Updated: The Scribe, a former GEIC of the NSTP: Protecting NSTP's Brandname and Goodwill
NOT a good idea. A journalist from the Edge asked me about the initiative to take the New Straits Times Press private. I said I heard a decision was going going to be made in a day or two. I also said that if it happens, there would be bad press for Najib or Umno. My friend isn't the only one who agreed.
The accountants can cook up 1001 means to justify the end (the favourite line I've heard is that taking NSTP private would "unlock its potential", or something to that effect). But the move, I'm afraid, will not be just about economic gains and financial potential. The NSTP is the media apparatus closest to Umno and the Prime Minister (even though its reports don't usually reflect that, especially lately). Which means, there is a political angle to the story which may override the "unlocking-the-potential" factor offered by the accountants.
The thing is, I don't think those accountants have taken time to gauge the political feedback. If they had, they would have stopped dead in their tracks upon realising the political backlash they could be unlocking.
Most of the people I talked to about the move to take NSTP private offered the same conclusion or, rather, assumption: That the plan is to PRE-EMPT a defeat by the Barisan Nasional to the Pakatan Rakyat at PRU13!
I was stumped. How does that happen?
Well, as another analyst told me, it does look like UMNO or Najib thinks an insurance is needed in the event of a defeat to PR in PRU13, crucial assets like Media Prima/NSTP don't fall to the enemy. I argued that the fear of losing the next general election was perhaps very real when Pak Lah was still the PM, but certainly it is no longer the case. I thought there was more confidence on BN's part now that they would do better at PRU13, especially with Najib winning the battle on the economic front?
Was I wrong?
Taking NSTP private will provide his detractors with the firepower to accuse Najib Razak of trying to put the media under his direct control. Anwar Ibrahim attempted the same with the Management Buy Out of the NSTP in the mid-90s. Such a negative perception will not be in the interest of the PM, who has said he would give more latitude to the media under his watch and who has thus far done well to keep to his word.
Any suggestion that the move to take NSTP private will be good for transparency and media freedom will be rendered idiotic. If they wanted to "free" the NSTP of direct political control and intervention, they should have done it as soon as PRU12 was over. We are now almost two years after PRU12!
On the contrary, if this idea of taking NSTP private involves a merger with Media Prima and its television channels (which are all doing very well without NSTP, anyway), Umno and Najib should be concerned with the prospect of having ONE media tsar controlling all the apparatus under the group.
We saw a glimpse of that in the last 6 years when Pak Lah "surrendered" the business of managing/controlling the media in the hands of one person that he and only he trusted.
That was the time when the Government believed in its own propaganda.