By FMT Staff
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah's Chinese newspapers are facing a rapidly shrinking market due to falling readership and competition from the online media. However, the chief culprit is the drop in the Chinese population and illiteracy in the Chinese language.
The Sarawak-born See Hua Daily News is set to end the year in pole position over the other Chinese dailies in Sabah.
It has overtaken the Overseas Daily Chinese News, the oldest Chinese daily newspaper established in the late 1950s by another Sarawakian, the late Yeh Pao Tzu.
The See Hua Daily News which began in Sibu, Sarawak, is an offshoot of timber conglomerate, Kuching Timber Store (KTS) Group, that was awarded a Forest Management Unit (FMU) concession in Sabah for 100 years.
Selling no more than 20,000 copies per day, it is the top selling Chinese daily in Sabah.
By contrast, the top selling English daily in Sabah, the Daily Express, sells double that figure. It's sister paper, the Overseas Daily Chinese News, which has to utilise the same printing presses, is struggling.
The Chinese newspapers war in Sabah is quite intense. The smaller papers are dependent on advertisements to live to fight another day.
See Hua Daily's chief news editor Toh Chee Kang is happy that circulation of his paper in Sabah has breached the 15,000 copies per day mark.
Toh like many of the editors and journalists are from Sarawak who need a work permit to work in Sabah subject to the approval of the Sabah Chief Minister’s Department.
Like all newspapers in Malaysia, owners like See Hua Marketing, the company linked to Sarawak timber group KTS, must renew their printing permits yearly and ensure their top editorial brass and editorial material toe the government line.
It is estimated that, on average, a copy of a Chinese daily newspaper is read by three persons.
Chinese newspaper readership in the state is about 150,000 so that makes it about 50,000 copies hitting the streets daily.
“In the Kota Kinabalu region and the west coast, our sales are around 12,000 copies per day, Toh said.
Apart from See Hua and OCDN, the other Chinese dailies are Asia Times and the Merdeka Daily News.
See Hua has an advantage over its rivals because it has a printing press in Kota Kinabalu as well as in the east coast town of Lahad Datu and thus is able to hit the streets there faster.
Both the Overseas Daily Chinese News and Asia Times have their printing plants in Kota Kinabalu and have to transport their newspapers to the east coast towns of Sandakan, Tawau, Lahad Datu and the smaller districts there.
The Sabah Publishing house which owns both the Daily Express and OCDN has set up a new printing press in the industrial zone of Kolombong, Inanam after years of printing within the city limits but its plans have run into some hitches.
The Merdeka Daily News is based in Sandakan but has a following in Kota Kinabalu.
Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures usually differ from actual sales as the printing presses churn out more copies to hike up the tally when the inspectors are in town.
Kept on a leash
The newspapers depend on the ABC figures to market their product and get advertisers from companies based in Kuala Lumpur.
Asia Times printing press may be contracted to print the New Straits Times in Sabah just as The Star is being printed in Sarawak to expand its market share.
A major handicap the Chinese newspaper publishers are facing is the fact that the Chinese population in Sabah has fallen from being a quarter of North Borneo’s population in 1960 to about 15% of an estimated three million people in Sabah.
This has been mainly due to emigration and the influx of new migrants from the Philippines and Indonesia that have boosted the Muslim population.
Of the some 450,000 Chinese in the state - many of whom are here from Sarawak and West Malaysia on work, business or have marital ties and retired - more than half do not read and write Chinese.
Many of their children are Sino-Dusun or Kadazan or of mixed ethnicity. Even those who are Chinese educated may not necessarily read local Chinese newspapers and magazines.
The long-term prospects of Sabah’s Chinese newspapers readership lies in the Chinese educational establishments from Chinese primary schools to private colleges that produce Chinese language literate customers.
A lecturer at the University Malaysia Sabah admitted that he does not buy any newspaper anymore and reads the news online if he has no time to browse the newspapers in the library.
Younger Malaysian Chinese also seem to have taken to the new media at the expense of the printed media according to a research done by New Era College presented at the 10th Asia Pacific Sociological Association conference in Kota Kinabalu recently.
Citizen journalism via the Internet has been a game changer for all, the college said.
Despite their dwindling readership and clout, the state government is keen to keep them on a leash and woo their cooperation.
Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman hosted a luncheon at his official residence for top brass of the mainstream print and broadcast media on Monday to ensure bonding and closer cooperation.
But Sabah’s Chinese daily newspapers will need more than the chief minister’s happiness to survive in the long haul.
They are at the mercy of their advertisers and the charity of the local Chinese community.
Photo source: www.juesatta.com