In a move that should be a worry in Malaysia as well as in Hong Kong, the Malaysian timber barons who control Hong Kong-and-Malaysia listed Media Chinese International have entered into a provisional agreement to sell their 70 percent holding to a mainland company named Qingdao West Coast Holdings. The latter is a subsidiary of a so-far unnamed state-owned enterprise.
For Hong Kong, the embrace includes the Chinese-language Ming Pao. It is the second major recent move by a Chinese government-owned enterprise to take over formerly independent media.
In December, Jack Ma, who controls the China-based Internet giant Alibaba, purchased the South China Morning Post from another Malaysian tycoon, Robert Kuok, the country’s richest businessman. Fears have grown more acute since the December purchase that the paper, previously considered one of the most influential English-language dailies in the region, would cut back on critical reporting both on Hong Kong and China.
Shortly after Ma’s purchase of the newspaper, he was quoted as saying the paper would strive to ensure “objective coverage” of China in contrast to what was described as a tainted coverage by the western news media.
Media Chinese International owns key Chinese newspapers around the world. In Hong Kong, Ming Pao is a reasonably-regarded middle of the road daily paper for the middle class, and the regional weekly magazine Yazhou Zhoukan (once the stablemate of now defunct Asiaweek). Ming Pao also has editions in Canada and the US.
In Malaysia Media Chinese International operates Sin Chiew Jit Po, Nanyang Siang Pau and Guang Ming Daily, making it the leading publisher of Chinese papers in the nation. It also owns Harian in Indonesia. Sin Chew is by far the most important of the Chinese papers in Malaysia, outselling all others combined. The tabloid Guang Ming is third in circulation
Control of Media Chinese is currently held by the Tiong family of Sarawak, headed by 81-year-old Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King. They made their billions in the timber business, through years of cooperation with the former Chief Minister of Sarawak Taib Mahmud who made an uncounted fortune, mostly from timber deals, during his 33 years in office.
The Tiongs dutifully support the Barisan government in Kuala Lumpur through their newspapers and their backing for the Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP), a member of the UMNO- led Barisan coalition in power both in Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak. Hiew King’s younger brother Tiong Thai King was a SUPP member of the federal parliament until the last elections which he was defeated by a Democratic Action party (DAP) candidate.
It isn’t the first Chinese-language publication the Tiongs have spun off. In January, Media Chinese said it would sell an unspecified interest in One Media, which runs several Chinese-language magazines including Ming Pao Weekly and car magazine Top Gear
Media Chinese did not reveal any information about a potential buyer or say how many shares it was selling in One Media, but it owns 62.83 per cent of the company.