Himanshu Bhatt reports on Aliran’s transition into the digital era as the group’s flagship publication ends its eventful 33-year journey.
The iconic Aliran Monthly will (soon) cease to be printed after 33 eventful years, ending a tradition of independent alternative journalism during a time when Malaysians have had to bear with restrained mainstream media.
The magazine was among the most significant journals to convey information and criticisms on Malaysian affairs during the 1980s and 90s, before the advent and popularity of the internet.
The print publication is being ended to allow its editorial to focus and develop its online portal and e-newsletter.
Henry Loh, co-editor of the Aliran e-newsletter, conveyed the decision to members and supporters in an email message on 3 December. (You can subscribe to the Aliran e-newsletter by entering your email address in the box in the right sidebar – Aliran.)
The announcement had already been made internally earlier on 24 November, during Aliran’s annual general meeting.
It was decided that the magazine will no longer run in print after five more issues, as the organisation “enters a digital era”.
This means that the final print issue should be in the second quarter of next year.
“Plans are afoot to hold a historical retrospective on the journey of Aliran as a movement and the role of the monthly magazine which has for the past 33 years served as an icon for the organisation,” Loh said in his message.
The magazine is the publication of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) of the same name which is Malaysia’s oldest human rights group.
The NGO was launched as ‘Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara’ (literally, ‘society for the flow of national consciousness’) in Penang on 12 August 1977.
Over the years, Aliran Monthly has been a prominent mainstay in airing and exposing an array of corruption and other scandals that many mainstream media agencies failed to highlight or deliberate on.
In the face of frequent intimidation and disruptions, its publishers, contributors and circulation crew worked to make accessible a range of analyses, commentaries and news on civil and human rights issues to the public.
Valuable record of the 1980s and 90s
When contacted, Aliran treasurer and frequent editorial contributor Anil Netto described he magazine as a “flagship” of the movement.
“The issues printed over the years contain useful historical records of what transpired in Malaysia in the 1980s and 90s,” he said.
“It was probably the only journal in English, apart from political party publications, to provide alternative news and insights to the Malaysian public in those years,” he added.
“Many of the topics that were articulated, such as on human rights and corruption, were considered novelty, even subversive, then,” he stressed.
Among the momentous episodes of the 1980s and 90s, the monthly covered were the Operasi Lalang mass detention, the controversial upheaval of the judiciary, the Bakun Dam crisis, the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal, Anwar Ibrahim’s ejection from government and the subsequent ‘reformasi’ protests.
It also highlighted cases of graft, racism, aboriginal abuse, government irregularities and media censorship.
The magazine was introduced in 1980, and its online presence began in 1997 with only selected articles initially put on its web portal.
Aliran Monthly currently publishes 11 print issues a year.
The range of articles put online today is more comprehensive.