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A sad, bewildering farewell for Utusan staff

The note lamenting the fate of Utusan Melayu Berhad's staff who were informed about the company's notice of cessation today.

The note lamenting the fate of Utusan Melayu Berhad's staff who were informed about the company's notice of cessation today.

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

KUALA LUMPUR — October 9, 2019: There was no one manning the Utusan Melayu Berhad’s reception desk at its headquarters here today.

Placed next to the desk’s keyboard was a poignant note written in cursive Malay, lamenting the fate of the company’s 862 staff.

“Assalamualaikum, apa sudah jadi dengan nasib kita semua yang berada di Utusan Melayu Berhad selepas 09/10/2019 (Rabu)?” read the anonymous note (Peace be unto you, what will happen to us who are with Utusan Melayu Berhad after 09/10/2019 (Wednesday).

The piteous poser by the writer was anything but invalid as the notice, circulated among the staff,  about the company’s cessation of operation did not mention any monetary compensation for them.

“We will only find out about the status of our two-months-worth of outstanding salary on October 30,” said Kosmo’s sports reporter, Muhammad Helmee Ramli who was met as he was carrying his belongings out of the office.

The financial woes of Utusan Melayu, which owns Utusan Malaysia, Mingguan Malaysia, Kosmo and Kosmo Ahad was reported in August last year, where it was revealed to have inadequate funds and was at risk of being delisted from the stock market.

The company was actually delisted in August this year due to its failure to submit its regularisation plan to the Securities Commission or Bursa Securities.

In today’s cessation notice, company executive chairman Datuk Abd Aziz Sheikh Fadzir said the company’s cashflow problems were exacerbated by declining revenue and circulation.

The notice, however, peeved the National Union of Journalist (NUJ) which deemed it as inconsiderate.

“There were no heads-up and none of the higher-ranking executives had showed up to today’s meeting about this cessation. It is so inhumane,” said NUJ Utusan Melayu charter president Mohd Taufek Razak during a press conference at the Utusan’s headquarters.

“What happens to Utusan today is a cautionary tale of political ownership in the media,” added Taufek who was referring to Umno’s previous control over Utusan.

Utusan Malaysia, which was once known as Utusan Melayu was a seminal force during its heyday as an independent publication prior to the party’s takeover in 1961.

According to latest available figures, Utusan Malaysia’s current circulation stood at over 150,000 per day. It used to sell over 350,000 copies per day in the 1990s.

After the press conference by NUJ ended, an elderly man was seen entering Utusan headquarters and asking reporters for direction to the editorial department.

“Utusan has closed down? Then who’s going to report about Malays’ issues?” asked the man in disbelief when told about the fate of the newspaper.

He was advised by a reporter to seek help from another publication to highlight an community issue in Bangi, where he lives.

“But most Malays read Utusan,” was his reply to the reporter’s suggestion before leaving the building.

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at zaidiazmi91@gmail.com.