Will the latest Tamil daily be able to make an impact in an already crowded market?
A new Tamil daily Nam Naadu backed by prominent businessman and president of the Malaysian Association of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Maicci) Kenneth Eswaran was launched on July 15. It aims to battle it out for a market share with four other existing Tamil newspapers.
As of February this year, there were only three Tamil newspapers, Malaysia Nanban, Makkal Osai and Tamil Nesan which were fiercely competing with each other since the Tamil newspapers’ market share is rather small with only a small percentage of the Indian community buying and reading Tamil newspapers.
However, politically, Tamil newspapers play a powerful role in shaping the public opinion of the Indian community.
Most of the MIC leaders and other Indian political leaders are ardent followers of the Tamil press and most of the key NGOs and their leaders rely on the Tamil dailies to disseminate information about their activities.
The leadership across the political parties and Indian NGOs are invariably former Tamil school students who keenly follow the developments in the Indian community through the Tamil dailies.
The Tamil dailies have also become the literary platform for Tamil writers and poets.
Malaysian Tamil literature has evolved over the years and today boasts of a wide collection of literary writings rich in language and unique to Malaysian culture and stands out independent of modern literature that has evolved in Tamil Nadu, India.
Such an achievement was only made possible because of the contribution and leading role played by the Tamil newspapers.
A lucrative market?
The Tamil newspaper industry is said to be lucrative from the commercial point of view provided a new paper is able to sustain financially for the first two years during which time they may have to spend some RM2 million. Only then the advertisement revenue would begin to pour in and the readership could be strengthened.
In recent times due to the change in political thinking and increase in the number of Indian political groups, the Tamil dailies have become the most important source of information and competing political stories as far as the Indian community is concerned.
In February this year Thinakural was launched by the son of the late Athi Kumanan, a prolific writer and a well-known former editor of Tamil dailies Tamil Osai and Malaysia Nanban.
Now, Nam Naadu has joined the fray and is expected to give a tough fight to other Tamil dailies as it is backed by a strong financial group.
Eswaran is known to be a close confidante of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s family and therefore the paper is expected to be a mouthpiece of the government and Barisan Nasional policies.
There are also rumours that Nam Naadu would be eventually merged with or taken over by ABN Media group Sdn Bhd, in which Eswaran recently bought a 55% stake.
Which paper will survive?
With the entry of Nam Naadu, the Tamil newspaper market has become overcrowded.
Among the Tamil dailies, Malaysia Nanban is the top selling paper which is run by the family of the late Sikkander Batcha.
Makkal Osai comes next in terms of sales and is closely connected to former MIC deputy president S Subramaniam’s family.
Tamil Nesan which is one of the oldest Tamil dailies in the world, comes third in terms of sales and is controlled by former MIC president S Samy Vellu’s family.
It would be interesting to watch from now onwards how these dailies would compete with each other for a share of the limited Tamil newspaper readership market.
Editorial policies changed
Some of the papers have already changed their editorial policies and stand to meet the current demands of the Indian community and to be in line with the new political thinking in the country.
For example, Thinakural has already taken a pro-opposition stand by widely publishing stories and statements from Pakatan Rakyat leaders.
A series of articles by the paper on the small number of Indian staff in each and every government department compared to the total existing staff have become an instant hit and a popular talking-point in the Indian community. These statistical figures published by Thinakural created a bad impression for the BN government.
Even Tamil Nesan, once the mouth-piece of Samy Vellu has become an ardent supporter of Bersih 3.0 leader Ambiga Seenivasan with its managing director S Vell Paari frequently condemning the actions targeted against Ambiga.
Malaysia Nanban and Makkal Osai have been traditionally pro-BN papers but lately they are also publishing more stories about Indian opposition leaders.
The opposition parties have a higher number of Indian elected representatives than BN and therefore it has become inevitable that their stories are also published frequently to keep the readers intact.
In this context, Nam Naadu is expected to remain a pro-BN daily.
The small Tamil newspaper industry cannot afford to support all the five Tamil dailies. So, it would be interesting to watch which of these papers would be able to survive in the near future.
RJ Rajah is an observer and writer on politics and social issues with a keen interest particularly in Malaysian Indian affairs.