Framing Corruption in Malaysian Mainstream and Alternative Media

Term Paper, 2013

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3



Table of contents

1. Introduction

2.1 Mainstream Media
2.2 Framing Corruption in “The Star Online”
2.3 Framing Corruption in “The Sun Daily”

3. Approaches to Corruption in Alternative Media
3.1 Alternative Media
3.2 Framing Corruption in “Malaysia Today”
3.3 Framing Corruption in “Free Malaysia Today”

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

As the results of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of the last ten years show, corruption is a serious problem in Malaysia. From 2003 to 2012 it scored results from 4.3 up to 5.2; the worst scores can be observed during the last four years[1]. Hence, it is a current topic in Malaysian society and politics that is regularly covered in the newspapers.

In general, “the press is often associated with liberal democratic values”[2] but in Malaysia the mainstream media are closely connected to the state and therefore do not intend to report on each topic with the same attention to detail. Elsewhere, there are alternative media, which “remain outside of the structures of power, resisting dominant paradigms, serving distinct social purposes, and adding to the media system's diversity”[3]. Naturally, this type of media reaches less people than mainstream media; nonetheless it plays a very important role in the Malaysian media landscape since they permit the people to access perspectives other than the one determined by the state.

This paper will carefully examine the different frames to the presentation of corruption in four Malaysian online newspapers, within which selection are included examples of both mainstream and alternative media. These frames determine the coverage of a specific event or topic, which means that they define the information that is selected and that which is left out when reporting on a certain issue[4]. As different frames can lead to very different and perhaps even opposing point of views, they strongly influence and guide people's thinking process[5].

The first section Approaches to Corruption in Mainstream Media is subdivided into three parts. As a first step, I will consider the origins of the close alliance between mainstream newspapers and the government. On the basis of articles from The Star Online and The Sun Daily, which are online examples of daily mainstream newspapers, the next two parts analyze how corruption is reported. In the following chapter, Approaches to Corruption in Alternative Media, I will start by giving an overview of alternative media in the Internet. This will precede a re-examination of articles from the alternative online newspapers Malaysia Today and Free Malaysia Today, with regard to the presentation of corruption. The principal conclusions of this study will be summarized in the end.

2. Approaches to Corruption in Mainstream Media

2.1 Mainstream Media

The influence of the government on mainstream media has a relatively long history in Malaysia and was crucially effected by the May 1969 riots. In 1969 the electoral campaign and the general election's outcome led to ethnic conflicts, so that a state of emergency had to be declared by the King[6]. In the aftermath of the riots, the government authorized itself to censor elements that might pose a threat to national security. The Minister of Home Affairs was permitted to ban or censor imported print media, freedom of speech and freedom of the press was reduced and the Official Secrets Act was introduced to prevent the people from claiming their right to information[7]. Hence, this event resulted in a grave intervention of the state in individual rights and the freedom of the press.

Furthermore, the New Economic Policy (NEP), a strategy to reduce poverty and to erase the link between economic success or failure and ethnicity, caused the government to invest in and eventually determine the media sector[8]. During the leadership of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister intended to strengthen the role of private enterprises through a cooperation with the government. However, his plans also increased the government's impact on the media[9]. Consequently, these events can be seen as the determining factors for today's Malaysian media landscape and especially for the relation between the government and mainstream media.

Nowadays it is claimed that “all of the twelve major national daily newspapers are owned or controlled by the ruling coalition or private individuals closely connected with the constituent political parties of the government”[10]. Thus, Malaysian mainstream media can be characterized by its close relation “to government through direct or indirect ownership, or control over management”[11]. The outcome of this is a self-censorship leading to the avoidance of topics that the government might consider a threat to the status quo[12]. Moreover, objectivity is an ideal of mainstream media and as a consequence journalists are obliged to leave out their own opinion, being completely dependent on authoritative sources that are closely attached to the leading political or economic forces[13]. Since the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) consists of various political parties, the newspapers cannot only be used to criticize the opposition but also other coalition members and therefore the mainstream print media is able to express what leading politicians themselves are not allowed to say[14]. This usage evokes the idea of newspapers serving as a battlefield for political dissent and as a mouthpiece for unpleasant information. Considering the structure of mainstream newspapers in Malaysia, it is no surprise that they support a pro-governmental news coverage.

Besides the laws already mentioned above, BN has introduced or amended various acts in order to regulate the freedom of the press and freedom of expression[15]. Especially the Printing Presses and Publications Act is responsible for the development that the ownership of media goes to close friends of the government[16]. This law “requires all publications to apply for an annual permit from the Home Ministry, which can be refused, revoked, or suspended at the minister's discretion without judicial review”[17]. The government is obviously prepared and willing to intervene in the case of disobedient behavior as “the suspension of the Star in 1987, or […] the Sun takeover”[18] illustrate.

In summary, the mainstream Malaysian media is under the strict control of the ruling coalition. This influence shows itself in the selection of topics and the ways in which news is presented.


[1] “Corruption Perceptions Index”, Transparency International, accessed August 30, 2013,

[2] Cherian George, Framing the fight against terror: Order versus liberty in Singepore and Malaysia, ed. Krishna Sen, Terence Lee (New York: Routledge, 2008), 139.

[3] George, Framing the fight against terror, 140.

[4] George, Framing the fight against terror, 141.

[5] George, Framing the fight against terror, 141.

[6] Zaharom Nain, Wang Lay Kim, Ownership, Control and the Malaysian Media, ed. Pradip N. Thomas, Zaharom Nain (Penang: Southbound, 2004), 249 – 250.

[7] Nain, Kim, Ownership, control and the malaysian media, 249 – 251.

[8] Nain, Kim, Ownership, control and the malaysian media, 251 – 252.

[9] Nain, Kim, Ownership, control and the malaysian media, 254.

[10] Jason P. Abbott, “Electoral Authoritarianism and the Print Media in Malaysia: Measuring Political Bias and Analyzing Its Cause”, Asian Affairs: An American Review, Vol. 38, No. 1 (2011): 16.

[11] George, Framing the fight against terror, 142.

[12] Sandra Smeltzer, “A Malaysia-United States free trade agreement: Malaysian media and domestic resistance ”, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2009): 15.

[13] George, Framing the fight against terror, 148.

[14] Graham Brown, “The Rough and Rosy Road: Sites of Contestation in Malaysia’s Shackled Media Industry”, Pacific Affairs: Vol. 78, No. 1 (2005): 50, 52.

[15] Abbott, “Electoral Authoritarianism and the Print Media in Malaysia”, 13.

[16] Mustafa K. Anuar, “Politics and the Media in Malaysia ”, Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies Vol. 20, No. 1 (2005): 29.

[17] Abbott, “Electoral Authoritarianism and the Print Media in Malaysia”, 15.

[18] Brown, “The Rough and Rosy Road”, 45.

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Framing Corruption in Malaysian Mainstream and Alternative Media
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institut für Ostasiatische Philologien)
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framing, corruption, malaysian, mainstream, alternative, media
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Anonymous, 2013, Framing Corruption in Malaysian Mainstream and Alternative Media, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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