KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Utusan Group will not cease its newspaper operations on Wednesday (Aug 21) as reported earlier, but will instead increase the cover price of its publications by 50 sen starting Friday in a bid to ensure its survival.
Executive chairman Abd Aziz Sheikh Fadzir said the price of Utusan Malaysia, the country's oldest Malay language newspaper, will be increased from RM1.50 (S$0.50) to RM2, while the price of Kosmo will be raised from RM1 to RM1.50.
"We are in a do-or-die situation," said Datuk Abd Aziz at a press conference on Tuesday.
"We need to mark up the price of the paper, push harder to generate greater advertisement revenue and boost our online content, as well as increase the number of e-paper subscribers. By increasing the price of the papers, we hope to generate about RM2.3 million a month, and thus reduce our current monthly deficit from RM3 million to RM750,000," he said.
Mr Abd Aziz also shot down claims, reported in the media, that Utusan would soon close shop because it was not financially viable. It was reported that the newspaper group had not paid staff salaries since June.
"We are looking into a viable business model," he said. "We are not closing our doors on mergers, if there are potential investors."
"We call upon the Malay community to express their support for Utusan by buying our papers," he said.
Nearly 100 Utusan employees had demonstrated outside the company's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Monday to protest over their unpaid wages, which had been outstanding for months. The company recorded RM9 million in losses in the second quarter of the year.
Mr Abd Aziz viewed the picketing positively, saying it resulted in overwhelming support for Utusan, with people coming forward to contribute cash and rice.
"But to help sustain us in this industry, we need people to continue buying our papers," he said.
Mr Abd Aziz also denied allegations that former ruling party Umno controlled the media company.
"(Umno president) Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has never called me to make demands on matters related to editorial content.
"Umno has owned Utusan from 1961, and Utusan always fought in the interest of the rakyat (people). We are not racist," he said.
He was referring to Utusan Malaysia's front page headline after the 2013 general election which read, "Apa lagi Cina mau?" (What more do the Chinese want?), when the Chinese community largely voted for opposition parties, and not Umno and the Barisan Nasional coalition it leads.
Utusan Malaysia's National Union of Journalists chief Tawfek Abdul Razak said the staff would be getting RM2,000 in partial salary by Tuesday night.
"Umno has injected between RM1.6 million and RM1.7 million to settle part of our salary.
"The unpaid salary issue will be settled soon as the company disposes its RM60 milliom printing plant in Bangi," he said.
Umno sold off its substantial stake in Utusan after losing the general election in May 2018 and having its bank accounts frozen by the anti-graft agency.