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    Southeast Asia
     Feb 15, 2007
Page 1 of 2
Malaysian media mogul's big China bet
By Chin-Huat Wong

KUALA LUMPUR - A giant global Chinese-language media conglomerate could emerge as early as next year, with 5,000 media-related staff putting out five daily newspapers and 30 magazine titles. Its editorial vision is to unite socially China's far-flung diaspora and promote Chinese culture and civilization around the world.

That's at least the vision of Malaysian timber-cum-media tycoon Tiong Hiew King, who on January 29 proposed merging his trans-

Pacific Ming Pao group with two Chinese-language Malaysian media groups, Sin Chew Media and Nanyang Press.   The three media groups had a combined market capitalization of RM1.4 billion (US$400 million) when the proposed merger was announced, and under the proposed structure Ming Pao would serve as the parent company and Sin Chew and Nanyang as its wholly owned subsidiaries.

Tiong, who is already in control of more than 85% of Malaysia's Chinese-language media market via Sin Chew and Nanyang, says the merger is a strategic reaction to three major trends that have challenged the region's traditional media: globalization, new media, and the rise of China. And while the merger would no doubt justify a consolidation of reporting resources, more broadly he believes the merged entity will result in "a media network that belongs to the Chinese of the world".

When it comes to Chinese-language media, Tiong knows what he's talking about. His Ming Pao Enterprise Corp currently publishes the fourth-best-selling newspaper in Hong Kong, Ming Bao, and its sister newspapers in New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver. He started off with the Sin Chew group, which currently owns the top and third-best-selling Chinese-language dailies in Malaysia and distributes sister newspapers in Indonesia and Cambodia. Last October, Tiong officially acquired Nanyang Press's controlling stake after a de facto takeover of his previous rival.

Some media watchers are already questioning the economics of the deal, which entails Nanyang delisting from the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange and Sin Chew becoming the first dual listing of a company in both Malaysia and Hong Kong. Sin Chew shareholders are scheduled to receive an exchange of 3.3 new Ming Pao shares - valued at HK$2.7 (34 US cents) - for every Sin Chew share (RM4), while Nanyang shareholders would get 3.47 new shares of the merged entity for each or their current shares (RM4.2).

Some media watchers contend that the arrangement will disadvantage minority shareholders, especially those in Ming Bao, particularly considering that all three media companies suffered declining financial performances last year. The worst performer, Nanyang, registered a loss of 6.4 million yuan for the financial year that ended last June.

Yet so far the market has responded positively to the idea of a global Chinese-language media conglomerate, pushing up Ming Pao's shares by more than 15% the day after the merger proposal was announced. Those investors who apparently sensed that a big move was imminent had already driven up Ming Pao's shares by 33% between January 11 and 12 this year.

So far there has been no major resistance to the proposed deal, though the fact that Ming Pao is incorporated in Bermuda would seem to violate a government ban on foreigners owning Malaysian media. If it becomes a reality, Tiong's merged entity will be the largest Chinese-language media conglomerate in the world outside mainland China or Taiwan. And, according to Sin Chew executive director Rita Sim, Tiong's media vision will not be confined to print, but will soon move into television and radio.

From pulp to paper
With a global timber business spanning four continents, including interests in Russia, Brazil, New Zealand, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, and affiliated interests in banking, fisheries and infrastructure, the 73-year-old former rubber-tapper was recently ranked by Malaysian Business as Malaysia's ninth-richest man.

According to a 2004 report from environmental group Greenpeace, Tiong's 60-odd inter-linked companies control more than half of Papua New Guinea's large-scale commercial logging operations, accounting for more than 55% of the country's total log exports. He also runs an English-language daily there, The National, which some note seldom reports on Papua New Guinea's logging industry and touchy deforestation issues.

Greenpeace campaigner Dorothy Tewkie has accused Tiong's Rimbunan Hijau group of having "an appalling record of human-rights abuses, environmental crime and forest destruction in many countries across the world". The environmental group alleged that Tiong's business empire has been protected by "an extensive and well-established network of political patronage and media control" both at home and abroad. Tiong has consistently denied the charges.

Tiong first diversified into media in 1988, when he was invited to revive Malaysia's Sin Chew Jit Poh by its employees and senior leaders of the ethnic-Chinese community. The once-vocal Chinese daily newspaper had been closed down by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad during his infamous "Operasi Lalang" crackdown, which resulted in the detention of 107 political dissidents. The revived publication played on its critical and persecuted past to build up a new liberal profile.

Profits from the paper were astutely channeled into local Chinese charities and cultural activities. One particular activity presaged Tiong's global vision of promoting Chinese culture abroad. In 1991, Sin Chew launched the Hua Zhong literature award for local Chinese writers. The prestigious award was later opened to Chinese essayists, novelists and poets worldwide in 2001. Renowned Chinese writers and intellectuals, including Wang An 

Continued 1 2 

Media in China: Can't beat 'em, join 'em (Aug 15, '06)

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