(1A) No person shall join, or be a member of, or be accepted or retained as a member by, any trade union if he is not employed or engaged in any establishment, trade, occupation or industry in respect of which the trade union is registered. - Section 26(1A) TRADE UNIONS ACT 1959 (REVISED 1981)
Tomorrow's closed-door domestic inquiry against National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president Hata Wahari for "tarnishing the image of the company" is seen as a mere formality undertaken by Utusan Malaysia as a preclude to sacking him.
Senior journalists with the newspaper as well as others with the mainstream media familiar with the situation in the Umno-owned Malay daily said the company, Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd, brooked no criticism, particularly from its employees.
"He spoke as president of NUJ... and in the area of press freedom and ethics, he had some 'harsh' words for the mainstream media, including Utusan. It is not that he singled out the paper he works for," said a senior Utusan journalist who did not want to be named.
"Nevertheless, the top management of Utusan Melayu was riled and terribly agitated because of many attacks on the newspaper that have been appearing in the mainstream and online media, as well as in blogs.
"This has been particularly so in recent months, with many people concerned about media freedom and responsibility accusing us of highlighting provocative, racially sensitive issues and playing a racist tune."
Hata, in one of his statements shortly after being elected NUJ president last September, said: "The union 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, or any political party or individual, for their personal gain."
He also noted that the drop in print media circulation figures also clearly proved that the people were "far too disgusted with what is served up by the newspapers, which not only fail to develop the mind, but are full of horrible propaganda".
Utusan must toe party's line
Other senior journalists, in accepting the issues raised by Hata as valid, said a major concern of the Utusan bosses was why the Malays themselves were dumping the paper when it was championing their rights and position, as well as that of the Malay rulers.
Said a senior journalist from The Star: "Perhaps they don't understand the 1Malaysia concept at all."
It may not be that they do not understand, said another journalist. According to him, Utusan Malaysia has a role to play, specifically outlined by its owner, the dominant party in the ruling BN.
He believes the inquiry against Hata will be a swift one, with his dismissal following soon after.
This senior journalist, who is with Sin Chew Daily, pointed to a statement by the Umno secretary-general in an interview with Malaysiakini, in which Tengku Adnan Mansor said that Utusan had to "toe the party line".
"So, what is the party line, if it is not to maintain the superior, dominating position of the Malays?" he asked.
What these journalists say could well mean the end of a 26-year career in the mainstream Malay media for Hata, who started work with Utusan since June 1985.
Two show-cause letters in four months
Hata had, since assuming office as NUJ president four months ago, criticised Utusan Malaysia for publishing pro-Umno propaganda and blamed editorial policy for its dwindling circulation.
The company has since issued two show-cause letters to him - in October and in November last year.
The show-cause letters accused him of spreading, delivering or providing "secrets obtained or acquired while in service" that could affect the company's interests, thereby committing the "misconduct of discrediting, tarnishing and belittling the credibility and integrity of the company".
However, the notice of domestic inquiry, issued on Dec 23 last year, makes no mention of him spreading the secrets he obtained while in service.
On Sept 23 last year, Utusan carried a statement by the president of Utusan Melayu Veterans Club, Raja Ahmad Niza Ismail, calling on Hata to resign for making "statements inconsistent with Utusan's
principles". Another Utusan journalist, Amran Ahmad, was sacked last September after making a complaint to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission against certain procurements made by Utusan
Amran, who at that time was chairman of the NUJ-Utusan branch, was also accused of being a DAP supporter while serving as a reporter with the Umno-owned newspaper. publisher, Utusan Melayu. - Malaysiakini, 16/1/2011, Journalists expect Utusan to sack union chief