RTM-Bernama merger on the cards
Gobind Singh Deo

Minister Gobind says cost savings from merger can be used for innovative and modern content creation

By P PREM KUMAR & ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / Pic By AFIF ABD HALIM

The government is considering the merger of two media entities under its control — Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) — to enable major cost savings in operating the media organisations.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said the cost savings would be translated into additional funding for innovative and modern content creation.

The merger plan is among the proposals that are being assessed as part of the six-month deadline given by Gobind for RTM to transform its services. The grace period ends in December 2018.

“If a merger happens, perhaps the news sector can be sourced out to Bernama, and if that is done, we will be able to reduce costs at RTM and (this) means we will have extra funds for us to spend on content,” Gobind told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in an exclusive interview, a month after he was appointed minister.

He said independent parties are currently studying the merger proposal, as well as other options, with firm decisions to be taken based on their reports.

RTM is the country’s premier TV and radio stations operator since 72 years ago. It operates television channels TV1, TV2, TV Okey, six national radio stations and dozens of localised FM stations throughout the country.

Bernama is the sole local-based wire news agency and it also owns and operates Bernama News Channel (BNC), a 24-hour news channel.

According to the last available annual report of Bernama, the news agency generated RM78.44 million in 2014, out from which RM47.79 million was an operational grant from the government.

The news agency’s expenditure for the year was RM78.38 million, which means the organisation is not sustainable without a grant from the government.

RTM’s financial statement was not available at the time of writing.

Gobind said the ministry has no immediate plans to sell BNC, despite various attempts by the previous government to privatise the channel.

“At this point, there are no plans to sell it. I personally think we can improve on Bernama and BNC… If you look at the infrastructure that they have, it is something that we can use almost immediately in order to enhance our national news reporting,” he said.

BNC — previously Bernama TV — was sold to private firms previously, however, it failed due to heavy maintenance cost and increasing competition to share shrinking corporate advertising budgets.

TMR had reported last year that education tycoon and the country’s foremost public relations guru, Tan Sri Dr Lim Kok Wing, was negotiating to buy 49% of BNC for RM30 million. The proposal, however, did not materialise.

Meanwhile, Gobind said the mammoth Media City project near Angkasapuri is on track and RTM could move into the new facility by April next year.

“The project is divided into four parts. There had been some delays, but I think they are on track now,” said Gobind, adding that he had recently visited the project site.

The minister, however, expressed concern over the transfer of an “unchanged” RTM to the new complex.

“I am concerned because while we have the Media City, which deals with infrastructure, the question is whether or not we have the engine to drive it via a reformed and refreshed RTM.

“We do not want to have new infrastructure, but with the same RTM. We need to deal with that.”

In 2012, works on the RM860 million Media City project began to redevelop the Angkasapuri complex, which has housed RTM’s operations since 1968.

The project, announced by the previous government in Budget 2010, was then slated to be completed in 2020 with state-of-the-art technology to redefine the quality of RTM services.

The project is now managed by Media City Development Sdn Bhd and contracted to China State Construction (M) Sdn Bhd.

In August last year, Crest Builder Holdings Bhd bagged a RM16.28 million contract from China State for the supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of air conditioning and mechanical ventilation services for the project. The contract period was for 23 months from July 28, 2017 to June 11, 2019.