‘Utusan has lost its touch’

In this first of a three-part series, former Utusan Melayu editor in chief Said Zahari touches on what the paper used to stand for and how it has deviated from its ideals

(FMT) – On July 21 1961, Utusan Melayu now Utusan Malaysia launched its first protest against Umno’s involvement to be part of the publication. It was aimed at preventing unnecessary voices from the political party coming into the newspaper.

Said Zahari, 85, was the editor in chief and the man in charge of the paper together with several of his luminaries such as Usman Awang and Rosedin Yaakub fighting to secure freedom of the press that was important for the nation.

“During my time it was not just between Utusan Melayu and the government (Umno), we were still under British colonialism. Slogans we used were for freedom of the press and anti- colonialism,” said Said Zahari.

“I am against intimidation of journalists and Utusan Melayu as a free and fair newspaper wanted to protect the rights of the journalists and uphold democracy. When Umno wanted to overtake Utusan Melayu, I opposed it and so did my colleagues. Then the problems started…were we against the government or against the owner of Utusan,” said Said.

The author of several books added that his action was merely to defend freedom of expression as a whole and was not to hit out at Umno directly.

“For the British as the occupiers, they did not see it as an abuse of freedom because for them freedom of the press is to give away licenses to open up more newspapers.

“That was freedom for them. But as a journalist, I wanted other journalists to be critical in their writing so as generate more ideas and shape opinions on how to move forward as a nation.

“We did not aim the protest against Umno but we wanted to protect Utusan Melayu from being taken away for certain political agendas.

“Utusan Melayu (Utusan Malaysia) should be free from any political power that is what I and my colleagues fought for,” said Said who has touched on the protest in his autobiography ‘The Long Nightmare’ launced recently.