Steven Gan

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Steven Gan
Native name
Bornc. 1963 (age 54–55)
Known forfounding and editing Malaysiakini
AwardsInternational Press Freedom Award (2000) Free Media Pioneer Award (2001)

Steven Gan (simplified Chinese: 颜重庆; traditional Chinese: 顏重慶; pinyin: Yán Chóngqìng; born c. 1963) is a Malaysian journalist known for co-founding and editing the political news website Malaysiakini (English: "Malaysia Today"), Malaysia's "first and only" independent news source.[1][2] In 2000, he was awarded the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Work in print journalism[edit]

Gan received a degree in political economy from an Australian university in 1989.[3] He began his journalistic career in print, as a freelancer for a Hong Kong-based newspaper. In 1991, he covered the Gulf War from Baghdad. In 1994, he returned to Malaysia, where he became a reporter for the new Malaysian daily The Sun. There he struggled against both government regulation and the self-censorship of The Sun's editors.[4]

In 1995, he led a team of reporters that discovered that 59 inmates, primarily Bangladeshis, had died in the Semenyih immigration detention camp of the preventable diseases typhoid and beriberi.[2][5] When Gan's editors refused to publish the story for fear of government reprisal, Gan passed the information to the immigrant rights organisation Tenaganita.[5] Tenaganita publicised the reporters' findings, and its director, Irene Fernandez, was subsequently threatened with imprisonment for "publishing false news".[4] Fernandez's trials and appeals from the case would last thirteen years, ending in her 2008 acquittal by the Kuala Lumpur Criminal High Court.[6]

In 1996, Gan was arrested, along with four other reporters, at the 1996 Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor.[4] During the five days he spent in jail, he was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.[7] After his release, he wrote a column protesting his arrest and treatment, but his editors refused to publish it. Gan resigned in protest,[4] going on to write editorials for the English-language Thai daily The Nation.[2]


Though Malaysian law had provided for strict government controls on print media since 1984, the Malaysia Multimedia Super Corridor, an initiative to encourage technological development in Malaysia, was launched in 1995. A founding principle of the project was that government censorship of the Internet would not be permitted. Seeing a loophole, Gan and colleague Premesh Chandran decided to found an online news resource that would be free of the controls placed on print media.[8]

The pair founded in November 1999, with a staff of four other journalists and a starting budget of $100,000.[8] Gan served as its editor-in-chief. For its first story, Malaysiakini posted a report on 20 November criticising the practices of Sin Chew Daily, Malaysia's largest-circulation Chinese-language newspaper. Sin Chew Daily had doctored a photograph of Malaysia's ruling party to remove Anwar Ibrahim, who had recently been imprisoned for corruption. According to BBC News, the Malaysiakini report led to "worldwide infamy" for Sin Chew Daily, and the newspaper later issued a public apology.[9] In April 2001, Malaysiakini made news again when it discovered and reported the secret detention of 10 political activists.[10]

Within a year, the site had nearly 100,000 visitors a day,[8] making it one of the most popular news sites in Malaysia;[5] it had also expanded to a full-time staff of twelve.[9] In January 2012, Alexa Internet ranked it as the 14th most popular website in the country.[11] However, attracting advertising was often a challenge for the website, which Gan blamed on collusion between Malaysian politicians and businesspeople.[12]

Government responses to Malaysiakini[edit]

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad described the Malaysiakini staff as "traitors"[5] and suggested that the paper was funded by financier George Soros, whose currency speculation the Prime Minister blamed for the 1997 Asian financial crisis that had devastated Malaysia's economy.[10]

In a 2002 article in Nieman Reports, Gan stated that Malaysiakini was repeatedly hacked during the first years of its existence. Citing a government statement to launch "missiles" at opposition websites, Gan speculated that the Malaysian government was behind the cyberattacks.[5] The website underwent further cyber-attacks in April and July 2011, coinciding with an election in Sarawak and the pro-electoral reform Bersih 2.0 rally; again Gan alleged that the government was responsible.[13][14]

On 20 January 2003, the Malaysiakini office was raided by police, who confiscated the website's servers and 15 newsroom computers, an estimated RM150,000 ($40,000 USD) in equipment.[15] The raid followed a call by the youth wing of the right-wing political party UMNO to investigate the site for sedition after it carried a letter criticising the government's pro-Malay quotas in hiring and scholarships.[16] The website was able to go back online ten hours after the raid.[15]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Gan was awarded one of the 2000 CPJ International Press Freedom Awards, along with Željko Kopanja of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Modeste Mutinga of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mashallah Shamsolvaezin of Iran.[4] The CPJ describes the award as "an annual recognition of courageous journalism".[17]

In July 2001, Businessweek named Gan one of the "Stars of Asia" in the category "Opinion Shapers".[10] Later that year, Malaysiakini won a Free Media Pioneer award from the International Press Institute.[2]


  1. ^ "Steven Gan bio". Nieman Reports. Summer 2002. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "ICIJ Journalists: Steven Gan". International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  3. ^ Steven Gan (29 April 2001). "Ending the government's monopoly on the truth". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e "IPF Awards 2000 – Announcement". Committee to Protect Journalists. 2000. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e Steven Gan (Summer 2002). "Virtual Democracy in Malaysia". Nieman Reports. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  6. ^ "Ms. Irene Fernandez finally acquitted!". International Federation for Human Rights. 25 November 2008. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
  7. ^ "Further information on EXTRA 176/96 (ASA 28/13/96, 12 November 1996) – Prisoners of conscience". Amnesty International. 14 November 1996. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
  8. ^ a b c "Steven Gan, editor Malaysiakini". PBS NewsHour. 2000. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Malaysia's first online paper". BBC News. 20 November 2000. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  10. ^ a b c "Steven Gan: Editor-in-chief, Malaysiakini". Businessweek. 2 July 2001. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  11. ^ "Top Sites in Malaysia". Alexa Internet. 29 January 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  12. ^ Sonia Phalnikar (27 July 2008). "Combative Indian magazine struggles to sell 'bad news'". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  13. ^ Liz Gooch (8 September 2011). "In Malaysia, Freedom of the (Virtual) Press". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  14. ^ "Malaysian news portal crippled by cyberattacks". The Bangkok Post. 13 April 2011. Archived from the original on 15 July 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  15. ^ a b Dave Brewer (21 January 2003). "Malaysia's 'independent voice' back online". CNN. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
  16. ^ "Malaysian police raid website office". BBC News. 20 January 2003. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  17. ^ "CPJ International Press Freedom Awards 2011". Committee to Protect Journalists. 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2012.

External links[edit]