Societal challenges faced by Aliran Monthly

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Wth scarcity of resources, Aliran launched its modest Aliran Quarterly in 1980 with the primary aim of providing analyses and commentaries of political, social and economic developments that occurred in the country, says Mustafa K Anuar.

It was generally felt that analyses of this nature were crucial and much needed particularly in an environment where the mainstream press was unable or unwilling to do so due to legal constraints or political pressures from the ruling elite, who own and/or control the press.

Besides, not many other local magazines in the market offered editorial content that was analytical and critical. Many of these publications focused on entertainment, fashion and other frivolous matters.

Furthermore, the internet did not make its appearance in Malaysia until 1995. This meant that alternative voices were scarce in the public domain, depriving the general public of an array of views on public interest issues.

Significantly, Mahathir Mohamed became prime minister on 16 July 1981, marking the beginning of a 22-year rule that generally frowned upon, if not criminalised, criticism of his administration as well as other opinions that were not aligned with the prime minister’s.

Financial scandals and political crises litted the Mahathir era, leaving many concerned Malaysians searching for information and analyses from the few sources available in the country in their endeavour to get a handle on things that were happening. It is in this context that Aliran Monthly played a significant role in keeping the public abreast of what was taking place and commenting on issues of public interest.

The BMF scandal of the mid-1980s that rocked the country is one example. The now defunct Bank Bumiputra not only lost some RM2.5bn in this loan scandal, but also one of its officers, Jalil Ibrahim, who was murdered in Hong Kong while investigating this financial scandal.

Yet another scandal was the Maminco fiasco that involved the RM2 Maminco Sdn Bhd in the government’s failed attempt to corner the world’s tin market in the mid-1980s. This blunder caused an estimated loss of at least RM1.6bn, which left many Malaysians concerned.

Banning or suspending publications seemed to be a favourite measure taken by the Mahathir administration, frustrating publishers and writers alike. In 1983, the government suspended the monthly magazine, Nadi Insan, published by the Institute of Social Analysis. In another case, the organ of the then Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia, Mimbar Sosialis, was suspended in January 1986 for having published a critical poem, ‘Kaum Tani’. Three months later, the owner of the English language daily, The Echo, decided to cease publication after he reportedly came under heavy pressure from the Home Ministry over a period of time.

Foreign publications were not spared either. The Mahathir administration imposed a three-month suspension order against the Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ) and cancelled the work permits of its correspondents, John Berthelsen and Raphael Pura, who subsequently were served an expulsion order. The AWSJ irked the government because of its critical reporting of the business dealings of the finance minister (related to the United Malayan Banking Corporation deals) and the deputy home minister as well as the Maminco fiasco.

Bmf-coverFaced with a myriad of issues and problems that had emerged in the society, Aliran made the conscious decision to turn its quarterly magazine into a monthly to enable it to reach its readership more frequently and with more current topics to discuss and analyse within the constraints of the laws of the land. This was the social context when the Aliran Monthly first hit the streets in 1984.

The massive civil society protest against the Papan Rare Earth factory installation in Perak in 1984 caught the attention of many Malaysians. Once again, people rushed to get information and analyses regarding this sensitive issue, apart from joining a petition campaign that was initiated by a few civil society groups to stop the factory from producing radioactive effluent. Aliran Monthly dutifully brought the attention of the wider public to this episode.

It is against this backdrop of scandals and crises that the Official Secrets Act was further tightened in 1983. The definition of ‘official secret’ was widened, and those found guilty under the amended law would be punished with a mandatory minimum one-year term jail sentence. This puts a damper on investigative journalism and the notion of transparency and accountability in government.

Prime Minister Mahathir waded into the 1983 Constitutional Crisis in an attempt to amend Article 66 of the Federal Constitution that set a time limit for the Agong to veto a law within 30 days. The proposal brought about a huge controversy between the government and the monarchy. The government had to step up public pressure on the monarchy to agree to the amendments. This episode certainly caused disquiet especially among concerned Malaysians; the thirst for information and analyses on this issue was quenched by the Monthly.

