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!