— Bob Teoh - The Malaysian Insider
JAN 18 — Regardless of which newspaper they buy, readers must strongly support the NUJ and Hata Wahari, its besieged president. This is to tell Utusan Malaysia in no uncertain terms the reading public condemns its union bashing and irresponsible journalism. Utusan has been behaving like the bad boy of Malaysian journalism with impunity for far too long. It’s time to stop the monster.
The Industrial Relations Department must immediately step in and take Utusan Malaysia to task for unashamedly intimidating the newly-elected NUJ president Hata Wahari with baseless allegations of misconduct against him which has nothing to do with his employment as a senior journalist of the newspaper.
Utusan’s highly irregular action of resorting to a so-called domestic inquiry, which may result in Hata’s sacking, is bad labour practice. It is a wilful violation of Hata’s human right to reasonable security of his employment and his right to have a professional opinion and to express such an opinion without threats from his employers.
In an unprecedented display of arrogance, Utusan had also decided to be law unto itself by imposing restrictions on the physical movement of Hata during the period of the inquiry as if he was a restricted Internal Security Act detainee.
In another display of unreasonableness, Utusan has also denied Hata representation by his own union at the domestic inquiry. Utusan has also insisted on videotaping the inquiry proceedings but at the same time denying Hata the right to do likewise.
Utusan’s insanity can only lead to one conclusion; it wants to find any excuse to sack Hata at any cost. This Hata himself and the NUJ are well aware of and they are prepared to fight the ugly bully that Utusan has shown itself to be.
Utusan is known for its serial anti-union bashing tendencies, having previously arbitrary sacked a NUJ president, who was also an Utusan journalist, as well as the former chairman of the NUJ Utusan branch committee. It lost the former upon appeal to the courts by NUJ and the latter is under appeal.
The employers’ federation, of which Utusan is associated with, must forcibly persuade Utusan to desist from further provocative actions and to drop its so-called domestic inquiry in the interest of industrial harmony.
Hata was elected NUJ president in September last year and is outspoken about free and responsible journalism. In his first policy statement as president he said: “The union (NUJ) is asking all mainstream journalists, especially of Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times, Berita Harian and The Star to return to their true function as deliverers of objective information to the public, and not as tools of propaganda for the government of any political party or individual, for their personal gain.”
He had also singled out Utusan for unethical journalism by playing up the race and religion card. This riled Utusan’s editors and Hata was immediately hauled up to face a domestic inquiry for allegedly tarnishing the newspaper’s image. The NUJ exco decided unanimously to fully back its president and said Utusan’s action is ludicrous.
At the core of the controversy is Hata’s action as NUJ president and not as an Utusan employee. Hence, Utusan has no right whatsoever to try to sack Hata for his opinion. If it has the courage, Utusan should sue both Hata and the NUJ for defamation to protect its image.
As NUJ president, Hata was expressing his opinion of the impact of bad journalism on working journalists and their welfare. It is his constitutional and human right as a union leader to form such an opinion and to express it. If Utusan’s internal auditor says that there’s something fishy about its account, we don’t sack him or her, do we? So when Hata said Utusan is bad surely, we don’t expect Utusan to sack him.
Utusan is also entitled to its right of reply. But Utusan chose to victimise both the NUJ and Hata instead of entering its defence in the court of public opinion. Utusan is both a lousy newspaper and a bad loser. A bully in short.
Utusan has lost all pretense to be a responsible and professional newspaper. It has litttle reputation to speak of. What Hata and the NUJ have to say about it is already public knowledge. The very fact that Hata and NUJ had said it shows the extent of Utusan’s rot.
The once respectable Malay daily has in recent years been resorting to gutter journalism, religious bigotry, racist, sexist, and seditious speech calculated clearly to incite one segment of society against another to the detriment of peace and harmony in the nation.
Far from trying to shore up its dropping sales by such irresponsible reporting, Utusan’s circulation has plummeted so much that its very commercial feasibility is now in question. It is no secret that it is generously endowed with advertising revenue from the government and government-linked corporations to keep it afloat.
Utusan is directly controlled by Umno, the dominant partner in the ruling coalition. That it enjoys the patronage of Umno is obvious. But patronage must have its limit. Utusan has exceeded this limit and must be taken to task.
* Bob Teoh is a freelance writer and was NUJ general-secretary (1984-86).
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.