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Sunday May 5, 2013

Malaysian TV stations vie for GE13 ratings

TV newsrooms across Malaysia are
gearing up for, arguably, the most highly-anticipated
general election to date. TV newsrooms across Malaysia are gearing up for, arguably, the most highly-anticipated general election to date.

Television newsrooms across the country kick into high gear to provide Malaysians with the best news coverage on polling day.

IT’S the moment of truth. By the end of today, candidates who have been hitting the campaign trail over the past two weeks will finally learn if those gruelling, full-day walkabouts, dialogues and ceramah have paid off.

But politicians aren’t the only ones who have been breaking their backs, trying to win the hearts of Malaysians. Television newsrooms across the country have been working months in advance to provide the most comprehensive coverage, in a bid to draw in the highest viewership on polling day.

Star2 stepped inside some of Malaysia’s most well-known TV stations to uncover the workings of a newsroom and find out what it means to prep for, arguably, the most highly-anticipated general election to date.

From the ground up

It sounds like a logistical nightmare, to say the least. With 222 parliamentary seats and 505 state seats spread across 13 states and three federal territories, TV newsrooms have to deliver the latest results and news from each of these constituencies to living rooms – and mind you, all these in real-time.

Ntv7’s 7th Edition producer and news anchor Jasmine Abu Bakar described how the election results are gathered: “We have established a link with the Election Commission (EC). When the votes are tabulated in each constituency, they will immediately share the results with us.”

Nevertheless, the results provided by the EC are just facts and figures. The sentiment of the voters, reactions from the winning and losing candidates, and the overall atmosphere in a constituency can only be captured by broadcast reporters on the ground.

“Reporters positioned at the various polling stations will send their stories to the command centre in the newsroom. Here, there is a work station and a personnel in charge who gathers the news from each state,” Jasmine said in an interview at Sri Pentas, Petaling Jaya.

Media Prima (which operates TV3, Ntv7, 8TV and TV9) has dispatched a total of 196 broadcast reporters and crew members to constituencies throughout Malaysia according to TV3 head of news and veteran news anchor Nasharudin Tajudin. This does not include a production and technical team of around 200 people stationed at the main hub.

“When news arrives at the command centre, news editors will be on standby to pick out the most interesting and newsworthy report. A producer will then be assigned to develop the news report further and ensure that it is ready to be aired,” Nasharudin explained.

A look at RTM’s GE13 operations room where a team of researchers provide data and analysis to the
newsroom. A look at RTM’s GE13 operations room where a team of researchers provide data and analysis to the newsroom.

Jasmine also mentioned the news team has started planning for the May 5 coverage since August last year. The programming block for both TV3 and Ntv7 begins at 6pm right up to the moment the new Government is formed. As the news stations have six hours or more worth of content to fill, panelists are invited to speak on topics such as the influence of the new media, the rise of young voters and other hot issues to accompany the election results.

RTM deputy director of production under the TV programme division Norliza Mohd Ali said that most, if not all, of her staff are on duty on May 5.

She added that RTM’s TV1 news crew has been stationed at 20 locations all over Malaysia and is responsible for delivering live feed to the main studio in Angkasapuri, Kuala Lumpur.

“Close to 200 people will be on duty and they are made up of reporters, technical crew, backup staff and even the data entry team. Of course, our focus is to try and deliver the results as fast as possible. But we also want to make sure that we’re reliable and accurate,” she said.

As expected, emotions will be riding high on the night when results go out.

“Yes, especially when you’re doing a live news programme where anything can happen. You really feel the tension,” Norliza said.

Meanwhile, this polling day will only be Astro Awani’s second time in providing news coverage in the general election. Established in 2007, Astro Awani refused to be called the new kid on the block.

“Our news team may be relatively young, but it’s made up of some really experienced journalists,” vice-president and general manager of the station Rozina Aziz said in an interview.

Rozina added that about 160 people, from the administrative end to the editorial team, are involved in covering GE13. She half-joked that even the tea lady is involved.

For Astro Awani managing editor and news presenter Suhaimi Sulaiman, GE13 is the time to showcase what TV has been doing for so many years; showcasing the best in live reporting.

“We’ve been preparing for this moment for over a year now. We’re very kiasu like that!” Suhaimi said.

Sharpening the edge

With so many television stations vying for viewers’ attention, these newsrooms need to roll out something special to set themselves apart.

Aside from running the four television channels, Media Prima also operates radio stations and print publications. Group general manager of news operations Sofwan Mahmood said Media Prima is leveraging this strength in its GE13 newsgathering process.

“For instance, if our print arm gets the news first, we will be able to tap into that and air the story on television immediately, resulting in a synergetic information gathering,” he said.

Jasmine added this information-sharing also occurs between television channels, thus maximising the company’s resources. “Not all Ntv7 reporters are sent to the same states. If I wanted information from Johor Baru but I do not have a reporter there, I can ask the TV3 reporter who is stationed there,” said Jasmin.

To remain competitive, the company has also purchased new recording equipment. TV3 will be presenting the GE13 coverage from its new virtual studio, complete with robotic cameras (that operate without a cameraperson).

Meanwhile, RTM, being the first and oldest broadcaster in Malaysia, is sticking to its tried-and-tested formula that most viewers have grown accustomed to. Apart from providing live updates, TV1’s offering will also include comprehensive data and analysis.

“If you’re just following updates on social media, you won’t get a full picture of what happened. Viewers can find out what factors affected the outcome of some of the results and learn some exlusive details. We believe this is the kind of information you can’t get elsewhere,” said Norliza.

