The PAS news organ is struggling with a string of issues – plunging circulation, an ailing chief editor fighting to keep his job and claims that the ‘geng ulama’ wants to control the paper ahead of party election later this year.
FORMER Harakahdaily editor Zulkifli Sulung just returned from the umrah and had stopped by in Istanbul for a short holiday.
The day after he returned, a top PAS official met up with him to ask whether he would consider returning to work for the party news organ.
Its print version Harakah is not in good shape. Circulation had plunged to about 50,000 from about 130,000 a year ago, a far cry from its glory years when its circulation was an impressive 340,000 copies.
The online version Harakahdaily used to be among the top 50 news portals in the country but is now languishing somewhere near No 300 in the Alexa rankings.
The reason Zulkifli is being sought out again is because he was the man in charge during those glory years. But Zulkifli has moved on and there will be no U-turns for him.
Besides, life outside is sweeter if what is now happening in Harakah is anything to go by.Harakah has been in the news recently – and for mostly the wrong reasons.
Its editor-in-chief Ahmad Lutfi Othman has been asked to quit. The official reason and which, according to highly-placed sources is the real reason, is because Lutfi has multiple health issues and has spent a lot of time on medical leave.
He had a stroke several years ago, then he underwent heart surgery. He also has kidney problems and diabetes which has affected his vision.
But even health issues can become political in Harakah and some claimed that the geng ulama (ulama gang), as the group who want to preserve the ulama leadership is known by, is behind all these.
They claimed that the gang wants an editorial team that is more pro-ulama.
“Lutfi is quite open to outside views. He used to publish articles by (Johor DAP chairman) Liew Chin Tong that carried critical suggestions of the party,” said Kota Baru PAS Youth chief Dr Rosli Allani.
The perception is that Lutfi and his team are not as supportive of the ulama leaders as they should be and that they are more inclined towards the Erdogan group in PAS.
The geng ulama has even labelled Lutfi and those around him as geng jebon, a Kedah slang for gibbons, a species of monkeys.
Given that Harakah is available only to PAS members, the falling circulation means that many party members have stopped supporting it. Those who are pro-ulama think it is against the ulama, and those who are pro-Erdogan think the publication is too full of propaganda.
Actually, Lutfi is an accomplished journalist and had authored the best-selling book Anwar Lawan Ghafar.
According to Dr Rosli, journalists like Lutfi want to take Harakah beyond just party news to include political reporting because that is what the younger readers want,
Lutfi is going through what his predecessor experienced.
Zulkifli was removed as Harakah editor-in-chief because he published several articles which were deemed critical of the ulama leadership. He was then assigned to set up the online Harakahdaily which became very popular.
But as Harakahdaily grew in influence, accusations that he was not giving enough coverage to the ulama leaders began to surface, especially during party election years.
Journalists used to joke about what they referred to as “here we go again” when delegates at the annual muktamar attack the party organ.
Finally, in 2010, he threw in the towel and joined a news portal as its Bahasa Malaysia editor.
In Lutfi’s case, his health problems overlapped into politics when his elder brother Shamsuddin, who uses the non-de-plume Dinsman, claimed that Lutfi was being removed because of politics.
Dinsman claimed that his brother was taking the rap for an article he (Dinsman) wrote attacking the ulama leadersip,
The whole affair has become rather messy with accusations flying back and forth.
“Morale is low among the reporters and the reports are not as sharp as before,” said Dr Rosli.
Contrary to claims, the Harakah board has not sacked Lutfi but has offered him a lesser post as a resident columnist at half his former pay.
At the same time, the board has suggested that he applies for Socso, which should supplement his lost income.
However, Lutfi said that his doctors have informed him that he can recover from his illnesses and he hopes to return to work.
The Harakah board met with the editorial staff yesterday to clear the air.
Board member Datuk Mustafa Ali was quite tight-lipped about what transpired but he said a committee had been formed to look into reviving Harakah and to identify the way forward.
He said that he was looking towards a “family solution” to the Lutfi issue
This is going to be a very political year for PAS.
Its doctrine of “leadership by the ulama” is under duress and it will be an all-out fight for control of PAS in the party election.
Every issue will have a political edge it.