switch over to MiTV, especially for subscribers who had paid for their set top box (STB)/decoders?

A few more questions.
  • Is MiTV setting a realistic target when the news went out with 80 channels at station launch in five months' time, by October?

    Taking a leaf off Malaysian history of Pay-TV, Astro started with only 27 channels and currently has 46, including radio.

  • Has MiTV secured the spectrum allocation from the relevant authorities?

    According to media reports, Tan took over privately-held Grafimatix Sdn Bhd, which holds a 'Subscription Broadcast' CASP Individual Licence, for RM26 million and has invested close to RM100 million to develop MiTV using Grafimatix's license. This license was issued in July 2000 for single-channel subscription broadcast.

    It is important to note that, similar to 3G telephony, DTT requires a different set of spectrum from the ones used by existing TV terrestrial stations.

    However, industry sources said that the Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has not awarded the spectrum for DTT broadcasting. In fact, MCMC is said to be ready to award spectrum which allows only 15 DTT channels. MiTV, by media reports, intends to launch 80 channels.

Now, let's get back to the first big question: Will Pay-TV viewers enjoy the benefits of the removal of monopoly?

I only have an oblique answer to this.

If the barriers to entry are high, if Astro is so well-entrenched, it only means one thing to the financial analysts: The risk premium on Astro remains low.

There goes your dream of dislodging a monopoly.

(I have a related blog dated May 26 which you may only reference after my co-lo server is put up again.)

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Screenshots experiencing server problems

One year and 5 days after Screenshots migrated to its own server, I have to return to this old site to update the blogs. The co-lo server that hosts Screenshots has been experiencing irregular activities since 2.15pm today. After consulting my webhost, I have decided to take it down, together with my other server, to do a thorough check-up before we put them up again. The servers are getting old - over 18 months now - and visitor traffic has been quite punishing for Screenshots server to handle... perhaps the OS needs updates too. I will get a full diagnose shortly.

Meanwhile, please accept my sincere apology for the inconvenience caused by the outage. I fact I was in the midst of preparing an analysis on MiTV, I may have lost the file while I blogged on the engine live.

Anyway, please email your little bird alerts to my other email at in case you need to tip/tick me off.

Gotta run!

Tuesday, May 20, 2003


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Eclipse of theSun

More on Colmar Tropicale Resort.

Report from official news agency Bernama datelined Putrajaya May 20 , 2003 14:48pm has this:
"We gave a licence to the club but I think they may have abused the licence and we have instructed this be stopped," he said when asked on the 200 slot machines available there.

This part is eclipsed - edited out - by theSun today, page 2.

Is the common ownership of the two enterprises a factor?

UPDATE: The NST reports on page 6 today, quoting the PM, that the slot machine licence issued to the club at Colmar Tropicale Resort has been revoked as it breached conditions stipulated in the licence.

MARKET MOVEMENTS. KLSE first board company MOL (MOL, 8001) hit limit down yesterday after hitting limit up when trading resumed on Monday.

The counter closed at RM1.62 yesterday, shredding 0.23 sen and easing by almost 30%.

Market sentiments took it as an affirmation that MOL will not be listed under gaming and leisure section of KLSE as rumoured earlier.

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All eyes on stimulus plan

The level of anticipation generated by the economic stimulus package is very high. Several trade and professional bodies that I know, especially those from the service industry, are on queue to offer immediate reaction later today, after the PM unveils the plan.

I like the article by Star Business Editor Wong Sulong yesterday, written in his unimitatable layman's language. Highly recommended.

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Jangan mati adat...

On May 15, I blogged about the thriving Malay adat as displayed during the wedding reception of Anwar Ibrahim's eldest daughter, Nurul Izzah, recently.

Despite the overpowering UMNO patronage system, I noticed many Malay dignitaries discarded the nuances of political-correctness, side-stepped the divisive intra-Malay partisan politics and bravely came to the fore to cement the silaturrahim among their brethren over a kenduri.

I chronicled that it's customary for a Malay invited to a wedding kenduri to return the gesture with a personal attendance gracing the ceremony irrespective of personal differences and enmity.

The bride's mother seems to share the same view:
Mengenai kebijaksanaan mengundang dari semua kelompok, perlu dijelaskan bahawa kami menjemput semua kenalan lama dan baru, lebih-lebih lagi kerana kami pernah menghadiri majlis kenduri mereka.

Lagi pun ia bukannya majlis politik dan ini merupakan kesempatan terbaik bersiratulrahim (sic). Kita mesti berganjak memupuk budaya sihat dalam amalan hidup secara beradab dan bertamadun.

Allow me to requote the age-old maxim: "Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat".

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Dr M: No casino at Bukit Tinggi

Stop abusing permit for slot machines. Prime Minister Dr Mahathr Mohamad said in Putrajaya the Government has stopped issuing casino licences, and Bukit Tinggi Resort has been directed to stop abusing its permit issued only for gaming machines.

Dr Mahathir, who is also the Finance Minister, was commenting on speculations the government had issued a second casino licence to Berjaya Group.

Read my blog on Pahang menteri besar's statement regarding Colmar Tropicale, April 27. The breaking news is quite contradictory to the original story.

But then, Glen Newey of University of Strathclyde, Britain, has a scientific theory for this.