543 employees of Malaysia’s New Straits Times Press group yesterday received notifications of retrenchment as part of a restructuring exercise which the company first announced on November 1. The affected employees, whose employment will end on March 12 2020, include journalists from the New Straits Times, Berita Harian and Harian Metro, all daily newspapers published by the NSTP group, according to the NSTP National Union of Journalists.
The layoffs will see the three papers severely reduced in coverage, with NSTP’s 14 bureaus across the country slashed to five bureaus each staffed by just two reporters. This follows several years of losses and tumbling ad revenues. On the other hand, Gerakan Media Merdeka, a journalists’ movement for free media, said on Sunday that it had heard complaints that a segment of the company’s workers were overpaid for many years, which had contributed to its financial problems.
Farah Marshita Abdul Patah, the chair of the NSTP journalists’ union, said she hoped this will be the last retrenchment exercise by the company. 193 of the affected staff are union members. “We are sympathetic to what has happened and have tried our best to fight for the plight of affected members but we have to accept the company's decision, even though it is a bitter one,” she said in a statement on Monday.
The NSTP group is the latest Malaysian media company to drastically downsize amid difficult industry conditions. In October, 80-year-old publisher Utusan Melayu Berhad went into liquidation and shut down Malaysia’s oldest Malay-language newspaper, Utusan Malaysia, along with its sister publications.
The ongoing attrition of journalism jobs, especially in such numbers, further adds to the mismatch between labor supply and demand in Malaysia. The number of diploma and degree graduates who enter the workforce annually far outstrips the number of high-skilled jobs created, and journalism in Malaysia falls into the high-skilled category (journalism, communication, and media education is only offered at tertiary level.)