Protesting against Utusan

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AT 4pm today, former Utusan Malaysia senior journalist Hata Wahari plans to protest against what he calls the "racist attitude" of the editors and journalists of the Umno-controlled Malay newspaper in their coverage of GE13 – before, during and after the May 5 polls. In his Facebook posting, Hata said he, together with several former Utusan journalists, are launching a "Mogok Utusan" or an "Utusan Strike" in front of the newspaper's office in Kuala Lumpur's Jalan Chan Sow Lin. "Anybody who's willing to be with me, let's demand the suspension of Utusan's permit for their extreme racism," said Hata. It can be taken that the "permit" Hata was referring to is the one which allows the printing and publishing of the paper. And his choosing of "Mogok Utusan" to name his protest is obviously a reference to the historic Utusan Melayu strike in 1961 when the then staff of the newspaper fought against Umno control. As we know Hata was the president of the National Union of Journalists who spoke against political interference in Utusan's editorial coverage which resulted in "racial, bias and slanted" coverage. Utusan didn't take kindly to all that, naturally, and Hata was sacked soon after (in 2011). Well, after a domestic inquiry which found him guilty of "bringing the newspaper into disrepute and insulted its management." Of course that was not the first or rather the only time Utusan had come under fire. To its critics and detractors, Utusan Malaysia is "Utusan Meloya" or the "nauseating courier." In Wikipedia it is stated that "Utusan Malaysia's credibility as a newspaper has come under fire from many circles for its blatant practice of double standards in its reporting especially with regard to politically related news. Statements by chief ministers in opposition held states have been taken out of context, manipulated or otherwise downright fabricated. And of late Utusan has also stoked racist sentiments with provocative headlines." Ever since Wikipedia made that 'observation', things seem to have gotten worst. The post-GE13 'Apa lagi Cina mahu' is one typical example. Utusan group editor in chief Datuk Abdul Aziz Ishak did not respond when asked for his reaction on the recent "allegations" against his paper. His predecessor Datuk Khalid Mohd didn't want to comment either, citing "sudah pencen" (already retired) as the reason. But said a former senior journalist: "Utusan is a sensitive issue as it involves many different wings of Umno. I don't want to interfere and I won't say more." However Aziz has been quoted before as saying Umno-owned Utusan does not provide balanced political coverage and instead promotes the aspirations of the ruling party. Aziz was reported to have said that in court in a defamation suit filed against Utusan not too long ago. He also told the court that there were Umno representatives sitting in the Utusan board of directors including a high ranking officer of the PM cum Umno president. Aziz's deputy, Datuk Zaini Hassan, was also reported to have said at a forum that "spin we can, no matter how we spin a certain fact to be biased in our favour, that's ok." To detractors, promoting the aspirations of Umno is one thing but "concocting negative stories of the foes of Umno" is another.  And Utusan, they say, as with other so-called "mainstream media," is "another component of the Barisan Nasional especially during elections, instead of a media organisation covering elections". They however admit that nothing much can be done as Utusan enjoys political patronage (read from Umno) and as such sees itself "untouchable". However according to a media analyst, "if Utusan, and for that matter Umno itself, wants to become relevant, come GE14, it has to be practical. The paper must change. All this apple polishing and blatant propaganda can't be used anymore now, what with social media and what not. Even kampung folks are not reading Utusan." Well perhaps Utusan would dispute the "kampung folks" bit as the paper is said to be still "enjoying support in the rural areas which are predominantly Malay. But talk in the media fraternity has it that Utusan's circulation "is shrinking." If that is true, shrinking circulation would translate into loss of revenue. Yet, Utusan still has seen it right not to accept advertisements from AirAsia simply because AirAsia X CEO Azran Rani Omar had criticised the paper in his Twitter account as to what he perceived as racial instigation in the aftermath of GE13. It is said that the paper would only take AirAsia ads when Azran apologises. Nevermind the much needed revenue. After all to Utusan, AirAsia ads are "cheaper than hair and herbal products." Some would call such a stand brave, bold and highly principled. Others would see it as absurd, crazy or plain stupid. As to whether Utusan will change its stance, editorially, well, no. Whether Utusan will have its permit suspended as demanded by Hata (remember the paper is also being investigated for sedition for its 'Apa lagi Cina mahu' headline) , your guess is as good as mine. Whatever it is, people like Hata Wahari will continue to protest against the paper. Openly or otherwise.