Tamil Nesan logo. Source: Tamil Nesan Facebook page.

[Malaysia] Closure of oldest Tamil newspaper a blow to media diversity

For almost a century Tamil Nesan was unrelenting in giving a voice to one of the ethnic groups in Malaysia, the Indian/Tamil community, which makes up less than a tenth of the country’s population.

On Friday, 1 February 2019, the daily newspaper ceased operations after 94 years of publication, reportedly owing to financial difficulties.

The Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Malaysia said they were “saddened by the closure of the country’s longest-running Tamil newspaper. With its closure, the Malaysian public will lose diversity in the media.

“While there is an important role for advertising in funding and helping to maintain news outlets, the closure of Tamil Nesan illustrates the importance of a media environment that supports sustainable and diverse media,” said CIJ in a statement released to SEAPA.

Differences of opinion notwithstanding, diverse voices, including those of ethnic groups, must be heard, and the media is in the best position to make that happen, said Tess Bacalla, executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). “A diverse media not only helps ensure that all voices are heard but that a culture of dialogue and constructive engagement across sectors of society is fostered,” she added. “These are vital to a healthy democracy, especially in a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse country like Malaysia.”

Malays comprise half of the Malaysian people, followed by Chinese, with less than a quarter of the population.

The demise of the Tamil daily also highlights the need to support community media to ensure their sustainability.

“CIJ supports the development of an independent funding mechanism. Such a mechanism could be used to support community media, to award grants to small-scale independent and non-profit media organizations or content providers, and ensure that minority audiences, particularly those who are economically marginalized, are able to receive high-quality, independent news.”

Established in 1924, the daily newspaper was the oldest Tamil publication in the country, with approximately 20,000 copies sold daily, according to its Facebook page. Prior to the closure, 45 workers had been issued termination letters.

report by Malaysiakini said the newspaper, owned by the family of former Malaysia Indian Congress (MIC) president S Samy Vellu, had “faced financial problems for the past 10 years.”

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