Utusan Melayu



Utusan Melayu, a Malay daily printed in the Jawi script, was first published in Singapore on 29 May 1939 by Utusan Melayu Press Limited (UMPL).1 It was a landmark publication as it was the first Malay newspaper to be wholly owned, financed, written and managed by Malays.2 The birth of Utusan Melayu was a pivotal moment for political organisation Kesatuan Melayu Singapura (Singapore Malay Union) as it marked the revival and progress of Malays as a bangsa (“nation” or “race”). Utusan Melayu was established not to rival other newspapers but to serve the bangsa, agama (“religion”) and watan (“country” or “birthplace”) of Malays.3 Yusof bin Ishak, who later became Singapore’s first’s Malayan-born Yang di-Pertuan Negara (“Head of State”) and subsequently president, was one of the newpaper’s prime movers.

Background
Before Utusan Melayu, Malay newspapers were controlled by Muslims of Arab and Indian origins. In Singapore, Jawi Peranakkan (1876–95) was the first Malay-language newspaper accepted and regarded by the Malays as their newspaper. This was because it served the Malay community even though it was not owned by Malays but by Muslims of South Indian origin.4 The Alsagoffs, a well-known Arab family in Singapore, owned Warta Malaya (1930–41), the leading Malay newspaper before Utusan Melayu.5


Two newspapers, one name
The Utusan Melayu published by UMPL was the second Malay newspaper to be named as such. The first, Utusan Malayu (with a slight variation in spelling), was launched by The Singapore Free Press on 7 November 1907 and circulated three times a week. It became a daily from 1915 to 1921.6 Using a mixture of Jawi and Rumi as its medium of language, the newspaper included the romanised script to cater to Straits Chinese readers.7


The link between these two newspapers of the same name was Eunos Abdullah, the editor of Utusan Malayu.8 In 1926, Eunos founded and became the first president of Kesatuan Melayu Singapura, a Malay political organisation that promoted the advancement of the Malays.9

In 1939, Kesatuan Melayu Singapura was helmed by Malay leaders who galvanised the Malay community to pool their capital to start a newspaper that they could truly call their own.10 A group of 20 Malay men thus decided to produce a Malay newspaper that would be owned, financed and staffed by pure Malays (orang darah keturunan Melayu). One of them was Yusof bin Ishak, who became Singapore’s Yang di-Pertuan Negara (“Head of State”) in 1959, and then first president of the Republic of Singapore in 1965.11

Establishment
In early 1939, UMPL was incorporated in Singapore.12 Besides Yusof, other prominent founders of Utusan Melayu icluded Yahya Abdul Rahman, Yunos Haji Daim, Osman Hassan, Haji Ambo Sooloh, Sudin Abdul Rahman, Abdullah Abdul Ghani and Daud bin Md Shah. Abdul Rahim Kajai became the newspaper’s first editor.13 An initial capital of $12,500 was needed, of which $2,000 was first collected and used to register the newspaper with the registrar of Joint Stock Companies.14

Yusof, then aged 27, was appointed to organise the formation of Utusan Melayu.  Tasked to seek expertise and funds from within the Malay community, Yusof travelled around Singapore and southern Johor, approaching peasants, taxi drivers and other ordinary Malays to buy shares in Utusan Melayu. It was an uphill task, and he managed to sell only 400 shares totalling some $4,000. Haji Ambo and Daud raised the rest of the capital. UMPL operated from its office at 64 Queen Street in Singapore.15 Yusof also managed the accounts, looked for journalists and editors, sourced for advertisers and brought in the necessary printing equipment.16

Before the first issue of Utusan Melayu went to print, a few of its founding members travelled to Pahang, Kelantan, Trengganu, Johor and Selangor to publicise the newspaper and gather the reactions of the Malays’ to it. The publication generated a major buzz among them. On 29 May 1939, Utusan Melayu was launched amidst pomp and ceremony.17

On 5 November 1939, as part of expanding its business, UMPL published Utusan Zaman (Contemporary Herald), a weekly paper containing informative articles as well as humorous sketches, cartoons and satires.18

Utusan Melayu and Malay nationalism
UMPL initially printed 1,000 copies of Utusan Melayu, but later reduced the print run to 700, and then 600 due to stiff competition from Warta Malaya (1930–1941), another newspaper published in the Jawi script. However by 1941, Utusan Melayu had reached a daily circulation  of 1,800 copies.19 It was sold at 10 cents per copy, while the annual subscription was $30.20