The court-ordered dissolution of Umno as a political party in 1987 following a power struggle between Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh and the subsequent Operasi Lalang crackdown on 27 October 1987 sent shockwaves across the country. The Umno dissolution required deep analyses and commenting which a publication such as Aliran Monthly was well placed to undertake.

The ensuing Operasi Lalang – which culminated in the detention of more than 100 individuals and the suspension of two dailies, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, and two weeklies, The Sunday Star and Watan – sent a chill down the spines of many, especially those active in civil society. The Star after the clampdown never regained its former stature as a relatively freer daily.

Aliran was especially affected by this political clampdown given that its then president, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, and two other members, Brother Antony Rogers and Theresa Lim Chin Chin, were caught in the political dragnet.

ith scarcity of resources, Aliran launched its modest Aliran Quarterly in 1980 with the primary aim of providing analyses and commentaries of political, social and economic developments that occurred in the country.

It was generally felt that analyses of this nature were crucial and much needed particularly in an environment where the mainstream press was unable or unwilling to do so due to legal constraints or political pressures from the ruling elite, who own and/or control the press.

Besides, not many other local magazines in the market offered editorial content that was analytical and critical. Many of these publications focused on entertainment, fashion and other frivolous matters.

Furthermore, the internet did not make its appearance in Malaysia until 1995. This meant that alternative voices were scarce in the public domain, depriving the general public of an array of views on public interest issues.

Significantly, Mahathir Mohamed became prime minister on 16 July 1981, marking the beginning of a 22-year rule that generally frowned upon, if not criminalised, criticism of his administration as well as other opinions that were not aligned with the prime minister’s.

Financial scandals and political crises litted the Mahathir era, leaving many concerned Malaysians searching for information and analyses from the few sources available in the country in their endeavour to get a handle on things that were happening. It is in this context that Aliran Monthly played a significant role in keeping the public abreast of what was taking place and commenting on issues of public interest.

The BMF scandal of the mid-1980s that rocked the country is one example. The now defunct Bank Bumiputra not only lost some RM2.5bn in this loan scandal, but also one of its officers, Jalil Ibrahim, who was murdered in Hong Kong while investigating this financial scandal.

Yet another scandal was the Maminco fiasco that involved the RM2 Maminco Sdn Bhd in the government’s failed attempt to corner the world’s tin market in the mid-1980s. This blunder caused an estimated loss of at least RM1.6bn, which left many Malaysians concerned.

Banning or suspending publications seemed to be a favourite measure taken by the Mahathir administration, frustrating publishers and writers alike. In 1983, the government suspended the monthly magazine, Nadi Insan, published by the Institute of Social Analysis. In another case, the organ of the then Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia, Mimbar Sosialis, was suspended in January 1986 for having published a critical poem, ‘Kaum Tani’. Three months later, the owner of the English language daily, The Echo, decided to cease publication after he reportedly came under heavy pressure from the Home Ministry over a period of time.

Foreign publications were not spared either. The Mahathir administration imposed a three-month suspension order against the Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ) and cancelled the work permits of its correspondents, John Berthelsen and Raphael Pura, who subsequently were served an expulsion order. The AWSJ irked the government because of its critical reporting of the business dealings of the finance minister (related to the United Malayan Banking Corporation deals) and the deputy home minister as well as the Maminco fiasco.

Faced with a myriad of issues and problems that had emerged in the society, Aliran made the conscious decision to turn its quarterly magazine into a monthly to enable it to reach its readership more frequently and with more current topics to discuss and analyse within the constraints of the laws of the land. This was the social context when the Aliran Monthly first hit the streets in 1984.

The massive civil society protest against the Papan Rare Earth factory installation in Perak in 1984 caught the attention of many Malaysians. Once again, people rushed to get information and analyses regarding this sensitive issue, apart from joining a petition campaign that was initiated by a few civil society groups to stop the factory from producing radioactive effluent. Aliran Monthly dutifully brought the attention of the wider public to this episode.

