Mainstream dailies have lost to social media

Photo credit: FMT

Zainuddin Maidin

The mainstream print media can no longer be effective in influencing the people as the people believe the social media.

When Umno seized Utusan Melayu from the leftwing, on the instructions of Tunku Abdul Rahman, its circulation which had dropped to 20,000 daily recovered rapidly to 50,000. Utusan Melayu Malaysia Berhad continued to progress and expanded its business with various publications.

However, in meeting the challenge posed by the social media which continues to mount with increasing intensity, Utusan blatantly continues the policy that it must remain the voice of the party. The people can only read the government’s reply in Utusan and not the statement issued earlier by the critics concerned.

It’s clear that the mainstream print media can no longer be effective in influencing the people. The people believe the social media.

The rot at Utusan Melayu began a long time ago.

Walking down memory lane, I recall that I was once summoned sometime in 1990 – the exact date escapes my memory – to attend a meeting with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at his office. I was then making preparations to return to the kampung to celebrate Aidil Fitri.

The call was from the Prime Minister’s Office. Mahathir wanted me to meet with him. I did go.

When I turned up at Mahathir’s office, I found several Umno divisional leaders and a couple of Menteri Besar present. I can still recall the faces of the Menteri Besar who were present.

Mahathir wanted me as the Editor in Chief to hear for myself what the others with him had to say. The Umno people with Mahathir wanted to know why Utusan, as a newspaper owned by Umno, gave space to the Opposition.

One story that came up was special correspondent Rosnah Majid’s interview with Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz following PAS successfully wresting back the state in the 1990s. The Umno people wanted to know why they were not interviewed instead.

I responded that the paper must be read by all including PAS members and the partyless and not just Umno members although the paper was owned by Umno. I told them that we received reports from Kelantan that Utusan sold out by 8 am on two consecutive days because of the interview with Nik Aziz.

I then asked the gathering with Mahathir whether they wanted Utusan to be read only by Umno members. The decision I made then on the interview with Nik Aziz was in line with that of the Utusan Board of Directors after Umno took over the majority of the company’s shares in 1959 and sacked its founder, managing director, Editor in Chief and sponsor Yusof Ishak.

He was accused of being unable to rein in those on the left who had control of the Utusan Editorial Department.

The decision by the Board in the wake of Yusof’s exit was that Utusan give priority to news on Umno but still carry news on other parties but not as the main news. The news from the other parties was expected to be played down.

Refer to page 91 on the history of Utusan, Fire in Front, Thorn behind.

Yusof went on to become the first local Governor of Singapore and first President. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew regarded him as someone sincere.

They had known each other ever since Lee became Utusan’s lawyer in 1955.

Utusan’s newspaper’s interview with Lim Kit Siang was also criticized by the gathering with Mahathir. I paid no attention. I knew that Mahathir was smart enough and rational to understand my intentions.

Eventually, push came to shove and I was shown the door at the newspaper after the Umno Supreme Council gave in to Anwar Ibrahim’s and Daim Zainuddin’s demand and decided that I should be sacked as Editor in Chief.

I did lodge a brief explanation, dated 18 November 1992, with the Chairman and Board of Directors of Utusan. I expressed the view that my way would be more effective in turning Utusan Melayu/Utusan Malaysia into an influential voice not only among Umno members but also among non-members.

I quote as follows:

“I am aware that Utusan Melayu (Malaysia ) Berhad is owned by Umno. However, I have tried to make readers believe that the newspaper belongs to them including those who were not Umno members.”

“I stress that I have never been given any letter spelling out clear-cut guidelines with Dos and Don’ts on matters concerning political parties.”

“I have tried to mature the journalists under me through the various problems that arose from time to time on the management of news, features and related matters concerned with parties. I wanted them to know the limits of professionalism in serving with a newspaper owned by a political party.”   

Finally, I expressed the view that my way would be more effective in turning Utusan Melayu/Utusan Malaysia into an influential voice not only among Umno members but also among non-members.

 

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