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Malaysiakini: The upstart that changed Malaysia's media landscape – BBC News

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A journalist wears a shirt with an image of Malaysian news site Malaysiakini's editor-in-chief Steven Gan at the Federal Court in Putrajaya on July 13, 2020,

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Tucked away in an unremarkable business park in a suburban district of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur is the headquarters of a remarkable experiment in journalism. It has come under attack.

On Friday the independent news website Malaysiakini was found guilty of contempt. It now has to pay a hefty fine of RM500,000 (£88,500, $123,600) . Its editor-in-chief and co-founder Steven Gan narrowly escaped a prison sentence after he was found not guilty for a similar charge.

The attorney-general filed the charges last year based on readers’ critical comments about the judiciary posted on Malaysiakini’s website, and later removed, a move with worrying implications for all news media.

Malaysiakini’s success so far, its very survival, are all the more remarkable in a country where all news media was once subject to government control, and in a region where truly independent, quality journalism is difficult, dangerous and often driven to the margins.

Malaysian news site Malaysiakini's editor-in-chief Steven Gan gestures as he arrives at the Federal Court in Putrajaya on July 13, 2020

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Back in 1999 Steven Gan and Pramesh Chandran saw an opportunity to create Asia’s first online daily news site.

They were both former student activists who worked at Malaysia’s The Sun newspaper, and had grown frustrated by official censorship through the requirement to have a licence to publish, and through extensive ownership of mainstream media outlets by pro-government interest groups.

“I was a believer in media freedom, yet we saw its limits in Malaysia every day we worked as journalists”, he told the BBC in an interview before the verdict.

The catalyst was the dramatic dismissal and then arrest of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998, a popular figure seen until then as the designated successor to then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who had been in office for 17 years and dominated Malaysian politics.

It was the start of an epic tussle for power between the two men which would last many years. Steven recalls that several journalists discussed using the then new medium of the internet to report what other media would not.

Steven Gan (R), one of the founder of a news website Malaysiakini, works on a story in his office in Kuala Lumpur on November 20, 2008.

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“We realised we could do it for quite a low cost, that, unlike print, we did not need a licence, and Mahathir had already promised foreign investors that he would not censor the internet,” he said.

“The internet was very new at that time – you know, we used 56k modems, it was really slow.

“People were really interested in political issues then because of the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim, and we rode on that wave of political awakening. The mainstream media was not reporting what was happening on the ground, especially if there was something like a mass protest in Kuala Lumpur, so they were going to the internet.”

Based in the suburban district of Petaling Jaya, Malaysiakini started with just three journalists, initially hoping to fund themselves through partnership with an internet café, then with advertising from internet start-ups during what was then the dotcom boom. It was fortunate to receive a $100,000 grant from the Bangkok-based South East Asia Press Alliance.

It survived the failure of the café, the dotcom bust, and outright hostility from the government, with the Prime Minister accusing Malaysiakini journalists in 2001 of behaving like traitors, and barring them from official press conferences.

Over the years it has endured several police raids, threatened criminal charges and prosecutions. Throughout, said Steven Gan, they insisted their reporters maintain high standards of journalism.

“We are new media but we practise old media rules,” he said.

But perhaps the most important decision was an early focus on finding a viable business model for the site, long before other mainstream media had started to question theirs in the digital era.

“We knew we needed to offer a website with reliable information, and we needed to make a political impact,” he says.

“But just as important is to have a good business model. You need to have a good editor-in chief, and also a good CEO who can look after the business side of things. The co-founders, myself and Pramesh Chandra, were able to work together to ensure we produce good content, and that we earned enough income to keep the business going.”

In 2002 Malaysiakini was among the first news sites anywhere to move to a subscription model, at a time when most viewers expected to get online news for free.

It has been profitable most years, with subscription revenue often matching revenue from advertising. It has been an inspiration to other Malaysian journalists, like Jahabar Siddique, a former Reuters employee, who founded another independent news site, The Malaysian Insider.

“It made it viable for journalists to consider options beyond the muzzled media that was available then. Also made it possible for those like me who were working for international media agencies to consider returning to the local media scene and expand the free space available to inform Malaysians and others about Malaysia.”

Maria Ressa talks to members of the media after attending a court hearing in Manila on July 22, 2020, on charges of tax evasion

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Maria Ressa, a former CNN and ABS-CBN journalist who founded the website Rappler in the Philippines in 2012, and now finds herself subjected to several criminal prosecutions under the hostile media climate of the Duterte administration, credits Malaysiakini for showing that a small, independent news organisation could succeed in South East Asia.

“They were the first to embrace a digital platform, and the first to come up with a workable business model for online news. What was so great about Malaysiakini was that from the start they set themselves high standards of journalism, and when faced with pressure from the government, they did not buckle. They never gave up.”

