Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 9 : 3 March 2009
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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Copyright © 2008
M. S. Thirumalai



Ponmalar N. Alagappar, MBA., Ph.D. Candidate
Maya Khemlani David, Ph.D.
Sri Kumar Ramayan, M.Comm.


The media plays an important role in shaping attitudes of people but, at the same time, the media represents what occurs at ground level. This study examines the coverage of news stories in one Malaysian Tamil daily i.e., Malaysian Namban in August 2007, October 2007 and November 2007. This period encompasses the period just before and during the first month of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) movement. Hindraf is a fairly new coalition of 30 Hindu Non-Governmental organizations committed to the preservation of Hindu community rights and heritage in multiracial Malaysia. The Tamils comprise 90% of the Malaysian Indian population and members of Hindraf are mainly Tamils. The Malaysian Indian population makes up 7% of the total population of the country and is considered a minority in the country. With a view to determining how the Malaysian Indian community, mainly the Tamils, are perceived by the media in multilingual and multiracial Malaysia, a content analysis of one Tamil daily was conducted to determine the type of news stories reported during this period.


In Malaysia, there are over 30 newspapers and tabloids published mainly in Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil ( The print journalism in Peninsula Malaysia is mainly dominated by the English newspapers, New Straits Times, The Star and The Sun, Malay newspapers, Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia; Chinese newspapers, Sin Chew Daily, China Press, Nanyang Siang Pau and Guang Ming Daily News and Tamil newspapers, Tamil Nesan, Malaysian Nanban and Makkal Osai.

This study examines how one Tamil daily newspaper, Malaysian Nanban, portrays news stories on Malaysians of Indian descent in general. According to Appudurai & Dass, (2008):

Approximately 50 percent of Malaysian Indians children go to Tamil schools for their primary education. The majority are from lower income homes (p 25).

Many Indian parents in order to gain economic mileage/empowerment have opted to send their children to Malay or English medium schools (Appudurai & Dass (2008) and Tate (2008)). Those who are educated in the English or Malay medium are unable to even recognize the Tamil alphabets as little emphasis is given in national schools to study the Tamil language. According to Lent, A.J. (1974) the readership of Tamil newspapers among Indians has fallen because fewer Indians are going to Tamil schools or learning Tamil in schools. As such, it can be concluded that the news stories featured in Malaysian Nanban reflect the interest of the lower-middle class.

Background: to the protest march

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual society. The population as of February 2007 was 26.6 million consisting of 62% Malays, 24% Chinese, 8% Indians, with other minorities and indigenous peoples ( The Malaysian Indian population makes up 8% of the population of the country and the community is considered a minority.

HINDRAF is a coalition of 30 Hindu Non-Governmental organizations committed to the preservation of Hindu community rights and heritage in multiracial Malaysia ( HINDRAF members are mainly Tamils and the Tamils comprise 90% of the Malaysian Indian population. The Hindu Rights Actions Force (HINDRAF) has been declared an illegal organization from Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 by Malaysia Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar ((

On 25th November, 2007, Indians - who make up less than 8% of Malaysia's population of about 26.6 million - led a protest march through the city of Kuala Lumpur in the first large ethnically motivated street demonstration since 1969. The Indians announced a mainly symbolic $4 trillion class-action lawsuit against the British government, the country's former colonial ruler, for bringing them as indentured labourers to the region, "exploiting them for 150 years," and then allowing them to be marginalized in postcolonial Malaysia (Fuller, 2008).

Agenda- Setting theory

The theoretical framework provided by the agenda-setting serves as the basis for discussion of how the Malaysian Indian community is perceived by the media. The agenda-setting theory examines the media's effect on the perceived importance of issues held by the public. In other words it refers to the media's capability, through repeated news coverage, of raising the importance of an issue in the public's mind (Yuksel, 2003).

According to Gharparde, 1986 (cited in Emily Eoff, 2002) agenda-setting theory is a relational concept that specifies a transfer of salience from agenda primers (media) to agenda adopters (consumers). Agenda setting stems the formation of public opinions. Grossberg, Wartella and Whitney (1998) state that the idea behind agenda-setting is simple: the media by featuring some issues more prominently and some issues less prominently and still other issues not at all, gives readers a sense of what issues are important or salient to a community.

An important concept in agenda-setting theory is the framing of news. Framing defines how a certain piece of media content is packaged so it will influence a particular interpretation ( According to Conrad & Markens (2001):

Media frames often determine what "news" becomes and how it is reported. Frames become the central organizing idea to selectively represent certain aspects of the stories and accentuate some information while excluding others. Through everyday news work - selecting what to report, locating and quoting expert commentary, and organizing and presenting the news - news organizations provide an important piece of the public discourse. Different frames can lead to different stories (p 375-376).

Typically, the networks frame issues in either episodic or thematic terms. According to Iyengar & Simon (1993):

The episodic frame depicts public issues in terms of concrete instances or specific events - a homeless person, an unemployed worker, a victim of racial discrimination, the bombing of an airliner, an attempted murder, and so on. Visually, episodic reports make for "good pictures". The thematic news frame, in contrast, places public issues in some general or abstract context. The thematic news frame typically takes the form of a "takeout" or "backgrounder" report directed at general outcome or conditions and frequently features "talking heads (p 359-370).

Research questions

The following research questions were examined:

  • How are Tamils represented in a Malaysian Tamil newspaper?
  • What sorts of news stories were given importance
  • Were there recurring themes?
  • How did the media define the significance/importance of the protest march by HINDRAF in terms of:
1. section in the newspaper where the reports appears
2. number of news items related to the protest march as compared to items on other issues
3. the use of letterheads
4. the size of fonts
5. the size of the report
6. use of photographs to support the report
7. the period of prolonged reporting
8. presentation of the news stories (in a thematic frame, half episodic and half thematic frame or episodic frames?).

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Ponmalar N. Alagappar, MBA, Ph.D. Candidate
Section for Co-curricular Courses, External Faculty Electives & Titas (SKET)
University Malaya
50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Maya Khemlani David, Ph.D.
Faculty of Languages and Lingusitics
University of Malaya
Section for Co-curricular Courses, External Faculty Electives & Titas (SKET)
University Malaya
50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sri Kumar Ramayan, M.Comm.
Taylor's University College Sdn Bhd.
Level 3A, Block B3
Pusat Dagang Setia Jaya
No. 9, Jalan PJS 8/9
46150 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia

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