KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today called on government agencies, GLCs and bumiputera firms to buy more advertisments in Utusan Malaysia, to help prop up the Malay daily’s flagging business.
He said he realises that newspaper companies cannot rely solely on circulation to stay in business, and that advertising is needed to keep the news company afloat.
"I hope all government agencies, GLCs and private companies, especially those owned by Bumiputera, will show their support by giving more advertisements to Utusan.
"Only this can help keep Utusan on track," he said at the official opening of the Umno-owned Malay daily’s new headquarters off Jalan Chan Sow Lin here.
Utusan’s fortunes today are a far cry from its heydays before the Internet led to a boom in online news companies, when it used to register a healthy average of 350,000 copies in daily circulation.
Figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations showed that the right-wing newspaper averaged a little over 181,000 copies daily over the first half of 2012.
It was a slight improvement to its 2011 average of 173,000 daily copies, but mainstream papers linked to or owned by pro-establishment groups have been suffering a progressive decline in commercial success over the years.
It has been reported that sales for Malay-language papers like Utusan, Berita Harian and the English-language New Straits Times, which are all either directly or indirectly linked to Umno and the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, have suffered a decline of up to 20 per cent in daily circulation between 2005 and 2009.
Utusan has over the years been accused of being racist and taking hardline positions on issues that are seen to challenge Malay rights and privileges.
It has suffered for its heavily pro-Malay stance, losing several legal suits filed mostly by opposition Pakatan Rakyat politicians in recent years over various defamatory articles.
Najib said Utusan has done well in bringing the Malay agenda front and centre, adding that it has never strayed from its founding principles of upholding Malay nationalism.
"Utusan has remained strong and has never backed down in defending our race. It has played a role in opening up the minds of the rakyat to current information, be it in politics, crime, entertainment, and many other areas.
"Utusan hones and challenges the minds of its readers," he said, adding that Jalan Enam, where the daily’s new headquarters is located, will be renamed as Jalan Utusan.
In an earlier welcoming speech today, Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Berhad executive chairman Tan Sri Hashim Makaruddin lamented the poor support from Malay corporate captains and GLCs in terms of advertising, arguing that the daily is a heritage worth defending.
"This includes support from Malay corporations and GLCs in the form of advertising expenditure. We find that advertising expenditure of most GLCs in Malay papers, especially Utusan, is much smaller compared to newspapers in other languages and this is not fair," he said.
Hashim, however, admitted that the company can no longer rely only on publishing a newspaper for its long-term survival, stressing the need for business diversity to generate more profit as the reason they are making a foray into real estate development.
Their first project will be a 14-storey commercial development on a piece of land it owns along nearby Jalan Lima, off Jalan Chan Sow Lin, in collaboration with a private company.
Details of the project were not made immediately available.