The 1930s was regarded as the golden age of the Malay press and Malay journalism in Singapore.During the fledgling years of the Malay press in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Indian Muslims, Arabs and the Chinese were largely responsible for the publication of Singapore’s Malay newspapers.It was only in the 1930s that the Malays began to play a more active role in the newspaper industry. Buoyed by an increasingly literate Malay population and a growing audience for affordable reading materials, Malay businessmen began to regard the publication of periodicals as a potentially lucrative business.At the same time, young Malays with literary aspirations were starting to take up journalism either as a full-time or part-time career. As a result, there were 81 new periodicals published throughout the Malay peninsula during the decade.
First published on 1 January 1930, the Warta Malaya (“The Malaya Times”) was one of the more successful daily newspapers published during the golden age of Malay journalism. The newspaper was published by Warta Malaya Press Ltd, a subsidiary of printing firm Anglo-Asiatic Press, which was established in 1929 by three Arabs – Syed Hussain bin Ali Alsagoff, his brother Syed Abdullah and their cousin Sharifah Shaikhak. Written in the Jawi script, Warta Malaya aimed to make Malays “aware of what is taking place” in the world by providing its readers with the latest local and foreign news, including news on social and religious issues. It even claimed to be the first Malay newspaper to have subscribed to world news agencies.
The newspaper started off as a 12-page paper, but expanded to 16 pages in less than a month. It was initially priced at 10 cents a copy, but this was reduced to six cents by 1 January 1934 due to soaring sales and income from advertisements. The success of the newspaper led to the publication of two weekly companions – the Warta Ahad (“Sunday Times”) and the Warta Jenaka (“The Comedian”) – in 1935 and 1936 respectively.
Warta Malaya’s first editor was Onn bin Ja’afar, who subsequently became one of the founders of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). The newspaper also produced many prolific Malay journalists such as Abdul Rahim Kajai, dubbed the father of Malay journalism, and Yusof bin Ishak, who later became Singapore’s first Malayan-born Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State) and subsequently president when Singapore gained independence on 9 August 1965. As a champion of Malay interests, the newspaper’s editorials discussed a wide range of issues affecting the rights of the Malays, such as higher education for the Malays, the development of the Malay economy, Malay political rights, and the risks associated with greater rights for the non-Malays.
In April 1941, Warta Malaya was purchased by Ibrahim Yaacob, the founder and leader of the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM; “Young Malay Union”). KMM was a Malay political association that openly advocated the idea of a political union between Malaya and Indonesia. In order to advance the interests of the KMM and Malay independence, Ibrahim aligned himself with the Japanese and suggested to them that having a newspaper of his own would provide him with the best cover to hide his activities as a Japanese agent. With money provided by the Japanese, Ibrahim purchased
the Warta Malaya for use in anti-British propaganda.
The Japanese Occupation of Malaya led to the collapse of the entire network of Malayan newspapers. A few days after the fall of Singapore, Ibrahim met with the Japanese military authorities to request that the KMM be allowed to resume publication of Warta Malaya. Although the Japanese agreed, the newspaper was only permitted to reopen several months later under the management of a Japanese officer. The newspaper eventually ceased publication on 14 August 1942.
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2. Roff. W. R. (1994). The origins of Malay nationalism (pp. 166–167). Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 320.54 ROF.
3. Tan, Y. S., & Soh Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry (p. 20). Singapore: Times Academic Press. Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN.
4. Matters of Muslim interest. (1930, January 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 36, no. 1 (201), 53. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from JSTOR.
6. Tan & Soh, 1994, p. 20.
7. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan, May 1963, pp. 56–57.
8. Milner, A. (2002). The invention of politics in colonial Malaya (pp. 265–266). New York: Cambridge University Press. Call no.: RSEA 959.5 MIL.
9. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan, May 1963, pp. 58–59.
10. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan, May 1963, p. 58.
11. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan, May 1963, p. 59.
12. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan, May 1963, pp. 59–60.
13. A. M. Iskandar Haji Ahmad. (1973). Persuratkhabaran Melayu, 1876–1968 [Malay journalism, 1876–1968] (p. 23). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ABD-[DIR].
14. The Straits Times, 7 Nov 1988, p. 6.
15. The Straits Times, 7 Nov 1988, p. 6; Singapore rejoices. (1959, December 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Encik Yusof Ishak. Retrieved from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/content/istana/thepresident/formerpresidents/yi.html.
16. Tan & Soh, 1994, p. 20.
17. Cheah, B. K. (1979, October). The Japanese Occupation of Malaya, 1941–45: Ibrahim Yaacob and the struggle for Indonesia Raya. Indonesia, (28), 94. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from JSTOR.
18. Cheah, Oct 1979, p. 87.
19. Cheah, Oct 1979, pp. 86–87.
20. Cheah, Oct 1979, pp. 91, 94.
21. Roff, 1994, p. 173.
22. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan, May 1963, p. 62.
23. Cheah, Oct 1979, p. 101.
24. A. M. Iskandar Haji Ahmad, 1973, p. 23.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.