Change, the end is nigh


THERE is something about the Utusan Melayu/Malaysia saga that offers numerous dimensions for those who care for it to reflect on.

While it is obviously a victim of disruptions brought about by the changing preference from print to digital and online contents, its editorial stand could very well had hastened its diminishing presence.

As it is, the digital disruption is not only distressing Utusan’s circulation and readership, but it is also affecting other mainstream dailies. For that matter, it is not a domestic matter, but a global phenomenon.

The digital revolution and added with unsavoury content had indeed been the unravelling of the publication which had attained the stature of an institution, given its 80 years existence which history runs parallel with pre-independence Malaya until the present day Malaysia.

However, if those commenting on the plight of Utusan can be candid, it could be pointed out that the publication in the past few years had been reduced to an Umno mouthpiece and it is only “national” in nature while the party held the federal reins.

Of course, it can be argued that it has always been an Umno party organ pretending to be a national publication. There is, however, a difference between Utusan in the last few years and the way it was, say, a couple of decades ago.

Then, when Umno was nationally accepted, though some might say begrudgingly, Utusan was not only an Umno’s mouthpiece but the voice of the government. It had journalists and editors who could stand their ground against the best of their peers from other national publications.

The publication were led by editors and writers who rose in the political ranks to become a president of a republic, ministers and other important public positions, reflecting the kind of influence the publication and those working for it, wields.

In other words, their journalists were not viewed as taking orders from political masters but rather equal partners in the pursuit of shaping the nation and national policies.

That has not been so for the past few years. Umno, in particular its leadership, embattled and scandalised, chose to demand that Utusan stand by them and defend their positions despite being indefensible and untenable.

Again, other mainstream publications also took similar stance, either by choice or otherwise, but they were slightly “sheltered” from being perceived as political stooges because they were not owned by Umno.

And some perceived that these other publications, if they pander to the ruling party, it is a case of being forced to or that it is the top editorial echelon that made such choices which was not necessarily shared by the rest of the journalistic fraternity.

But for Utusan, it does not enjoy such reprieve nor accorded such concessions.

As Umno struggle to keep afloat, Utusan floundered as well. Utusan basically placed all its eggs in one basket, again not from choice, and when Umno fell, Utusan following suit was an inevitability.

After the 14th General Election, when all the other publications were unshackled from political domineering, other publications began exploring the new freedom, albeit gingerly at first.

But for Utusan, instead of waking up and breathe in the new air from what had been described as a watershed election, it refused to open its eyes and persisted to blindly support the fallen regime and viciously continued its attack on the former-opposition-now-government-parties.

Simply put, it remained loyal to those who had shackled it for decades and hostile to those who broke the chains. It is a paradox, of which, the latter that did not demand loyalty or pandering continued to receive Utusan’s thick end, the ones responsible for Utusan’s ignominy enjoy the accolades and unending column inches.

A couple of days ago, Utusan seemed to have run out of lines and ready to call it quits.

But one final pitch, yet again, to appeal to the Malay consciousness of it being a Malay institution and had sacrificed for the continuity of the race and religion, that it be saved.

And true to form, RM1.6 million was pumped in to keep it afloat and its copies were reportedly enjoying a brisk sale the past couple of days.

Indeed, any journalist worth his or her salt would agree that Utusan should be supported and given the opportunity to regain its footing. But it needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

Depending solely on the Malay/Bumiputra justification for continued existence is merely prolonging an affliction that led to its near demise. Surely, it was just over a year ago, as it defended the then kleptocratic government and leaders, its justification was about defending a Malay/ Bumiputra government.

While it is its raison d’etre to watch out for the Malay/ Bumiputra interest, it cannot equate its defence of Umno to that; especially when it has shrunk the cause to the interest of a few leaders in Umno.

The rally it enjoys will be transient, and the inevitability merely adjourned.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.