2019 a challenging year for media industry in Malaysia

Copies of the Utusan Malaysia newspaper at a stall in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur December 22, 2018. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Copies of the Utusan Malaysia newspaper at a stall in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur December 22, 2018. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 29 — The year 2019 witnessed the media industry in the country, especially the print media, facing a challenging situation with the shutdown of several major newspapers, as well as rationalisation plan by media companies that saw many workers being laid off.

The shutdown of the country’s oldest newspaper, Utusan Malaysia, after 80 years in operation, was deemed as the saddest episode in the history of the print media industry in Malaysia.

Its twin tabloid Kosmo! also faced a similar fate.

More than 800 employees suddenly lost their source of income when they were told to pack up their belongings and leave the office by 1pm on Octpber 9 as the cash-strapped company officially ceased operations.

This followed a decision by the Board of Directors of Utusan Melayu Berhad (Utusan) which was of the view that the company was no longer solvent to continue business.

Poor cash flow, mounting debts and declining sales facing Utusan over the past few years paralysed the company, which was also bogged down with various legal action from creditors when it could no longer pay the workers’ salaries on time.

Utusan Malaysia workers protest over unpaid salaries in front of Utusan headquarters in Kuala Lumpur August 19, 2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Utusan Malaysia workers protest over unpaid salaries in front of Utusan headquarters in Kuala Lumpur August 19, 2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

The sad and shocking situation was ‘mourned’ by the public, as well as the netizens, as the newspaper had sentimental value, with many of them growing up reading the newspaper, even before the country achieved its Independence.

The digital revolution, with the new media and social media offering information at the fingertips, also disrupted operations of Tamil Nesan, among the oldest vernacular newspaper in South-east Asia.

The Tamil newspaper, which targeted the Indian community, ceased its operations on February 1 this year after 94 years in the business, with the first issue published on September 24, 1924.

On November 1 this year, the industry was again shocked by the announcement of business transformation and internal restructuring by the country’s leading media group, Media Prima Berhad (Media Prima).

The process is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2020.

The official notification to employees affected by the company’s human resource rationalisation was made on December 16, with the implementation of the business transformation to also involve changing its business model and executing internal restructuring.

The situation was generally disturbing and even the veteran newsman cum 2018 National Journalist Award recipient Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar admitted that “the industry has a bleak, difficult and uncertain future”.

The media and communications adviser in the Prime Minister’s office, Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, said the mainstream media needs to adapt to the new environment following the change in the government after the 14th General Election.

“The year 2019 is the year to make changes. Malaysia has seen a change in the government for more than 18 months, but the mainstream media is still unable or unwilling to adapt to the new environment, which is why they are not recovering, but also continue to be rejected by the audience.

“With the increasing challenges from the social and digital media, the mainstream media is forced to swallow the bitterness to make adjustments to regain the trust and interest of the audience,” he told Bernama.

At the same time, Kadir said college, universities and training providers should review and modify their curriculum on journalism to meet this growing demand for digital know-how. — Bernama

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