An article dated 30 November 2016 bearing the headlined "The Heat M'sia turns one and is no more" caught my eye.
I clicked on the link and amongst 10 paragraphs of fluff written by Staff Writer was one paragraph which announced the demise of this opposition-leaning online news portal.
"The staff of The Heat Malaysia has been informed that the portal will cease operation on Dec 1. It is a business decision, we were told."
Hopefully, those journalists and other staff who have lost their jobs as a result will find new employment elsewhere.
A business decision! Just like the business decision to closed down The Malaysian Insider in March 2016.
It also was a business to close down both the online and print editions of the business publication Kinibiz on 1 February 2016.
Veteran pro-opposition online political news portal Malaysiakini reported:-
"KINIBIZ Independent business news publication KINIBIZ will close on Feb 1, 2016, nearly three years after it started, after an unfruitful search for new investors.
"The search began in mid-2015, shortly after the subscription-based business news portal launched its fortnightly print magazine in April. It culminated in an equity crowdfunding campaign announced in December, although this has since been called off due to the lukewarm response owing to uncertain economic conditions."
“We had a good run and covered a lot of breaking issues,” said founding editor and publisher P Gunasegaram. “Unfortunately, we are a niche product and the funding just wasn’t forthcoming for us to stay long enough in the business for a turnaround."
“ Malaysiakini believed that an independent business news site would be a great complement to our current affairs news,” said Premesh Chandran, CEO of Malaysiakini and KINIBIZ director. “The team did really well these past three years with some great business stories. It’s sad that we could not get sufficient subscribers to make it profitable.”
"According to Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan, who is also a KINIBIZ director, both partners in the joint venture have limited funds and without new investors, it would be impossible for KINIBIZ to continue its operations."
Read more: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/328327#ixzz4RqUWxRbn
And it was a business decision to close The Rakyat Post. On 29 February 2016 The Star reported "The Rakyat Post closes shop".
"The company, owned by Wespacom Sdn Bhd, told its staff of the decision to cease operations at a meeting with several representatives of its 60 employees at Menara MBSB here on Monday."
"It told its employees that they would have to lodge a complaint with the Labour Department or seek industrial action in order to get their two months’ unpaid salaries."
Then on 10 March 2016, Astro Awani reported that the Rakyat Post had rether mysteriously sprung back to life:-
"The Rakyat Post resurfaced after shutdown, ex-staff in the dark"
"KUALA LUMPUR: After it was announced that The Rakyat Post would be shutting down their operations beginning March, the online news portal today resurfaced, much to the surprise of its ex-staff.
"The news portal's former editorial team claimed to be in the dark over this new development, as there had been no communication between them and the management since the shutdown announcement last Feb 29."
So that's four media portals shut down so far in 2016 minus one which came back to life under rather mysterious circumstances and continues publishing until today.
What! journalists and staff working for free? Hmmm. I wonder.
Now back to The Heat. Earlier it was called The Heat Online and owned by HCK Media, the same publisher which publishes the Focus Malaysia print and online business publication. However, on 29 November 2015, The Heat Online reported that it would be under new ownership and that it would henceforth be known as The Heat Malaysia.
"The Heat Malaysia under new management"
"By Eddie Hoo
"From Dec 1, 2015, The Heat Online will be renamed The Heat Malaysia and it will come under a new management and ownership. HCK Media will hand over the portal to Regal Edition Sdn Bhd, following a decision by the former to strategically realign its business and exit the news portal business to focus on developing its social media websites."
"The new owner takes over full financial and editorial responsibility for the website following the sale. The Heat Malaysia, like its predecessor, will be a patriot first and foremost. It owes its allegiance to the King and country, and is not beholden to any political party."
"Our credo: We believe in playing our role as a vanguard of truth and justice. We will do our part in helping to uphold the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of the land. We believe in the rule of law, maintaining a secular state and showing respect for all religions. The Heat Malaysia will speak out against bigotry in any form."
Below is The Heat's closure announcement in full:-
"The Heat M'sia turns one and is no more"
"By Staff Writer
"Journalists are not the only ones subscribing to ideals. Along with other pursuers of justice, fair play and equality from other circles, we plod on and rage against a system that has strayed from the right path.
"Reformists abound in our society. And like them, we tried to be the vanguards of truth without a hidden agenda.
"We are not cowed by the bullies. Nor do we fear the bigots or the crooks that mask themselves as patriots and champions of race and religion.
"We sought to highlight the wrongs, and be the voice of those who are unable to speak for themselves. That voice is no more.
"The Heat Malaysia is not the first, nor will it be the last to lose that voice.
"The staff of The Heat Malaysia has been informed that the portal will cease operation on Dec 1. It is a business decision, we were told.
"We “have done well to push back the boundaries of political and societal correctness”, according to an intellectual in our society. And that is the biggest compliment a news website could get.
"As it is, there is a paucity of rational and creative thinking. We are seeing intellectual life getting drained out of our society. To suggest we don’t ask tough questions and meekly submit to prescribed thinking is akin to making society dumb."
"We will take a step backward if we close the forum for intelligent exchanges among our citizens, discourage positive dissension and applaud the parroting of government views. The fear of self-examination by the authorities dilutes the intellectual substance of our nation. Society can never grow without proper introspection."
"As one of our columnists has said — keep reading the news, keep forming an opinion, and keep sharing your thoughts. Goodbye."
So The Heat portal was not viable financially under HCK Media' nor Regal Edition's ownership.
In common between The Heat, The Malaysian Insider and The Rakyat Post is that they all primarily featured political news and opinion, with some non-political articles on lifestyle, community, consumer affairs and so forth which may interest readers and whilst Kinibiz was a business publication, it however was very closely associated to the Malaysiakini portal.
So English language portals left standing are:-
Free Malaysia Today
Malay Mail Online
Malaysia Chronicle (the access to which is blocked within Malaysia)
I guess that would also include the U.K. based Sarawak Report (also access blocked within Malaysia).
Meanwhile, more pro-establishment or neutral, English-language news portals still standing include:-
Launched on 8 July 2016 is Malaysia Outlook.
And more recently Tanjak
Malaysian Chinese News (in English)
The bottom line is that without a sugar daddy with deep pockets propping up such such portals financially, most of the above portals would have to close shop, unless they are financially viable enough from subscriptions, advertisements and so forth to be able to support themselves independently, and few of them are.
Most of these sugar daddies remain anonymous behind the scenes but if they feel that their portal is not providing enough political or commercial returns for their investment or no longer serves their political or commercial purpose, they will sooner or later pull the plug on them.
The Future of Journalism
As I have oftentimes said - unless online advertising rates and revenue match current advertising rates and revenue of print media, I foresee that journalism may no longer be a viable paying career on which one can rely on for a decent, stable and liveable income in 10 or 20 years time. Instead, journalists will have to be like bloggers, most of whom have a daytime career, profession or business which earns them a living, whilst they write for free in their spare time.
In fact, right now, many media offer what I call "journo-prostitution" services - i.e. paid articles in order to earn revenue.
Thus compromised are those journalistic ideals and ethics or being a neutral observer reporting or commenting on one's independent observations on the ground. Of course, no journalist or publication is free of personal or political biases in their reporting and neither am I who would rather describe myself as a polemicist, rather than a journalist.
However, when one practices journo-prostitution and writes paid articles which positively hypes up a client's products, services or viewpoints, when readers expect a journalist's independent perspective, then one's journalistic integrity is compromised. The right thing to do here is to clearly identify the paid article as an advertorial (advertisement-editorial) but many publications in Malaysia no longer do that