On the day of his release from second spell in prison in 2018, Anwar Ibrahim thanked Malaysiakini for ensuring dissenting voices were heard. “You have done a wonderful job. At a time when we had massive restrictions, where the media was nothing but incessant propaganda, Malaysiakini was there.”

Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim waves to his supporters outside the headquarter of People's Justice Party (PKR) on March 1, 2020 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Malaysiakini has been favoured by a less repressive environment than in many neighbouring countries, and a more favourable economic one.

There is a large and educated middle class in Malaysia, not just keen to read alternative views but to pay subscriptions, or to donate, as they did when the news site needed a new office seven years ago and offered a wall of 1,000 bricks to donors willing to give RM1,000 (£188) a brick.

It has created successful subsidiary businesses, like its advertising arm, which has steadily driven up commercial income. But its real achievement, says Professor Zaharom Nain at Nottingham University’s Malaysia Campus, is broadening the political debate in Malaysian society.

“It has, I believe, provided Malaysians with a different way of interpreting Malaysia’s politics. It has also paved the way for other news portals to emerge and develop. It has even made mainstream media move to another platform, utilising the internet, for getting their message across,” he says.

“Beyond providing dissenting news, Malaysiakini has shown many Malaysians that there is more than one point of view, and that it is legitimate to question authority.”

Prime Minister of Malaysia Muhyiddin Yassin in the House of Parliament Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on July 13, 2020

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Today Steven Gan is not alone in finding himself subject to criminal investigation.

Last year six journalists from Al Jazeera were questioned by police over a report on the alleged mistreatment of migrants in Malaysia during Covid-19, on suspicion of violating three laws. Two other journalists were also investigated for their reporting.

Following the collapse of the reformist government headed by Mahathir Mohamad after his comeback in the 2018 election, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin now heads a precarious coalition pulled together last March.

Mr Muhyiddin’s government is proving less tolerant of critical reporting than its predecessor in what is now a more heated and less predictable political climate.

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Sens Sickos: A look at the Sens fans movement on social media – CTV Edmonton

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OTTAWA —
You may have seen a new term trending on social media about the Ottawa Senators called “Sens Sickos.”

It’s an unlikely rallying cry; born not from the Sens’ success, but from their struggles.

Thanks to an unlikely fan, the movement now has a theme song.

James Mellish is a Sens super-fan.  While many locals have embraced the hometown team, Mellish is unique because he lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

“The Senators jersey just really caught my eye. I had nothing else to go on other than aesthetics,” says Mellish.

Mellish became a fan 15 years ago, while playing the “NHL 2004” video game at a sleepover when he was 12.

“I fell in love with hockey that very night,” said Mellish.

When he purchased the game, Mellish said, “And then I was like, I wonder if this team is any good in real life – and yes they were at that time, very much so; and, I’ve been them following them even more closely ever since.”

He’s now more than just a member of the Sens fan base; he created a theme song to the growing social media movement “Sens Sickos.”

“It ended up getting played in the arena, during a game that I fortunately was able to hurry home and be able to watch it live,” said Mellish.

He watched that game with his girlfriend, “and, we were just screaming on the couch when we realized it was me on the speakers.”

The “Sens Sickos” started when fans were hoping for a loss to increase Ottawa’s chances at the first overall pick in the NHL draft lottery last year.

Chris is a Sens fan, who goes by the Twitter handle @brochenski. He modified a political cartoon, and it grew from there.

“It was originally a meme made by the Onion,” Chris tells CTV News Ottawa.

He added a Senators hat and foam finger on the character, and says it then took off.

“It just kind of flows well, and it just fits the overall vibe of how Sens feel,” says Chris, “Sens fans feel kind of beaten down by the last few years.”

“That’s what we’ve come to in Ottawa; we’re at the stage now where the Sens have been losing games on the ice for so long that fans have found a way to amuse themselves,” says TSN 1200’s John Rodenburg.

Rodenburg thinks fans are ready to see the team not just win, but get back to the rink,

“Fans are just so thirsty to one day find a winning team, a team they can cheer on, be back in the rink at some point, experience what it’s like to be a fan again,” said Rodenburg, morning host on TSN 1200.  “But in the meantime, it’s like, what can I do to make this entire experience as fun as I possibly can.”

Mellish is looking forward to visiting Ottawa again and meeting other fans in person once the pandemic is over.   He’s visited Ottawa once, about 11 years ago.

“Definitely excited to do that.”

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Penguins admit they edited masks onto fans for social media post – CBS Sports

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have admitted that someone in their social media department altered a photo to make it look like everyone in it was wearing their mask correctly for a social media post. The team said in a statement to the New York Post that the staffer responsible for the edit has been disciplined.

