Straits Herald October 9, 2019

An eighty-year-old Malaysian newspaper, which had close links to the corruption-plagued former ruling party, halted publication Wednesday after years of financial struggle, with more than 800 staff affected.

Utusan Malaysia was the country’s oldest Malay-language newspaper, founded in 1939 during British colonial rule by Yusof Ishak, who went on to become the first president of neighbouring Singapore.

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the main party in a coalition that ruled Malaysia for six decades until losing power last year, had long had a stake in the paper and was closely associated with it. 

The publication often stridently defended the rights of Malay Muslims, Malaysia’s majority ethnic group, but was also frequently criticised for stoking tensions in the multi-racial country. 

In a memo to staff that circulated in local media, executive chairman Abdul Aziz Sheikh Fadzir said that in recent years Utusan had “gone through its most critical business period since it started operating”.

“Staff salaries could not be paid on time, debts could not be settled,” he said, adding the circulation of the paper had declined and advertising revenue dried up.

Utusan’s board had decided to undertake a voluntary liquidation, and employees’ last day of work was Wednesday, while their last official day of service would be at the end of the month, he said.

Local media reported that staff were asked to clear the company’s office in Kuala Lumpur and it was sealed off.  

A total of 862 staff were affected by the closure, said Mohamad Taufek Razak, the company’s National Union of Journalists representative.

“We do not know whether to be angry or sad,” he was cited as saying by the Star newspaper. “The action by our employer is inhumane.”

The paper hiked its cover price in August but even that failed to alleviate its financial problems — which had been worsening since UMNO’s shock defeat in 2018, when voters ousted scandal-mired prime minister Najib Razak.

The closure reflects the problems faced worldwide by traditional print media as readers stop buying papers and shift to consuming news online.