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Population: 33 million
Internet penetration: 94%
17th June 2024

The uncertainties faced by the Malaysian media industry continued into 2024 with at least two online news portals closing temporarily and industry leader, satellite pay-TV operator Astro Awani, suffering significant losses. The wider environment has not been very supportive either, with the constantly pressured Unity coalition government of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim imposing greater controls on Malaysia’s media.

This Unity government was cobbled together after the general election of November 2022. Many were cautiously hopeful that the fragile political and economic environment that had troubled many Malaysians since the coup of 2020 would finally be stabilised. Eighteen months into its five-year tenure, however, the many reforms that had been proposed have not been carried out and the uncertainties prevail.

In this environment, Malaysia’s media have undergone a tough year. Astro, for example, posted a net loss of almost US$10m for the third quarter of 2023, after paying one-off costs linked to a 20% reduction of its headcount as well as foreign exchange losses.1 In November last year, some streamlining of Malaysia’s news portal environment was anticipated when the three-year-old news portal, The Vibes, acquired the much older The Malaysian Insight (TMI). But by February this year both halted operations, reportedly due to their inability to pay employees’ wages.2 Both have since reopened, but the question of how long this will go on remains.

Consumption of traditional media sources such as television news and print has been declining for several years, with weekly use of print newspapers having halved since 2017. Online and social media have become a convenient alternative with Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and TikTok becoming important sources of news. Our Digital News Report data show TikTok has grown by 7 percentage points in the last year while Facebook news use has declined by a roughly similar percentage.

Ongoing actions taken by the government to control the media illustrate a low level of tolerance despite promises of a freer environment. Just in the first three months of 2024, the government referred more than 51,000 cases of ‘harmful social media content’ to Meta and TikTok for further action. These cases were reportedly related to the now-infamous and taboo ‘3Rs’ – race, religion, and royalty. Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, which has a mainly Muslim ethnic Malay majority, alongside significant ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities. It also has laws prohibiting seditious remarks or insults against its monarchy.3 A joint statement by the government media monitoring body, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), and the police stated that ‘TikTok and Meta have been required to provide an improvement plan and strategy with comprehensive details as agreed in the meeting’.4

One potentially positive ongoing development has been the numerous open discussions held between the government and media professionals, academics, and civil society regarding the formation of a self-regulated Malaysian Media Council to promote, protect, and defend media freedom in Malaysia. It is anticipated that the Media Council Bill will be tabled in Parliament in June this year. A few months earlier, however, the Malaysian government reduced the validity period of media accreditation cards for online journalists. These cards, issued by a government agency, JaPen, make it easier for journalists to attend and report official government events.

It is evident from these contradictory developments that a government initially promising free speech as part of a slew of reforms is still smarting from the rise – and apparent success – of right-wing religious rhetoric online during the 2022 general elections. The elections saw the Islamist party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) making major inroads in middle/urban Malaysia, winning the largest number of parliamentary seats (43 of a total of 222 seats) after successfully campaigning using social media, especially TikTok. It was a campaign largely based on hate and exclusion, pitting one dominant religion against other minority religions, one major ethnic group – supposedly under siege – against so-called ‘immigrants’ (pendatang). There was nothing novel about the nature and content of the campaign. Race and religion have been the main ingredients of Malaysian politics for many decades. What is, however, novel and attractive for many – and continues to worry the government and even civil society – is the use of social media to divide the country further.

Zaharom Nain
University of Nottingham in Malaysia

Changing newsrooms

Methodology note: We introduced education quotas for the first time in Malaysia as part of our programme to make data more representative of national populations. For example, the chart below shows a significant drop in all sources of news this year. Some of this drop will be related to the fact that there are more people with lower levels of education in our sample now, who typically have lower interest in news.

Pay for online news



Trust in news overall



After a sharp 16% rise in trust to 41% in 2021, possibly linked to the COVID-19 lockdowns and greater dependence on media reports during the pandemic, the figure has hovered below that level over the past four years. Broadcast brands tend to have higher levels of trust, with many politically aligned national-language and vernacular newspapers often having lower public trust scores.

RSF World Press Freedom Index


Score 52.07

Measure of press freedom from NGO Reporters Without Borders based on expert assessment. More at

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1 Sulhi Khalid, ‘Astro Posts its First Quarterly Net Loss as VSS Costs Weigh.’ 2023.

2 R. Loheswar, ‘Report: News Outfit “The Malaysian Insight” Halts Operation “Indefinitely” amid Unpaid Wages.’ 22 Jan. 2024.

3 Reuters, ‘Malaysia Reports Increase in Requests to Restrict Social Media Content.’ 9 Apr. 2024.

4 Sebastian Strangio, ‘Malaysia Orders Meta, TikTok to Formulate Plan for “Harmful’ Content”’. Apr. 2024.

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