This year, the EC has allowed unnofficial results to be reported. (Previously, polling results can only be announced from the tabulation centres.)

“With competition coming from different platforms like social media, online news and even pay TV operators, we cannot afford to fall behind on the announcement of the results. So, this year, we’ll be able to announce unofficial results based on countings done at polling stations.”

She added that the announcement of unofficial results must be accompanied with a disclaimer saying it’s yet to be confirmed by the EC and viewers should stay tuned for more updates.

For Astro Awani, Suhaimi explained that the network’s focus on people-centric news content differentiates itself from the other news broadcasters.

“Seventy percent of our news content is about the people. We focus on telling the people’s stories, airing their views and saying what they expect from the political candidates. We also feature content from citizen journalists,” said Suhaimi.

There’s also an added feature on Astro Awani; look out for Awani Index, the channel’s exclusive political analysis based on data that Suhaimi believes most viewers can relate to.

“We work with Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Election and Democracy to explain how factors like broadband penetration, urbanisation rate, innovation and creativity affect the outcome of GE13.”

Learning from the past

“We were slightly less prepared,” said Jasmine when asked about the political tsunami that struck GE08 (general election in 2008).

“There was a big hoo-ha on election day. But if you noticed, the next day, everybody fell quiet. When you switch on the TV, Doraemon was on,” she remembered.

As no one anticipated the results, Jasmine said the channel did not have a post-election programme planned, adding that this year, Ntv7’s morning talk show, The Breakfast Show, will review the events that took place the night before.

The rise of the online media during GE08 also caught many in the mainstream media by surprise. Jasmine admitted that Media Prima’s online presence was weak back then. They have since beefed up the online department. RTM, on the other hand is taking cue from the Sarawak state election in 2011.

“We were prepared to only go live at 8pm with the results. Then, we found out that results were already out at 7pm! So we had to go with a breaking news programme right away. We believe the same will happen for GE13, maybe even faster and we are prepared for that.”

Keeping the news reports short and simple is another lesson RTM has learned from previous GE coverage. While prepping the newscasters and on-ground reporters, Norliza gave them one simple rule.

“We told them to make sure they focus on bringing us the results and then move on to the next announcement. Don’t talk about frivolous matters like the weather or give us statements that are more than three-minutes long,” she said.

She added there will be too many things happening on the day that the news programme cannot waste airtime on matters that will not interest their viewers.

“We don’t want our stand uppers to take such a long time to talk about the results and risk losing our viewers to another news platform.”

The online media has indeed posed a serious threat to television newsrooms, but Sofwan probably summed up the discussion best: “I see the challenge as something good because instead of coming up with a mediocre report, it motivates us to give the best news report to the public.”

GE13 TV guide

> Selamat Pagi 1Malaysia: Hari Mengundi (TV1 / Astro Ch 101 & HyppTV Ch 101, 7.30am) – This extended five-hour edition of the popular Bahasa Malaysia morning talk show will capture the sights and sounds of election day with on-the-ground correspondents reporting from polling stations.

> Analisis Malaysia Memilih Result Show (Awani / Astro Ch 501, 5pm) – Suhaimi Sulaiman, Cynthia Ng and Ashwad Ismail break down the election data for viewers as the results come in. Also, get election updates every two hours throughout the day starting at 7am. > Malaysia Votes GE13 (Ntv7 / Astro Ch 107 & HyppTV Ch 107, 6pm) – Hosted by Praevitriana Yul, Sheahnee Iman Lee, Jasmine Abu Bakar, Tan Chung Han, Raymond Goh and Anita Woo, the show brings live result updates, analysis and interviews with political experts. > Mandat 2013 (TV3 / Astro Ch 103 & HyppTV Ch 103, 6pm) – Datuk Johan Jaaffar, Datuk Ahmad A. Talib, Datuk Manja Ismail, Norliza Mohd Zain, Nasharudin Tajudin, Saiful Nizam Ismail and other TV3 presenters will keep viewers updated with live results and interesting discussion topics until the new Government is formed. > 8TV Mandarin News: General Election-13 Special (8TV / Astro Ch 708 & HyppTV Ch 108, 7pm) – Follow the GE13 coverage in Mandarin with 8TV news personalities Than Chia Yong, Owen Yap, Liew Li Li, Chew Siew Yeong, Lee Siad Huey and Tan Ley Teng.

> Polling Night 2013 (AEC / Astro Ch 301, 7pm) – Get the scoop on GE13 in Mandarin from Astro AEC news anchors Siow Hui Mei, Gan Jiang Han, Ho Hai Chyi, Loong Boon Min and Tan Yunn Chzuan.

> Malam PRU (TV9 / Astro Ch 119 & HyppTV Ch 109, 8pm) – Apart from GE13 news reports and analysis by hosts Zainal Ariffin Ismail, Amin Hayat Abdul Rahim, Syed Mohd Khair and Azura Abu Samah, local musicians and celebrities will perform live on the show. > Siaran Langsung Keputusan Pilihanraya 13 (TV1 / Astro Ch 101 & HyppTV Ch 101, 8.30pm) – Who will win? Who will fall? Catch all the election action as RTM broadcast live from Angkasapuri.

> Special GE13 - Election Day (The Capital TV / HyppTV Ch 420, 8.30pm) – Learn about the polling process and what the Election Commission is doing to enhance its efficiency and transparency on HyppTV’s 24-hour business channel.

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