Malaysia boasts plenty of newspapers, TV channels and radio stations serving up lively reportage of events, sports and entertainment, though don’t expect to come across hard-hitting or healthily sceptical coverage of domestic politics. The major media organizations are at least partly owned by the government .

Furthermore, the media are kept on their toes by a legal requirement that they must periodically renew their licence to publish. Thus the Sarawak Tribune was suspended indefinitely in 2006 after it reproduced the controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad; only in 2010 did it resume publication as the New Sarawak Tribune.

Given these circumstances, it’s no surprise that in the 2011/12 Press Freedom Index, issued by the pressure group Reporters Without Borders, Malaysia was far down the rankings at no. 122 – below much poorer nations not exactly noted for being exemplars of free speech, such as Mongolia and Lesotho. B

Foreign newspapers and magazines are sold in the main cities, and international TV channels are available via satellite and cable. That said, issues of foreign magazines containing pieces that displease the authorities have occasionally been banned.

If this all seems an unremittingly bleak picture, it should be said that coverage of Malaysia’s opposition parties has increased since they took power in several states in the 2008 general election. Furthermore, the advent of independent news websites and blogs has been a breath of fresh air in  Malaysia. Elsewhere in cyberspace, it’s possible to turn up various YouTube clips of discussion forums and interviews with activists, offering an alternative take on local issues.

Newspapers, magazines and online news

Malaysia has English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil newspapers. Though Malaysia’s national dailies are available in towns in east Malaysia, locally published English-language papers such as the Borneo Post in Sarawak (wtheborneopost.com) and the Daily Express in Sabah (wdailyexpress.com.my) are more popular there.

Aliran Monthly wwww.aliran.com. Campaigning magazine with an avowed pro-human-rights stance.
Malaysia Insider wwww.themalaysiainsider.com. Considered more moderate than some of its online counterparts, the Insider provides intelligent news and commentary in English and Malay.
Malaysia Today wwww.malaysia-today.net. This news website and blog was thrust into the international spotlight after the man behind it, Raja Petra Kamarudin, was interned under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act for two months in 2008.
Malaysiakini wwww.malaysiakini.com. Invigorating reportage and opinion with an anti-establishment slant.
New Straits Times wwww.nst.com.my. Closely linked to the UMNO party, this offshoot of Singapore’s Straits Times was created after the island separated from the Federation. A tabloid, it offers a broad range of news, sports and arts coverage.
Sarawak Report wwww.sarawakreport.org. Not a Malaysian site – it’s run out of London – but worth a look for its hard-hitting coverage of issues such as logging, native peoples’ rights and the probity of Sarawak’s government.
The Star wwww.thestar.com.my. Founded by the MCA party, The Star is Malaysia’s best-selling English daily and has a separate Sarawak edition.

Television and radio

TV and radio in Malaysia is dominated by state-owned broadcaster RTM, which puts out programmes in several languages. Terrestrial television features an unexceptional mix of news, documentaries and dramas made locally and abroad, cookery and talk shows, Islamic discussions and so forth; radio is even less original and tends to be dominated by pop music and talk shows. Various foreign TV channels, including CNN, BBC World, National Geographic, ESPN Sports and Al Jazeera (which has its East Asian base in KL), are available on cable and satellite in Malaysia.

Cats FM wwww.catsfm.my. Kuching-based FM station offering music plus Sarawakian news; see the website for frequencies around the state.
RTM1 & RTM2 wwww.rtm.gov.my. Malaysia’s staple state-owned TV channels, with some programming in English, Chinese and Tamil. News in English is broadcast on RTM2 at 8pm daily.
Traxxfm wwww.traxxfm.net. Established RTM station with a mix of news and music in English, available on various frequencies around the Peninsula.
TV3 wwww.tv3.com.my. English and Malay news, drama and documentaries, plus some Chinese programmes. Along with the youth-oriented channels NTV7, 8TV and TV9, it’s part of the same conglomerate as the New Straits Times.
XFresh wwww.xfm.com.my. A good station for home-grown pop and rock music in Malay and English, though the patter is in Malay only. Audible in cities nationwide.

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