It's more or less decided: Umno will sell off its 49 per cent ownership of Utusan Malaysia.
Its executive chairman Abdul Aziz Sheikh Fadzir was said to have met Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at the Umno headquarters in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. After the meeting, Zahid was overheard to have told associates that "we have no choice, the party doesn't have money to keep Utusan".
The Utusan group's monthly overheads come to around RM5 million. Circulation is falling and ads, the main source of revenue for traditional media companies, are just not coming in fast enough. To add to injury, political foes have systematically made the PN17 company a target for lawsuits, further weakening the newspaper and its owner.
Umno also owns about 18 per cent in Media Prima, a media giant that gathers New Straits Times, BH, Metro, popular television stations including TV3 and NTV7, several radio channels, and digital platforms within its huge stable.
With the decision to sell off Utusan, Umno is most likely to dispose off its shares in Media Prima as well.
Zahid will get some flak for the decision to let go of these companies and their publications and broadcast stations. Umno has been linked to them - and vice-versa - for decades. Sentimental reasons aside, many are of the opinion that it's a bad call to sell Utusan and Media Prima. Umno needs a strong media more than ever now. Especially now as the party comes under relentless siege from a hostile Pakistan Harapan government that defeated it in the last general election and is clearly bent on burying it before the next GE.
They are not wrong. But as a product of a so-called government-owned newspaper company (Business Times was a subsidiary of NST, which now comes under Media Prima) for over 20 years myself, I've never been a fan of political parties owning shares in the mass media.
For journalism or the people to benefit at all from this, though, Umno's exit from Utusan and Media Prima must mark the start of an end to the ownership of mass media by any and all political parties AND their proxies. And puppets.