Covid-19, still raging in much of the world, has completely changed the living habits of everyone. Many industries have been hit hard by the pandemic, especially the aviation industry and tourism. The press and media industry are no exception.
The confirmed cases of Covid-19 have surged in Malaysia since March 2020. The new administration, especially Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, following the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and the National Security Council decided to implement a nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) from March 18 to 31. During this period, no social gatherings, no religious activities. Schools nare closed. Malaysians are not allowed to travel abroad. No visitors or tourists from overseas allowed. Comprehensive restrictions are implemented to prevent the spread of the Covid-19.
The sudden MCO had a huge impact. The national economy suddenly stagnated, and the government was forced to implement many measures to subsidize the affected enterprises, businesses and people.
People were forced to gradually adapt to the new normal. Many businesses events, NGO activities and government official press conferences went online. Journalists have also reduced their onsite interviews. TV stations, newspapers and online media institutions asked reporters to “work from home” and launched an unprecedented working mode all over the world.
After three extensions of MCO, Malaysia entered the recovery movement control order (RMCO) phase from Jun 10, gradually opening up some sectors and industries, and allowing people to travel across states and within the country, overseas travel still not allowed. Many industries and shops have closed down after months of difficulties. Soon, media companies and newspaper agencies were inevitably hit by the economic depression.
In Malaysia, a few Chinese-language media newspapers management began to cut the benefits of journalists and employees, such as gasoline allowance and parking allowance, while some non Chinese-language media companies even began to lay off workers on “disguised retrenchments”, and implement the voluntary separation scheme (VSS) for internal restructuring. Utusan Malaysia, the 80-year-old newspaper announced its closure as early as before the pandemic due to improper operation and continuous losses, resulting in 800 newspaper employees jobless overnight, of which nearly 200 are our members. The newspaper also announced delisting in the stock exchange and liquidation, but the wages owed to the journalists for several months still unpaid. NUJ has begun to assist the members to bring the case to the Industrial Court for trial.
The loss of a large number of members is an arduous challenge facing the NUJ, since the union is a non-profit organization, and the monthly contributions of our members are an important financial pillar of the organization. Losing members means losing reliable income, which causes great financial difficulties for the union.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been affecting the economy of all countries and caused many problems. This is an issue that needs global attention. In is more imperative that journalist organizations maintain close contact and carry out international exchanges and cooperation in the post Covid-19 era.
Zoom and other forms of video conference will be the way for our future contact and communication. Even when the pandemic is over, this new normal is expected to continue.
In addition to discussing issues such as freedom of the press, the future exchanges between international journalist organizations should also include personal safety, occupation and health security of front-line media workers, so as to ensure that the professionalism of journalists will be less affected by the overall environment and economy and journalists continue to convey correct information to the wide audience. Mainstream media and relevant government departments should continue to give support to crack down on and eliminate fake news.
(Speech by Chin Sung Chew , General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Malaysia, from the 2020 Belt & Road Journalists Forum themed Journalism Exchange and Cooperation in the Post Covid-19 Era)