Malaysiakini.com faces financing woes

Malaysia's most popular Web newspaper, Malaysiakini.com, is in dire straits after a venture-capital project it had been banking on fell through.

SINGAPORE--Malaysia's most popular Web newspaper, Malaysiakini.com, is in dire straits after a venture-capital project it had been banking on fell through.

Malaysiakini CEO and co-founder Premesh Chandran said that investors had been put off by government criticism of the site.

The Malaysian government has alleged that the site was being financed by billionaire George Soros, whom Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad blamed for creating havoc in the region's economies in 1997. The news site's journalists have also been barred from attending certain government events.

With the authorities making no bones about their antagonism towards the site, Malaysiakini has been struggling to attract support, with advertising revenues of just RM10,000 (US$2,640) a month despite registering between 120,000 and 150,000 hits a day.

This has seriously affected Malaysiakini's finances. The online paper was started in November 20, 1999 with US$100,000 grant from the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, based in Bangkok, on the understanding that it would generate its own income.

In The Straits Times report, Premesh was quoted as saying that the outfit only had enough funds to last until the end of the year. However, the article also cited unnamed sources as saying that Malaysiakini was struggling to keep things going on a monthly basis.

The paper is not giving up without a fight, however. It hinted that it would accept donations, and chief editor Steven Gan recently made an appeal at a media forum not to let the company fold.

Premesh also said the paper was trying to create alternative income from its analysis service, Analysis Malaysia, which offers reports on the country's political economy for RM1,000 (US$264) a month.

It will also launch Kinitech.com next month, to help media companies build technology services.

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