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Malaysia: Head of journalists’ union facing dismissal for criticising his newspaper

Hata Wahari,, the president of the National Union Of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ).

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has condemned the way that Hata Wahari, the president of the National Union Of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ), is being treated by his newspaper, the Kuala Lumpur-based daily Utusan Malaysia. The newspaper is owned by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a political party that has played a dominant role in Malaysia since independence.

An internal enquiry by the newspaper’s top management concluded on April 14 that Wahari was guilty of damaging its image in a series of statements last year in which he accused the newspaper of failing to provide the public with objective news coverage and slanting its reporting in favour of the ruling coalition to which UMNO belongs.

“As NUJ president, Wahari has every right to raise issues of journalistic ethics,” RSF said. “Although the newspaper’s management cannot sue this experienced journalist, his comments are liable to result in his dismissal. It shows that the management wants to take reprisals and that its relations with the government are too close. A free and outspoken press is incompatible with political interference in press matters.”

The internal enquiry was carried out by a panel consisting of three senior members of the Utusan Malaysia management – the general manager of marketing, the head of internal audit and the finance manager.

RSF tried to speak to senior representatives at Utusan Malaysia but they refused to make any comment. Wahari said his punishment would be decided by the executive chairman, the editor in chief and the executive director. He was “expecting the worst,” he said.

Wahari added: “In Malaysia I’m protected by the law and they cannot sue me. Under the Industrial Relations Act, I have immunity. The only way they can get me is by means of a domestic or internal inquiry.”

Wahari, who has worked for Utusan Malaysia since 1995, was elected NUJ president last September. The internal enquiry began in January and the punishment is due to be announced at the end of April. If he is fired, he will be the third Utusan Malaysia journalist to lose his job because of his union activities, the Asia Sentinel news website said. Former NUJ president Yazid Othman and the former head of the NUJ section at Utusan Malaysia, Amran Ahmad, were also dismissed.

Malaysia is ranked 141st out of 178 countries in the 2010 RSF press freedom index.

Date posted: April 19, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 63