Malaysia’s oldest Malay-language newspaper Utusan Malaysia will cease its print publication tomorrow (21 Aug) until “an undisclosed date” after eight decades of its establishment.
New Straits Times reported today (20 Aug) that Utusan‘s editorial team were informed in a special briefing that the decision was made due to a lack of funding to maintain its operations.
Kosmo! editor Lokman Othman was quoted as saying in an audio clip that Utusan’s last paper “will be published on the day after tomorrow (Wednesday)”, according to NST.
“On the front page, there will be a notice to inform readers that we will cease publication on Wednesday … This means that tomorrow (today) we will work for the Wednesday publication. After that, we don’t have to work,” Lokman said.
“Even to come to work we have to borrow money”: Utusan staff express anguish over unpaid salaries
Possible retrenchments are also on the horizon for a significant number of workers as a result of the end of Utusan‘s print operations, as told to staff during the briefing.
Should Utusan Malaysia and Kosmo! ever resume its print operations, NST reported that only 60 employees from Utusan and 60 from Kosmo! will be retained from its current total of 800.
The announcement came just hours after around 100 disgruntled Utusan editorial staff members picketed outside the company’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur yesterday (19 Aug) over their salaries, which have been reportedly delayed for as long as two months, and were subsequently unpaid since Jun.
Utusan staff member Nik Mohd Hasmazi Hassan was quoted by Malay Mail as saying that many of the workers had to resort to borrowing money to even make it to work daily.
“Even to come to work we have to borrow money … [Yet] the papers are published every day right? That’s because of our work.
“Even without our salaries, we have never slacked off,” he lamented.
National Union of Journalists president Taufek Razak, who led the picket, told NST: “We were told that the company has no money to pay the workers or run the business”.
He added that Utusan‘s executive chairman Abdul Aziz Sheikh Fadzir revealed that the company is mired in financial problems in a meeting between Utusan staff representatives and Human Resources Ministry personnel yesterday.
Utusan‘s management had reportedly offered the voluntary separation scheme to many workers of the company. However, the company has yet to pay its staff members their promised severance sum, according to Malay Mail.
Aziz is expected to address Utusan‘s employees in a townhall meeting at around 4 p.m. today, NST reported.
PH should assist Utusan workers in this difficult time despite many years of “being the victim of Utusan’s hurtful propaganda”: DAP MP Lim Lip Eng
Segambut Member of Parliament (MP) Lim Lip Eng, who is from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, said that the government should assist the staff members of Utusan “in spite of many years of being the victim of Utusan’s hurtful propaganda filled with falsehoods”.
Lim was quoted by Malaysiakini today as saying that “the newsmen are having problems bringing food to the table, servicing their car loans and housing loans” with the delay in salaries.
Thus, he said, it is imperative that the government “provide them with the necessary aid and support to get through this difficult time”, as PH “is a government for all Malaysians, to those who voted for them and also to those who didn’t”.
Utusan has come under fire for publishing racially inflammatory articles regarding the former opposition coalition in recent years, most notably under former prime minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional administration, with particularly controversial headlines such as “Apa lagi Cina mahu?” (“What else do the Chinese want?”) which insinuated that Chinese Malaysians are “ungrateful” and are seeking to “take over” Malaysia.
The Malay-language newspaper has been repeatedly faced with legal action over its content in the last several years. Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, for example, won a defamation lawsuit against Utusan and The New Straits Times Press in Mar this year. Both publishing companies were ordered to pay RM400,000 in damages to Lim for labelling him a “Singapore agent”.
Utusan Malaysia‘s origins can be traced as far back to 1939 when Yusof Ishak, who went on to become the first President of the Republic of Singapore after his career in journalism, co-founded Utusan Melayu with Abdul Rahim Kajai, who earned the moniker of “the father of Malay journalism”.
Utusan Melayu‘s first headquarters was set up at Queen’s Street, before it was moved to Cecil Street in 1945 and finally to Kuala Lumpur in 1959. Utusan Malaysia began publishing in 1967, the same year Utusan Melayu began printing in Romanised script from Jawi (Malay-language with Arabic alphabets).