Utusan – revamp or face imminent closure!
By Zan Azlee
I have a lot of beef with a lot of people, and of course, as a columnist, I tend to use the platform I have available to me air all that beef in public. For example, several years ago, I had an extreme amount of beef with the lecturer Ridhuan Tee.
Remember Ridhuan Tee (photo, below)? He is that Chinese Muslim who also happens to be an ultra-conservative Malay activist whose writings, speeches and thoughts are quite extreme, and almost bordering on racism and exclusivity.
In my writings, I would constantly respond and try to negate all of his ideas. He would get irritated and respond to me in his column as well. At times our debates can get pretty heated, and other people would join in the fray too.
However, no matter how heated our arguments get (it even got to a point of name-calling, on his part of course, where he said I am illiterate!), I never once said that he should be banned from ever being allowed to write or speak. I respect his right to freedom of speech.
Recently, I have been having a lot of beef with a particularly beefy person by the name of Dr Zakir Naik. I think I don’t need to explain much about this guy. His most recent controversy is related to him (as a non-Malaysian citizen) asking Malaysian citizens to leave the country.
Anyway, I disagree with him, and I think that his speeches are very divisive and in the context of Malaysia, his ideas are dangerous, and in my opinion, can cause all kinds of racial and religious rifts and tension that our country just does not need.
I use the platforms available to me to argue and prove how dangerous I think Zakir Naik’s ideas are. I even go as far as having the opinion that his talks are borderline hate speeches. I call for the government to revoke his PR status, but I do not push for him to be silenced.
Just like with Ridhuan Tee, I believe that Zakir Naik (photo) has the right to his freedom of speech as well. However, what I do is to try to persuade the public that their opinions and ideas are not beneficial to society and hence, even if they do speak and write, we should just ignore them.
So, they can continue to have their right to speak. But with diversity in the media, the public has access to alternative ideas, and they can make more informed decisions. That is the way the fourth estate should be in a democracy and act as a monitor.
Now, I have to be honest and say that I have a tremendous amount of beef with Utusan Malaysia. Over the years, I have found the newspaper to be racist, divisive and exclusive. They serve a political master that has Malay supremacy as the main objective.
I have written, numerous times, against the ideology that is being propagated by Utusan. It isn’t just me. Many have done it, both against and in support of them. But that is what societal discourse is about. Society debates issues that eventually become a guide on how we want our country to be.
And in all the times that I have been angry and shocked by their spew of bias, I never once asked for Utusan to be shut or silenced. I mean, where else am I going to get fodder for my own writings right? Haha! But jokes aside, all the debates that happen contributes to society’s progress.
So when I heard that Utusan was going to be shut, I truly felt that it would be detrimental to our democracy. Remember when we were so frustrated with how the media was so one-sided many years ago? It was dominated by masters who served Barisan Nasional.
It will not be much different if we eliminate that voice and only maintain the voice of the current power now, will it? Then the people will lose the diversity to make more informed decisions, and we will be back to where we were twenty years ago.
So, it is good news that we now hear that Utusan will not be ceasing operations. However, the fact that they decide to raise the price of the newspaper by RM0.50 to be sustainable and pay its staff is a little bit worrying.
What put them in this dire situation is most probably because nobody is reading the newspaper anymore. Why aren’t people reading it? There could be several reasons, but the main one could be that people are slowly turned off by their Malay supremacist ideas.
In order for the management to reinvigorate the newspaper, instead of raising the price, a better idea will be to revamp and restrategize their editorial approach. Malaysians today aren’t the same as Malaysians twenty years ago. They aren’t subservient and passive readers anymore.
Whatever it is, we should be happy that Utusan – which is an institution in Malaysia – is still around. It is good that hardworking journalists will still be able to have their jobs. But most importantly, the diversity of the press in Malaysia is maintained and hopefully, will grow further.
[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]
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