Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Penang-based English newspapers

Penang was the place for mass media, since 1805 until today, there were many newspaper established in Penang. English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil newspapers, some did not survive, but some survive until today. The first newspaper in the country was published in 1805 in Penang and was known as the Prince of Wales Island Gazette. Kwong Wah Daily have survived the times and still growing strong in Penang; The Star is now the popular English newspaper, but have moved its corporate office to Kuala Lumpur, it is now a listed company. The Guang Ming Daily (光明日報)is the continuation of Sin Ping Jit Poh(星槟日报),even the management has changed hand, it is still in Penang, and now owned by public listed company, Sin Chew Media Corporation Bhd.

There were 27 English newspapers published from 1806-1970s in Penang. The first being the Prince of Wales Gazette in 1806, and last being The Star published in 1971. Most of the English newspaper reported little news from local Chinese community, especially Chinese education issue. It was mainly cater for the colonists and reported news focus more on the Britain and the English world. It is only after the war, that due to the political change in Asia and China, the local English newspaper begin to report more news about local Chinese and other community, which also included news about China, and other Asian countries.

The early Penang based newspaper were Prince of Wales Island Gazette (1806 - 1827)& 1833, Pinang Register and Miscellany, 1827-8,Government Gazette of Prince of Wales's Island, Singapore and Malacca, 1828-30. Pinang Gazette, 1838 (weekly) ; 1890 (tri-weekly) ; 1891 (daily), Daily Bulletin(1903-?), Indo-Chinese Patriot (1895, 1900-01), Eastern Courier(1930-?), Malayan Ceylonese Chronicle(1941-?), Straits Echo(1903-1986) etc...

In the early days of the Colony there was a Press censorship, but it is not easy to determine what its exact scope was. Each issue had to be submitted to Government before publication under what was called the " Gagging Act" which was abolished in 1835, when the new paper was called the Free Press to mark the new era. The statutory censorship was different from war censorship of 1914-18.

Today, Censorship is a growing issue in Malaysia as it attempts to adapt to a modern knowledge-based economy.In 2009, Malaysia was ranked 131st in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. It was also given a "Partly Free" status on the Freedom in the World report by Freedom House in 2008. The Freedom in the World index, graded on a scale of one to seven, with one being the most free and seven being the least, Malaysia obtained four points for both Political rights and Civil liberties.

Unlicensed use or possession of a printing press is illegal under the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984(PPPA). Journalists are frequently given guidelines by the Prime Minister's Office when reporting 'sensitive' issues, and media self-censorship is encourage. PPPA is not the only law that serves to restrict press freedom—others are the Official Secrets Act 1972, the Internal Security Act 1960 and the Sedition Act 1949.

The Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 empowers the Minister of Home Affairs in his absolute discretion to grant to any person a permit to print and publish a newspaper in Malaysia. The maximum period for which a permit is granted under the Act is 12 months. Any decision of the Minister to refuse to grant or to suspend a permit shall be final and shall not be called in question by any court on any ground whatsoever. Under the Act no person shall be given an opportunity to be heard with regard to his application for a permit
(source: http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/press_statement/public_statement_on_press_freedom_in_malaysia.html.)

Prince of Wales Island Gazette/Pinang Gazette(1806-1827)- (“the oldest English language newspaper East of Suez)

Andrew Burchet Bone(1806-1815)- the founder
The first newspaper in the country was published in 1st March 1806 in Penang and was known as the Prince of Wales Island Government Gazette. The island of Penang, then a residency called Prince of Wales Island under the control of the British East India Company,and the name after the island. The newspaper ceased publication in August 1827 but was revived in July 1833.

The Government Gazette, despite its name, was not a government publication, but a private initiative led by one Andrew Burchet Bone or A.B. Bone. Mr Bone had been a printer in India and brought his skills to Penang where he began to utilize his Indian experience. Mr Bone was also engaged in a business partnership with a Mr Court, and their firm “Court and Bone” was one of the major auctioneers in Penang in the first decades of the 19th century, frequently advertising on the front page of the Prince of Wales Island Government Gazette, the name which the newspaper adopted on 7 June 1806. This title was subsequently shortened to Prince of Wales Island Gazette(PWIG) in October 1807. Who owned the other share in the newspaper is not known—possibly Mr Court. A third share in the “Government Gazette Press” was offered publicly through the newspaper on 19 November 1808.

The PWIG was a commercial newspaper aimed not at the locals but at the colonialists and expatriates. In the early 1800s, there was no law in the Straits Settlements governing the issuance of newspaper licenses. The governor of Penang, however, found it imperative to issue a license to Bone. Curiously, Bone himself made a request that the PIWG be censored by the government prior to publication. Hence, it could be argued that this practice marked the beginning of the connection between the state and the press, and also of state intervention in the affairs of the media.

