Commentary - To ASTRO or not to ASTRO?


A simple question no doubt but which answer you agree with depends on how you evaluate things in life. Is the Astro pay-to-view television a luxury or a necessity that should not be denied the poor?

In the books of the Welfare Services Department it's a luxury someone on aid from it should not be having. In fact the department goes a step further by including free TV in its list of "cannot haves". Understandably some people disagree and are unhappy that the department has stopped its financial aid to those in need all because of a TV set or what appears on its screen.

The latter have a surprise sympathiser in Pahang Mentri Besar Adnan Yaakob who thinks that not being allowed to watch Astro equates to not being allowed to watch TV. By Adnan's reckoning this is rubbish thinking. You may or may not agree with him. I don't but what I do agree with is Adnan's thinking that the minimum monthly financial aid to those in need should be a minimum RM500. To try and get this going Adnan said he was going to write to the prime minister.

To give someone RM150 or RM200 a month in aid is simply ridiculous -- and we are talking year 2009 here.

Back to TV. According to Wikipedia, Astro, which was launched in 1996, had 2.4 million subscribers by June last year and that meant 43% of total TV sets in Malaysia. By now the number of subscribers should be at least 2.5 million. Considering that the packages can be as low as RM37.95 per month and as high as RM75.95 plus everything else you have to pay, would you say Astro is a luxury or a necessity?

Looking at the penetration so far and the start-up cost required of a subscriber, I would say it's a semi-luxury a person receiving aid will have a lot of explaining to do if he is to continue to be assisted. That or he should be satisfied with free TV like TV3, TV9, TV7, 8TV and TV1 and 2. Enough channels to keep company those in aid who have to stay at home due to physical handicaps. Unless of course that person can show proof that his Astro is being financed by friends or relatives. Which means that the department should look at this issue on a case-by-case basis.

The thing about people is that not everyone's honest, especially when it concerns money. I mean look at some of the squatter houses -- cars and yes Astro TV. Talk to them whenever there's a price increase for something and they all cry foul to ask how the government could allow this to happen to the "under-class" like them.

I knew of an operator of an eating place who lived as a squatter but rented out her low-cost flat. When I was in ITM Shah Alam (now UiTM) 30 plus years ago, some of the kids who could afford cars and motorcycles were happily receiving scholarships! Those who knew them said many were children of the rich, particularly from the east coast, who qualified for the aid because they simply under-declared their parents' income.

But it's been a week of free (positive) publicity for Astro...

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