The newspaper published mostly local news and was concerned with safeguarding Malay interests, especially in the area of education.21 The paper urged its readers to participate actively in all fields such as agriculture, trade and mining to improve their socio-economic status.22

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), Utusan Melayu merged with Warta Malaya and was renamed Berita Malai. It published mainly Japanese propaganda. After the occupation, the paper’s office and printing machines were no longer available for use.23 However, Utusan Melayu was revived by Yusof and re-established on 10 September 1945, after The Straits Times offered to loan its flat-bed printing machines and a small office space. Subsequently, there was a discernible increase in the number of copies circulated due to post-occupation nationalistic sentiments. By 1958, its circulation was around 35,000 copies a week.24

The Malay nationalistic movement reached its peak in the 1950s, and most editorials soon turned anti-British, including Utusan Melayu. However, the movement was split between two camps: those who favoured overthrowing the sultans and ushering in a republic, and those who wanted the formation of the Federation of Malaya with the sultans as heads of state (this faction was led by the political party, United Malays National Organisation [UMNO]). Utusan Melayu took the former position, but as more UMNO members bought Utusan shares, the newspaper eventually came under UMNO's influence and control.  There was also a decision made by UMPL’s board of directors to relocate Utusan Melayu from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.25

It made more sense for the leading Malay newspaper, which acted as the mouthpiece of the Malay community, to be situated in Kuala Lumpur. The paper issued shares to fund the move, which provided the opportunity for more UMNO members to buy its shares.26 UMPL moved its head office to Kuala Lumpur in 1958.27 The Singapore office then became a branch office.28

Due to UMNO’s influence as the newspaper’s major shareholder, there was a change in the its editorial policy, from an independent paper to that of a party publication.29 This resulted in a three-month strike by employees, who disagreed with the interference of colonialists and politics in the newspaper, and argued that it went against the policy of freedom.30

On 21 February 1970, Utusan Melayu’s management closed its Singapore office and suspended its circulation in Singapore. The decision was made after the Singapore government stopped granting permits to the company for the circulation of its newspapers in Singapore. The new permits were required because UMPL had been reconstituted as Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd.31