It is against this backdrop of scandals and crises that the Official Secrets Act was further tightened in 1983. The definition of ‘official secret’ was widened, and those found guilty under the amended law would be punished with a mandatory minimum one-year term jail sentence. This puts a damper on investigative journalism and the notion of transparency and accountability in government.

Prime Minister Mahathir waded into the 1983 Constitutional Crisis in an attempt to amend Article 66 of the Federal Constitution that set a time limit for the Agong to veto a law within 30 days. The proposal brought about a huge controversy between the government and the monarchy. The government had to step up public pressure on the monarchy to agree to the amendments. This episode certainly caused disquiet especially among concerned Malaysians; the thirst for information and analyses on this issue was quenched by the Monthly.

The court-ordered dissolution of Umno as a political party in 1987 following a power struggle between Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh and the subsequent Operasi Lalang crackdown on 27 October 1987 sent shockwaves across the country. The Umno dissolution required deep analyses and commenting which a publication such as Aliran Monthly was well placed to undertake.

The ensuing Operasi Lalang, which culminated in the detention of more than 100 individuals and the suspension of two dailies, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, and two weeklies, The Sunday Star and Watan – sent a chill down the spines of many, especially those active in civil society. The Star after the clampdown never regained its former stature as a relatively freer daily.

Aliran was especially affected by this political clampdown given that its then president, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, and two other members, Brother Antony Rogers and Theresa Lim Chin Chin, were caught in the political dragnet. Furthermore, this kind of mass arrests went against the very principles Aliran had always fought to uphold: freedom, justice and human rights.

LP-issueAnother constitutional crisis erupted yet again in 1988 in the wake of the dissolution of Umno. The upshot from the tension between the Executive and the Judiciary was the suspension and removal of Tun Salleh Abas from his post of Lord President of the Supreme Court.

Additionally, five Supreme Court judges who tried to intervene, i.e. Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh, Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh and Datuk George Seah, were suspended. (Three of them were later reinstated.) Such was the seriousness of this issue that demanded critical analyses, which Aliran Monthly provided as its sales rocketed.

In 1991, after winning a legal battle with the Home Ministry over the application of a publishing permit for a Bahasa Malaysia publication, Aliran published the much-awaited Majalah Aliran. This monthly publication, which carried translated pieces as well as original material in Bahasa Malaysia, ran for three years to cater to the needs of the Malay-speaking audience.

Majalah-Aliran

Unfortunately, the magazine was compelled to cease publication at the end of the third year when evidence suggested that the response from the general public was waning as sales of the majalah declined.

Sales of Aliran Monthly rose again during the Reformasi era in the late 1990s (though not by as much as during the Judicial crisis). Many people were hungry for information and analyses on such a historic phenomenon. Moreover, internet usage was only just taking off in Malaysia at that time.

This was also the period when the Pas party organ, Harakah – which provided the latest news and commentaries on the Reformasi movement – became very popular. Eventually, Harakah had to pay a high price for its popularity: its publication frequency of twice a week was drastically reduced to twice a month, and it could only be sold to Pas members. This dented the sales and circulation of Harakah.

Post-Reformasi, sales of Aliran Monthly dwindled in the face of the increasing popularity of Reformasi-drenched websites and news portals such as Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider, Malay Mail Online and Free Malaysia Today among curious and concerned Malaysians. These online publications, plus a smattering of hard copy publications, offer up-to-date news and information as well as political and financial commentaries.

Social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, also serve as useful and convenient sources of information and commentaries for the needs of the youthful internet generation. This later became the media through which Aliran disseminates links to its online articles in an effort to reach out to a new audience.

Hence, given the rising popularity of the internet and social media, and given the declining sales of its print magazine, Aliran finally made the tough decision to cease the publication of Aliran Monthly and go completely digital in 2014.

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.
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