Malaysiakini and the Power of Independent Media in Malaysia

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Janet Steele

Malaysiakini was founded in 1999 by Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran, two young Malaysians who met as overseas students in Australia. One of the many online portals that sprung up in the wake of Reformasi, a movement sparked by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s 1998 firing of his deputy Anwar Ibrahim, there was no reason to think that Malaysiakini would be different from the other blogs and portals that covered the trial of the charismatic former deputy PM. Yet this would be a mistake, as Malaysiakini wanted to do something much more important than report on Reformasi: its founders intended to bring independent journalism to Malaysia in hopes of changing the country. 

Based on more than 15 years of observation of newsroom practices, this book is an intimate portrait of the people and issues behind Malaysia’s only truly independent media outlet. The author illustrates Malaysiakini’s particular mix of idealism in action, with attention to how “sensitive” issues such as race, religion, politics, and citizenship get worked out in practice in the newsroom. This attention to the inner workings of one of the most important media institutions in the region yields not only a deep newsroom ethnography, but a nuanced, rich history of modern Malaysia.

“Everyone who cares about independent journalism can and should learn from Malaysiakini’s example. There is no better place to start than reading Janet Steele’s book, based on unprecedented access and 15 years of research documenting how the team behind the site leveraged the internet to create a space for democratic civic discourse in an often difficult environment—a challenge journalists face all over the world.” – Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

"Media historian Janet Steele’s intimate portrait shows how Malaysiakini’s independent, progressive journalism not just chronicled momentous events in Malaysia, but also made history as part of the country’s democracy movement." – Cherian George, author, Media and Power in Southeast Asia

“I want to recommend this book to all future journalists in the universities, I think you should make this the ‘journalist 101’ book to read. All the journalists' bosses too should read this...”- Sim Tze Tzin, MP for Bayan Baru

Janet Steele is Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs at the George Washington University.

Publication Year: 2023
208pp / 229 x 152mm
10 b/w images
ISBN: 978-981-325-240-0

Read an excerpt from Chapter three here.