The office was at No. 68 Beach Street. The publisher subsequently moved to No. 233 Beach Street, then again to 23 Bishop Street. He then transferred his business up the street to No. 6 Bishop Street, before eventually settling at No. 10 Farquhar Street.

The last issue produced by Mr Bone was Vol. 10, No. 477, dated 22 April 1815. Mr Bone died on the 26th day of that month.

1820 - William Cox , printed his first issue on 5 February 1820 (Vol. VI, No. 6). He operated initially from Bishop Street, but subsequently shifted his operating premises to Beach Street, which in the early 19th century did indeed front the beach. He also initiated two issues a week, one on Saturday and one on Wednesday. Prior to this, for its first 14 years of existence, the Prince of Wales Island Gazette had been a weekly publication, produced each Saturday. . In 1820, Mr Cox obtained from the government a monthly stipend of 60 Spanish dollars, on condition that the Gazette print for all government notices.

1821 - Business must have boomed for this newspaper as from 1 January 1821 (Vol. 7, No. 1), it was decided to bring out daily editions. This experiment lasted less than a year, and on 1 September (Vol. 7, No. 207) of that same year, the Gazette reverted to a biweekly schedule.

1827 - This frequency remained in place until 1827, when it reverted to a weekly issue, published on a Saturday. The last issue of the Prince of Wales Island Gazette, under this name, was that published by Mr Cox on Saturday 7 July 1827 (Vol. 13, No. 27). The PWIG endured for 21 years, its final edition being published on July 21, 1827.

1829 - From 29 August 1829, the issues bore the words “Printed at the Government Press by E. De Oliveiro”, and Mr De Oliveiro remained the printer until the last issue was published in January 1830. Prince of Wales Island Gazette ceased publication not from government pressure, but due to financial exigencies.

1833 - The newspaper was revived in July 1833

1837- Penang Gazette and Straits Chronicle(PGSC)
Prince of Wales Island Gazette was the forerunner to the Penang Gazette which commenced in 1837 when Mr. F. Carnegy, a Penang merchant bought the press and its type of the Singapore Chronicle after it closed down and shipped the equipment to the island. The merged publication known as the Penang Gazette and Straits Chronicle(PGSC) had its office at the Messrs. Mc Alister & Co's godowns.

1837, when the Penang Gazette and Straits Chronicle(PGSC) was established. It was also called Pinang Gazette or just Penang Gazette. This newspaper had one of the longest runs of any newspaper in the peninsula, remaining in press under a range of names until 1986.

1936 - it was bought over by the The Straits Times Press Pte Ltd , and later sold to Strait Echo.

During that period, a few other newspapers, including non-English language ones, emerged but these normally stopped publication as quickly as they appeared. Virtually all of the early newspapers, English language or vernacular, were published in the three Straits Settlement states of Singapore, Malacca and Penang.

The Argus

There was another newspaper The Argus, where Argus Lane was named after it. It was published by Mr Blackburn. It suffered many vicissitudes until Mr de Mello owned it and a Colonel Hughes became an editor, the newspaper within 4-5 years was reportedly anti government. There was not much literature about The Argus, some said it was earlier than The Government Gazette. Other than Argus Lane remained to remind its exitience, we have little record of it.

The Time of Malaya(Ipoh's First Newspaper)(1903-1938)

The Times of Malaya: Planters and Miners Gazette was started by J I Philips in 1903, with a mission to further the mining, planting, and mercantile interest of the Federated Malay States (FMS) and the Straits Settlements.Registered as The Times of Malaya Press, it was a Limited Company with F Douglas Osborne, a prominent tin miner, A M Gibb, a lawyer and partner of the legal firm of Gibbs and Hope, and R Young as the Directors. Its first publication was released on March 9, 1904. This was an eight-page daily independent newspaper to which citizens actively contributed their views on the development of Ipoh, and “the impatient gave vent to their feelings in its columns.”

Two years later, J A S Jennings from Singapore, its most influential editor took over and Dr R M Connolly, District Surgeon around this time, retired from government service to take temporary charge of the newspaper and put it on a firm footing. Jennings remained editor for some 30 years and became a leading champion of Ipoh, particularly in its bid to become the state capital of Perak. Eventually he bought up all the shares of the Times of Malaya Press Ltd. and became the sole proprietor. Please visit http://www.ipohworld.org/blog/?p=494 to have a look at the picture of the first Ipoh newspaper, The Time of Malaya.