Authors
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman




References
1. A. M. Iskandar Haji Ahmad. (1973). Persuratkhabaran Melayu, 1876–1968 [Malay newspapers]. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia, p. 7. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ABD-[DIR]); Arshad Haji Nawari. (1980). Utusan Melayu. In Jazamuddin Bin Baharuddin & K. K. Khoo, Lembaran Akhbar Melayu [Sheet of Malay newspaper] (pp. 105–132). Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia, p. 105. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 070.9595 LEM)
2. Jeman Sulaiman. (1988, November 7). The rise of Malay newspapers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tregonning, K. G. (1972). A history of modern Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 146. (Call no.: RSING 959.5 TRE); Utusan Melayu. (1949). Utusan Melayu 10 tahun [Utusan Melayu 10 years]. Singapura: Author, p. 179. (Call no.: Malay RCLOS q079.5957 UTU); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 21—22. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
4. Ainon Haji Kuntom. (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876–1973: A historical survey of the literature. (n.p.), p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q079.5951 AIN); Jeman Sulaiman. (1988, November 7). The rise of Malay newspapers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 143. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
6. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1)(201), 37—78, pp. 45—46. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS); Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 356. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Ainon Haji Kuntom. (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876–1973: A historical survey of the literature. (n.p.), p. 14. (Call no.: RSING q079.5951 AIN)
7. A. M. Iskandar Haji Ahmad. (1973). Persuratkhabaran Melayu, 1876–1968 [Malay newspapers]. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia, p. 7. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ABD-[DIR]); Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 119. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
8. Ainon Haji Kuntom. (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876–1973: A historical survey of the literature. (n.p.), p. 14. (Call no.: RSING q079.5951 AIN); Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1)(201), 37—78, p. 46. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, p. 15. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
9. Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, p. 14. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
10. Mazlan Nordin. (2009). Tokoh dan akhbar Melayu: penebus peminggiran Melayu. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, p. 28. (Call no.: Malay RSING 079.595 MAZ); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 13, 15. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
11. Jeman Sulaiman. (1988, November 7). The rise of Malay newspapers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, p. 477. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
13. Ainon Haji Kuntom. (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876–1973: A historical survey of the literature. (n.p.), p. 27. (Call no.: RSING q079.5951 AIN)
14. Ainon Haji Kuntom. (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876–1973: A historical survey of the literature. (n.p.), pp. 27–29. (Call no.: RSING q079.5951 AIN); Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 143. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
15. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1)(201), 37—78, p. 64. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 19—20. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
16. Ainon Haji Kuntom. (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876–1973: A historical survey of the literature. (n.p.), pp. 27–29. (Call no.: RSING q079.5951 AIN); Jeman Sulaiman. (1988, November 7). The rise of Malay newspapers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 143. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
17. Ishak Haji Muhammad. (1975). Pengalaman Pak Sako tiga tahun di Singapura [Pak Sako three years of experience in Singapore]. Petaling Jaya: Pustaka Budaya, pp. 51–52. (Call no.: Malay RSING 079.595 ISH); Utusan Melayu. (1949). Utusan Melayu 10 tahun [Utusan Melayu 10 years]. Singapura: Author, p. 179. (Call no.: Malay RCLOS q079.5957 UTU)
18. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1) 201), 37—78, pp. 68. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)
19. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1)(201), 37—78, p. 68. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS); Ainon Haji Kuntom. (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876–1973: A historical survey of the literature. (n.p.), pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING q079.5951 AIN)
20. Ainon Haji Kuntom. (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876–1973: A historical survey of the literature. (n.p.), p. 30. (Call no.: RSING q079.5951 AIN)
21. Jeman Sulaiman. (1988, November 7). The rise of Malay newspapers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Utusan Melayu. (1980). In Jazamuddin Bin Baharuddin & K. K. Khoo, Lembaran Akhbar Melayu [Sheet of Malay newspaper] (pp. 109–122). Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia, p. 109. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 070.9595 LEM)
23. First collaboration inquiry. (1945, December 29). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Utusan Melayu. (1989). Di sebalik jendela Utusan: Suara keramat [Behind the windows of Utusan: Sacred voice]. Kuala Lumpur: Author (Malaysia), pp. 56—57. (Call no.: Malay RCLOS 079.595 DIS-[SEA]); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 36—37. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
24. Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, L. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, pp. 163—164. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS]); Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1)(201), 37—78, p. 71. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 36—38. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
25. A. Samad Ismail. (1993). Memoir A. Samad Ismail di Singapura. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, p. 62. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.23050092 ABD); Rusdin Yaakob & Abdul Malik Haji Abdullah. (1964). Cenderamata: Genap 25 tahun Utusan Melayu akhbar kebangsaan Melayu yang dipunyai dan diusahakan oleh bangsa Melayu 29 Mei 1939–29 Mei 1964 [Souvenir: Malay’s national newspaper Utusan Melayu Press owned and operated by Malays has reached its 25th year]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Melayu, p. 35. (Call no.: Malay RCLOS 079.595 UTU); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 48–57, 96. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
26. Bachtiar Dijamily. (1985). Menyorot: Karir, peranan, pandangan, latarbelakang A. Samad Ismail [Highlights: Career, role, views, background of A. Samad Ismail]. Kuala Lumpur: Pustaka Budiman, p. 133. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 070.924 ABD); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 94, 96. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
27. Utusan Melayu. (1989). Di sebalik jendela Utusan: Suara keramat [Behind the windows of Utusan: Sacred voice]. Kuala Lumpur: Author (Malaysia), p. 13. (Call no.: Malay RCLOS 079.595 DIS-[SEA]); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 93, 96–97. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
28. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1)(201), 37—78, p. 73. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 96–97. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
29. Utusan Melayu staff on strike. (1961, July 21). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Utusan Melayu. (1989). Di sebalik jendela Utusan: Suara keramat [Behind the windows of Utusan: Sacred voice]. Kuala Lumpur: Author (Malaysia), pp. 22, 31–35. (Call no.: Malay RCLOS 079.595 DIS-[SEA]); Zainuddin Maidin. (2013). Di depan api di belakang duri: Kisah sejarah Utusan Melayu [Fire at the front, thorns at the rear: The history of Utusan Melayu]. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, p. 485. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 079.595 ZAI)
31. Utusan decides to suspend sales of its papers in S’pore. (1970, February 22). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Arts>>Literature>>Malay Literature
Malay newspapers--Singapore
Literature
Language and literature>>Languages>>Austronesian and Oceanian languages>>Malay