It was about a week to the March 8, 2008 General Elections when on the night of February 28, Bernama TV (as it was known then) was launched LIVE into the broadcast space – leaving ripples in the industry as to the reason behind its sudden embarkation when it was obvious that the channel was not quite ready for a full-fledged launch.
Its time belt of news and current affairs was also not quite filled – but yet they went on air, not LIVE for a couple of hours but for 24 hours! No doubt the repeats were scheduled between 1230 after midnight till 6am. The rest of the time were LIVE back to back news bulletins and in 4 languages – Malay, English, Mandarin, Tamil – all of which shared equal air time.
Did Bernama TV make an impact? It definitely did. It was another ready-made platform for the government to promote their agenda and for advertisers to consider buying airtime.
But most importantly, it’s not everyday in Malaysia where a full-fledged 24 hour TV channel is launched. Firstly, it’s expensive to even start one, secondly, you need a Broadcast licence which is not given to every Tom, Dick and Harry. You basically need to be “somebody” to own a TV licence in Malaysia. And thirdly, you’ll need to sustain the TV channel’s operations which in Bernama TV’s case, ran into millions every month. Salaries alone was a hefty 1 over million ringgit per month. Imagine the rest.
So it didn’t come as a surprise when just about a year into operations, Bernama TV began to feel the pinch of exorbitant costs.
However the channel braved on, providing its daily dosage of news and current affairs on Astro channel 502 under the slogan, “Baru dan Benar” (“Right & Now”).
Despite being only 9 years in the game, Bernama TV (now known as Bernama News Channel after its major re-branding on May 25, 2016) has gone through ups and downs, stormy waters, to say the least.
Its lifeline was also prolonged via “partnerships” between the government which owns a majority share in Bernama TV and the private sector.
Companies like Silver Ridge and Redberry have drifted into the life and times of Bernama TV.
And now, another name has emerged to provide that lease of life – Tan Sri Dr Lim Kok Wing – the education tycoon and Malaysia’s foremost public relations guru.
Lim, founder and president of Limkokwing University of Creative Technology – has offered RM30 million to purchase 49% stake in Bernama News Channel (BNC).
This will be his maiden venture into broadcasting business by acquiring a local TV channel.
People close to the matter told The Malaysian Reserve that Lim was planning to acquire the stake using one of his private investment vehicles.
The remaining majority stake of 51% will still be controlled by the Malaysian News Agency (Bernama), a statutory body placed under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.
BNC is currently 100%-owned by Bernama.
Rationale behind the proposed sale was BNC’s loss-making state, where remunerations of employees were paid every month via injection by Bernama.
“The TV operations are not generating enough cash to be self-sustainable, thus forcing Bernama to pump in money every month for operating expenditure,” the sources said.
Lim is also expected to overhaul BNC’s current management team by bringing in some industry experts as the channel’s managers.
Now why is Lim doing this – a local radio station went abuzz to delve into the whys and hows of Lim steering BNC out of stormy waters? They even went as far as asking if everyone at BNC will be wearing full black if Lim takes over.
Lim is known for his “cult culture” of having his staff wear full black outfits at work.
This will not be the first time Lim will “rescue” a government’s initiative and their many ordeals of “staying in the game”.
Lim was the chief PR strategist for the federal government during the 1998 financial crisis.
Together with the government’s National Economic Action Council (NEAC), he steered Malaysia out of murky economic waters via a series of PR activities.
How far can he sustain if his deal to acquire 47% stake in BNC goes through and for how long?
This is the question, I believe, which will be the most asked among industry players and the media.
Especially because, others have been there, done that, failed and moved on.
Knowing very well how challenging the media environment in Malaysia is – having deep pockets also does not guarantee success for TV channels.
This was proven in the setting up of 30 million ringgit Asian Broadcasting Network (ABNxcess) which has so far ceased operations and Bloomberg TV Malaysia which shut down about a year after it made its debut.
The international business news channel localised for Malaysian audience saw an investment of over 40 million ringgit since 2014.
Obviously it takes more than money to sustain a TV channel – it takes first of all, a genuine leader, a true blue media and broadcast guru to lead a strong and committed team of managers and staff.
Political will, passion and true grit to see the TV channel through every hard knock and dark moment.
Unfortunately, this is hardly the case in Malaysia, to date. Except perhaps for TV3 which till today, is helmed by experienced newsmen like Datuk Seri Mohd Ashraf Abdullah who’s career in journalism spans back to 1987 at the New Straits Times.
ABNxcess was spearheaded by a businessman who’s primary business is plantation and Bloomberg TV Malaysia, also a businessman in property development and construction.
Lim is also a businessman – Then again, a pure communications person who started his first business — Wings Creativity Consultants — in 1975, when he was 29.
He later rose to found Limkokwing University, rubbing shoulders with the powers-that-be in Malaysia.
He also served the South African government for a short stint under the late former President Nelson Mandela.
Among the prominent campaigns initiated by Lim for the federal government were Vision 2020, Malaysia Inc, Malaysia Boleh, Rakan Muda and the “Tak Nak” anti-smoking campaign.
By Anne Edwards
(Writer was the Head of Production, News, Current Affairs & Programs at Bernama TV from 2009 – 2012. Prior to that in 2008, she joined Bernama TV as Executive Producer, Host & Anchor)