The Time of Malaya was bought by The Straits Times Press Pte Ltd in November 1936 (who also bought the Pinang Gazette in April 1936). These two newspapers were later sold to The Straits Echo of Penang.

Subsequently it merged with the Straits Echo in 1938, and was known as the Straits Echo and The Times of Malaya.

Strait Echo(亦果西报) 1903-1986

Lim Seng Hooi was one of the founders of the Penang Chinese Chambers of Commerce in 1903, he served as committee member for more then 20 years, intermittently from 1903 to 1928. He managed the business of the Criterion Press that was established in 1883 by his late father Lim Hua Chiam or Lim Mah Chye JP and made it prosper. Criterion Press was the publisher of three early Penang newspapes of three languages. Strait Echo(English), Penang Sin Poe(Chinese), Chahaya Pulau Pinang(Malay).

In 1896 he launched a Chinese daily paper and the Penang Sin Poe(槟城新报)was published. The office of Penang Sin Poe was at 59, Beach Street(港仔口 Káng-á-khaú, between China Street and Chulia Street). Four years later (1899) he founded a Malay weekly, the Chahaya Pulau Pinang. These two journals were the only Chinese and Malay newspaper in Penang at that time in spite of reported prosperous years. To fulfill the need to see fairer play and to obtain justice for the people of Penang, a new daily under the name of Strait Echo was launched in 1903 by the Criterion Press Ltd. with Lim Seng Hooi as the Managing Director. The venture was an immediate success and the Strait Echo enjoyed a wide circulation.

Strait Ehco bought The Times of Malaya, an Ipoh newspaper and Pinang Gazette from The Straits Times Press Pte Ltd , who had bought the two newspapers earlier in November 1936 and April 1936 respectively.

Subsequently The Times of Malaya and Pinang Gazette were merged with the Straits Echo in 1938, and was known as the Straits Echo and The Times of Malaya

Lim Cheng Law, brother of Lim Cheng Ean(father of Lim Kean Siew, PG Lim)owned The Straits Echo through the Clarion Press Ltd, writing under the nom de plume “LCL.”(source: Penang Bar). Is Lim family related to Lim Seng Hooi?....

In the early 70s, the printing plant of Strait Ehco was at the corner shop house of Penang Road/Argyll Road

1980s - The National Echo
Strait Echo changed name to The National Echo by new owner, Tan Koon Swan group, disregard the heritage value of the name. National Echo, which was owned by MCA committee-member Tan Koon Swan, who was later forced to resign in August 1981, after the paper carried a political article.

Tan Koon Swan later sold The National Echo to Sin Ping Daily, now owned by DATO' LIM KHENG KIM of Penang who was owner of two Chinese newspapers, Sin Chew Jit Poh (星洲日報)& Sin Ping Jit Poh(星檳日報). (Note: Following the directives from the government on restraining foreigners from controlling the press. The Aw family from Singapore sold their ownership of Sin Chew Daily/Sin Ping Daily to Lim Kheng Kim in 1982). Lim Kheng Kim has no experience in operating the newspaper, the management of the Chinese newspapers had caused him problems, and the acquisition of Strait Echo added more salt to the wound. Sin Ping Daily was operating at Leith Street, Penang.

DATO' LIM KHENG KIM faced financial problem with Maybank Penang, the bank seek legal action to recover the debt. Sin Ping Daily stopped publishing in 1986, the National Echo( previous Strait Echo)faced the same fate.

In 1987, Sin Chew Daily sank into deep financial trouble. A receiver was appointed over the company. On 27 October 1987, the publication license of Sin Chew Daily was suspended under Operasi Lalang, one of the most drastic clampdowns on civil dissent launched by the government.
The National Echo was closed, and Sin Chew Jit Poh & Sin Ping Jit Poh sold. Sin Chew Jit Poh was bought by Sarawak timber tycoon, Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King,from Ribunan Hijau group,acquired Sin Chew Daily. Sin Ping Daily was acquired by the former staff, to restart the newspaper publishing,and obtained publishing permit in December 1987, Guang Ming Daily(光明日报) was born. In 1992, the Rimbunan Hijau Group bought over Guang Ming Daily and thus making it the sister company with Sin Chew Daily. The fate of Strait Echo was known, the newspaper had come to an end, and no longer in the market.

The Star(星报)- No 1 English Daily in Malaysia

The Star is the most successful newspaper formed in Penang. It was the only Penang English newspaper still survive, and growing strong beating The New Strait Times as the most popular English newspaper in Malaysia, it is now the biggest national newspaper. Despite having moved to Kuala Lumpur, and politically linked to MCA, Penang people still support the newspaper as Penang's newspaper. It is now a public listed company.

