Malaysia: Questions raised on media ownership after mass layoffs announced

Media Prima Berhard, the owner of various media including New Strait Times, Berita Harian and Harian Metro as well as four television channels, is reporting a cut of more than 1,000 media workers. The company said it will downsize by the first quarter of 2020. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) stands with its affiliate the National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM) in strongly condemning the decision by Media Prima and calls the company to urgently review its strategy.

On November 1, in a statement circulated for its employees, Media Prima announced a plan for a ‘substantial reduction in its workforce’. It claimed the company had done everything it could possibly do to minimize the impact. Media Prima owns several newspapers, including New Straits Times Press (NSTP), Berita Harian and Harian Metro together with television channels TV3, ntv7, 8TV, and TV9, four radio stations, websites and several billboard advertising companies.

Information provided to the IFJ, detailed job cuts affecting editorial staff across three brands, photographers, advertisement marketing, advertisement support, advertisement sales, production division as well as circulation and sales.

According to reports, the decision to cut jobs follows tycoon Syed Mokhtar Albukhary's enlargement of his stake in Media Prima through Aurora Mulia Sdn Bhd, after former ruling party UMNO sold at least 11 per cent of its stake in the company earlier this year. Aurora Mulia is said to own a 32 per cent stake in Media Prima, making him the largest individual shareholder. Syed Mokhtar also owns printing permits for Utusan Malaysia, Mingguan Malaysia, Kosmo! and Malaysian Reverse. With this ownership, he is ‘likely to have become the biggest player in the Malaysian media landscape, according to Malaysiakini.

NUJ’s NSTP union said in a statement that the terminations would be based on a ‘last in, first out’ (LIFO) basis. It also said terminations would be based on other unexplained ‘factors’, including health and discipline. Exact numbers of those to be laid off would be discussed in a town hall meeting with management on November 15. The company is expected to announce the list of the workers who will lose jobs by the end of December 2019. The layoffs cover every department, including staff and management. Some workers in the units will be reduced in size, some will be closed.

We are firmly in our position to disagree with the proposed plan to dismiss workers from their jobs,” NUJ-NSTP said.

NUJ General Secretary, Chin Sung Chew, said in a statement that NUJ Malaysia remains very much concerned with the dilemma and difficulties faced by media companies during the current economic downturn.

"But we also remind the executive board who manage the media companies or media groups not to tolerate any form of political deception whose idea is to kill off the media practitioners, especially reporters, by restructuring the company as an excuse. We do not hope to see any media in the country controlled by politicians.  The media should be free from any forms of political parties, irrespective of the ruling government or opposition party," Chin said.

The IFJ backs the NUJP’s call that media should be free to play its roles as the fourth estate, to report without fear or favour and to support Malaysia’s democracy.

The IFJ said the Malaysian government needs to come through with promised reforms to support media freedom in Malaysia.

The Media Prima announcement warranted a thorough investigation into allegations of top-heavy management levels that have decimated company profits at the cost of quality journalism, the IFJ said.

In its 2018 Situation Report on Malaysia in September 2018, the IFJ concluded that Malaysian journalists face significant challenges to build and entrench protections for press freedom in Malaysia, while "its mainstream press and media was, and is, limited to control by regime cronies”.

The IFJ said: “For too long we have seen media companies in Malaysia at the mercy of political parties and the whims of power. This must change. The recent changes in ownership are not inconsequential to the devastating announcement of major job losses at Media Prima. We echo the words of journalists from Media Prima – don’t kill the messenger, it is time to reform the system.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on 
+61 2 9333 0918

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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