Utusan Malaysia to cease operations this Wednesday

The Utusan headquarters in Kuala Lumpur August 19, 2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
The Utusan headquarters in Kuala Lumpur August 19, 2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — Malaysia’s oldest Malay language daily Utusan Malaysia will shut down on Wednesday.

Earlier this evening, Malay Mail was made aware of a meeting on the matter that was taking place at Utusan’s office. 

The National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJM) president Taufik Razak, who is also a member of staff at the publication, told Malay Mail at the time that he was informed about the matter by his colleagues, but had yet to receive confirmation from the publication’s management.

“We will be working, our last day is on Wednesday. After that, we will close down. No more operation,” Taufik, who is also the Utusan Malaysia NUJ branch chairman, said.

“We have yet to receive anything in black and white, but we (NUJ Utusan) were informed by staff and their bosses informed them,” Taufik said when contacted.

When asked if any discussion is ongoing, he replied: “Yes, we are discussing what course of action to take next.”

Malay Mail later received confirmation from an Utusan source that Kosmo! editor Lokman Othman affirmed the closure of both Utusan and Kosmo! on Wednesday during the said meeting. 

Kosmo! is Utusan’s sister publication.

“So I went for the management meeting in Putrajaya and I have been tasked with announcing this matter.

“Including today, we only have three days of publication. Then, our last paper will be published the day after tomorrow (Wednesday), whereby on the front page, we will have a notice which says, including on Utusan Malaysia, that we will stop publication on Wednesday. 

“Meaning tomorrow, we will still work for the Wednesday publication, and then we don’t have to work,” Lokman reportedly said, as staff can be heard audibly gasping in shock in the background. 

“So this all stems from the company’s inability to pay salaries. Even if there is income, the collection of debt from others, that collection is then used to pay to people. Especially for transportation and all,” Lokman said in the beginning, when addressing the staff. 

Lokman, who was promoted as editor in April this year, said he was, however, informed that the online editions of both Utusan Malaysia and Kosmo! would still continue operations, adding that there would be a “cooling off” period after Wednesday, whereby “two or three” investors will be coming in to take over Utusan Group.

He also spoke about a restructuring exercise once the takeover is completed, including staff layoffs. 

Lokman said that the publication group’s human resource department is now discussing severance packages, advising the staff to take up any other job offers which they get.

“So tomorrow around 4pm, the EC will hold a townhall. Will invite all staff. He will be speaking about this matter. He will be frank. So if there are any questions, please pose it there,” he said, referring to Utusan Group’s executive chairman, Datuk Abd. Aziz Sheikh Fadzir, who is an Umno politician.

Utusan Malaysia began operating before the Malaysia’s independence in 1939. 

It was first published as Utusan Melayu, using the jawi medium, before the current Romanised version began publication on September 1, 1967.

Last year, the staff of newspapers Utusan and Kosmo! threatened to picket following a similar wage issue, but called it off after the management came up with an amicable solution.

The source said Utusan and Kosmo! staff are giving the management until August 19 to resolve the issue, or they will proceed with the protest.

As of December 2018, approximately 800 employees accepted the voluntary separation scheme. However, their payments were also delayed.

The Utusan Group, which publishes Utusan Malaysia and Kosmo!, is currently on PN17 status on the Malaysian Stock Exchange after failing to pay an outstanding debt of nearly RM1.2 million to two banks.

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