A brief history of The Star

The Star was first published on Sept 9, 1971, starting off as a regional newspaper with its plant in George Town, Penang.

Its birth created a couple of firsts in the country - it was the first tabloid and the first English language daily to be printed using the web-offset process.

Over the next five years, the newspaper's circulation grew rapidly and by early 1976, it became Penang's premier newspaper, outselling the then 139-year-old New Straits Times. During the same period, too, Malaysia's first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, who had retired a few years earlier, joined the board of Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (the publisher of The Star and its sister paper, Sunday Star) and became its chairman.

The Star went national on Jan 3, 1976, when it set up an office in Kuala Lumpur. Two years later, it relocated its headquarters from Penang to Kuala Lumpur.

To accommodate a growing staff and a new press incorporating the latest technology, it moved its headquarters from Kuala Lumpur to its present premises in Petaling Jaya in 1981. On June 23, 1995, Star Publications created history when it became the first Malaysian newspaper -- and the third in Asia -- to launch a World Wide Web edition. The Star also achieved a new milestone in its corporate history in 1995 by being listed on the Main Board of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. In the year 2000, The Star relocated in stages to its very own 17-storey premises, Menara Star in Section 16, Petaling Jaya.

In January 2002, The Star's new printing plant, Star Media Hub was officially opened by the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, YAB Dato' Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi in Shah Alam, Selangor. The Star also has a new office and printing plant - Star Northern Hub in Bayan Lepas, Penang. These new lines will increase printing capacity and offer greater flexibility for newspaper pagination and colour.

The Star has undergone many changes in its growth but one characteristic remains the same - its reporting style continues to be refreshing, with news and articles that are varied to cater to different interests.

By the way, Penang produced many good pressman. Newly appointed Bernama's Editor-in-Chief Mr Yong Soo Heong is from Penang, an ex-student of Westland Secondary School. Datuk Wong Chun Wai Executive Director and Group Chief Editor of The Star, is from St Xavier's Institution. There are many more Penangites who have contributed and played significant role in printed media industry.

Related articles

1. New Ways of Knowing: The Prince of Wales Island Gazette—Penang’s First Newspaper, by Geoff Wade
2. Please visit Penang state government official website for some picture, http://www.penang.gov.my/index.php?ch=16&pg=99&ac=2&lang=eng
3. Please visit http://www.ipohworld.org/blog/?p=494 to have a look at the picture of the first Ipoh newspaper, The Time of Malaya.
4. The Star, http://thestar.com.my/info/thestar.asp


  1. Great article thanks! I am researching the history of the bungalow we bought and renovated at Chow Thye Road. The former occupant worked for the Straits Echo at one point, and my next step is to go and look through the archives which are held at USM. I'll let you know if I uncover anything of interest!

  2. I'm very impressed that you have been able to provide so much information on the history of newspapers in Penang. May I know where you did your research for this because I would like to find out more... there is so little on the internet and I would really appreciate a few leads.

  3. Great article. Where do you get your information from? I am especially interested in the Straits Echo as my grandfather was a reporter and later an editor there. Any leads would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I would like to pint out a small error re year of the first newspaper was published, ie not in 1805. The first newspaper, the Government Gazette or popularly known as The Prince of Wales Island Gazette, was published on 1 March 1806. Records obtainable at British Library showed that Andrew B Bones applied to set up a printing press and to publish a newspaper was made in February 1806. It was approved by first Penang Governor Petrie in February itself. The printing press was the first ever set up in Penang and it was brought over by Bones from his Madras establishment.
    There were a few letters from Bones to the Penang Government and the replies thereof, all in February 1806.

  5. Thank you David Boudville:

    I received your query in my email. This is my reply.

    I did my research in:
    1. British Library (formerly the BL branch at Blackfriar Rd). Now relocated in the Main Building of BL (level 5). The were lots of letters especially from Sept 1805 when Penang became a presidency). All letters are bound in book form 3-inch thick. You should be able to peruse through these letters or documents based on year etc.
    2. Colindale Newspaper library (a branch of BL) north of London. Here you can see the original newspaper of the Government Gazette. The earliest GG available is 22 March 1806 (3rd week). The newspaper was published weekly until Bones died in 1815. It was bought over by (i think Henderson) and continued publishing it on a weekly basis.
    I believe most world newspapers could be found here (if they were sent there).
    I noticed newspapers from the Straits Settlements, Singapore and Malaya are kept there. You can start looking for history of the Straits Echo here too. I did not do research on SE.
    3. National Archive of UK in Kew. If you are interested in studying your family tree you may want to visit this archive.

    Access to the materials is free but need to pay for photocopies etc.

    Hope this helps.