The post itself, which is still up as of this writing, was made for the return of fans to the team’s arena for the first time since fans were barred from games as part of the league’s COVID-19 prevention policy. It included a quote from the Penguins’ coach about appreciation for the team’s supporters. The original image, however, included three people who didn’t have their masks over their nose and mouth, as DK Pittsburgh Sports reporter Taylor Haase noted.

A group of 2,800 fans was allowed into PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday for the first time since March 8, 2020. This came in response to a ruling from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who permitted gatherings up to 15 percent capacity at indoor venues. The Penguins marked the moment with a 5-2 win. 

As for the edit itself, the Penguins said that while the staffer was “perhaps well-intended” the move was against the organization’s policy. The team also made sure to note that the edits were only made on “a few fans” not following the rules.

“Our social media team should never send out altered photos to our fan base,” the statement continued. “This is a violation of our social media and safety policy, and this staffer has been disciplined.”

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Media group disputes Facebook Canada official's suggestion that exiting news markets an 'appropriate' option – Financial Post

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‘I am not sure why they would want to repeat what they did in Australia,’ News Media Canada President Johm Hinds said

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As Canadian legislation looms to level the playing field between news publishers and big tech platforms, the two sides continue to be divided over what value each brings to the other — even as multi-million-dollar agreements are forged to pay for news content in Europe and Australia. 

On Friday, an association representing publishers across the country took issue with statements made by Facebook Canada’s head of policy in an interview with The Logic, including a suggestion that the presence of news on the social media platform provides a value to publishers equivalent to several hundreds of millions of dollars. 

John Hinds, president of News Media Canada, disputed that figure, and pointed to a report published by his association last year that estimated the value of news content on the platforms at more than $600 million, an amount he said “far outstrips any benefit that publishers derive from the platforms.” 

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During the interview with The Logic, Facebook’s Chan suggested the News Media Canada report last year dealt primarily with the business model — and impact — of other online platforms, not Facebook’s.

Hinds, however, said his view is bolstered by a flurry of multi-million-dollar dollar deals Alphabet Inc.’s Google struck with publishers in Australia last month as the country put the final touches on a mandatory bargaining code governing the relationship between traditional publishers and the tech platforms. 

Google signed multi-year deals with three of Australia’s largest media companies, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which are reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars to the publishers. 

  1. Facebook said this week it would raise its funding of news publishers to US$1 billion over three years.

    Facebook exploring potential news licensing agreements in Canada: source

  2. Facebook blocked all Australian news content on its service over proposed legislation requiring it and Google to pay fees to Australian publishers for news links.

    Canada vows to be next country to go after Facebook to pay for news

According to Google, each publisher’s deal is different, depending on what they bring to the table, and some of the compensation will come in the form of services “in kind” rather than cash for the publishers. 

Both Google and Facebook objected to Australia’s code, and pushed to be able to negotiate commercial licensing agreements with the publishers of their choice to feed specific news products, rather than being forced to pay for simply carrying news links or snippets. But the spectre of the mandatory code has been credited with pushing forward arrangements that were acceptable to both sides. 

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One of the most visible objections to the legislation was Facebook’s decision to pull Australian news from its platform for several days last month in protest of that country’s mandatory bargaining code. However, just days before the code became law with some minor amendments, Facebook struck its first commercial licensing deal with Australia’s Seven West Media. 

In the interview with the Logic, Chan said such an approach could still be “appropriate” depending on the situation.

“At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work for the platform because the regulation is not workable for them, then exiting the news market is an appropriate response,” he said.

News Media’s Hinds said he was surprised Facebook still views exiting a news market as a viable option.

“I am not sure why they would want to repeat what they did in Australia,” Hinds said.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault speaks to media in Ottawa.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault. Photo by Blair Gable/Reuters files

Canada’s heritage minister Steven Guilbeault has pledged to introduce legislation in Canada by June to level the playing field between digital platforms and traditional media players and support the domestic news industry. That plan has won favour with News Media Canada, which said Canadian news publishers and the heritage minister agree legislation is needed “to ensure there are fair negotiations” under a code of conduct. 

“We saw Facebook make threats but finally agree to compensate news publishers in Australia,” the statement said. “That behaviour shows it does not want to pay willingly and will only come to the negotiating table when legislation is passed.” 

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The online platforms have pointed out that publishers willingly share their stories and should simply remove them if they are unhappy they aren’t being compensated. But News Media Canada countered that an “unbalanced power structure” between publishers and the platforms has developed over time. After initially enticing publishers to display their wares, Facebook has now become “such a powerful platform that news publishers have no choice but to use it,” the organization said in Friday’s statement. 

Officials at Facebook declined to comment on the News Media Canada statement. 

Guilbeault has said Canada is studying both the Australian bargaining code and a European response based on copyright. It is understood there will be further consultations with publishers, the tech platforms, and other affected parties and experts before legislation is introduced.

In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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