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Utusan’s cry for press freedom

The infamous statement made by Utusan

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A daily that depends on state support while spewing bigotry and at times even defamatory remarks only alienates itself from right-thinking and concerned Malaysians, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

Utusan Malaysia and its owner Umno cried foul when the Ministry of Education issued a directive on 18 July to its divisions, agencies, schools, universities, colleges and institutions to cease immediately subscriptions to the daily.

They even raised their concern for, lo and behold, press freedom because they insisted that the subscription cancellation was not only unfair, but also went against Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s policy of openness towards differing views and ideas.

Umno leader and Bera MP Ismail Sabri Yaacob stepped in to remind PH not to be “fearful” of Utusan because the latter is now in Putrajaya and as such the newspaper would be fair in its reporting of the new government.

Such noble concern for press freedom is a bit rich coming from a daily that’s been dogged with defamation suits, and accusations of unfair reporting, racism and religious bigotry.

Was it not Utusan that tried to stoke the fire of fear and discord, especially among the Malays and Muslims, over, for example, the appointment of Tommy Thomas, a Christian and non-Malay to boot, as the new Attorney General? Indeed, press freedom must come with responsibility – and to incite hatred and bigotry is not exactly the kind of freedom and responsibility we’re talking about.

Besides, it is not responsible journalism when you “grant” editorial space and fair reporting only after you have become the next government. The implied notion here is that, you get hammered and condemned for as long as you are in the opposition.

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As if not to be outdone, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi cautioned the ministry that teachers and students would be deprived of supposedly important information and knowledge as a result of the cancellation.

The content of the daily leaves much to be desired, as suggested by the falling sales and readership as well as the unsteady financial standing of the daily. It was reported recently that its publisher Utusan Melayu (M) Sdn Bhd had defaulted on a RM2.9m-loan from Affin Islamic Bank Berhad.

Thus, the ranting and raving of the Malay daily and its owner only camouflage the hard and bitter truth of Utusan experiencing financial haemorrhage over the years – primarily of its own doing. It really is about ringgit and sen at this juncture of the ailing daily.

A newspaper worth its salt should proudly and boldly stand on its reputation as a credible and responsible media organisation that would attract the attention, and subsequently loyalty, of many readers who seek credible information and reliable views.

The migration of many readers from mainstream newspapers to news sites (that are perceived to be independent and critical), especially before the dawn of the new Malaysia, should be instructive to those who still indulge in unfair and irresponsible journalism.

A daily that depends on state support while spewing bigotry and at times even defamatory remarks only alienates itself from right-thinking and concerned Malaysians. Consequently, it does not deserve taxpayers’ money – from both Malays and other ethnic groups – for its financial survival.

If cost-cutting measures are necessary in these critical moments of the new government, it should seriously think of cancelling subscriptions of all newspapers beyond the Ministry of Education. By doing so, the playing field is also levelled to a large extent. By now, many of us would know the real reason why Utusan group executive chairperson Abd Aziz Sheik Fadzir was eager to meet up with Ministry of Education officials.

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By now, Aziz and colleagues should also know that responsible, ethical and independent journalism is crucial to press freedom and democracy.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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