Skip to main content

Ordinary royals, extraordinary lives

As published in Malay Mail (June 13, 2015)
 
 
By Frankie D'Cruz
 
IT was a remarkable ‘newsroom’ filled with some of the biggest names in journalism, super rich with collectively hundreds of years of experience. With sacks of skills, these journalists told thousands of great stories, wrote thousands of headlines and made The Malay Mail your lunch companion.
 
These heady editors, sub-editors and reporters had a magical knack of knowing what Malaysians were thinking, and this sharpness made them some of the best journalists the country has seen.
All their gifts came together in irresistible abundance in a breathless recent catch-up of 18 ex-Mailers, from the late 70s and 80s, with former editor Chua Huck Cheng — now happily retired — who was on a visit here from New Zealand. 
 
It was pure theatre. A convivial June 5, Friday evening had emerged at Pietro Ristorante Italiano in Damansara. Wine and stories flowed. Straight-talking rants and witticism ruled.
 
Prolific is the word that springs to mind when one thinks about the opus and personality of many of them such as Kek Soo Beng, a mentor who took me in as a stringer in Seremban and fought for me to get into the New Straits Times Press which then professed ‘rock solid’ English and had a tight recruitment policy.  
 
Like Kek, when people like Chua — the youngest editor of The Malay Mail at age 30 — and other editors Philip Mathews, P.C. Shivadas, Lim Thow Boon, Tony Francis and Ben d’Cunha blinked, reporters were emboldened.
 
Our relationships took various forms, maybe not quite similar to mine with R. Nadeswaran, a streetfighter with pugilistic skills, now The Sun’s editor of investigations.
 
Nadeswaran and I were a combination of drinking buddy, excuse-maker, confidante, firefighter and witness to far more exceptional exploits than can be comfortably listed in a 500-page hardback of journalistic jaunts.
 
Champagne Sheila Rahman, who began reporting life as many of us under training ground sergeant-majors Chua, Philip Mathews and the late Ratan Singh and Sri K. Nayagam was nostalgia-bingeing.
“It was delightful to have the big bosses and forever journalists and listen to them reminisce the glory days. My life is like journalism every day … a new(s) day,” she gloated in a message to me after the party.
 
Standout sub-editor Soo Ewe Jin, who now writes a heartwarming weekly column ‘Sunday Starters’ in The Star put those times in perspective: “Many of us cut our teeth in journalism in The Malay Mail in the 80s.
 
“Those were heady days of exclusive investigative stories, the latest in world news (no Internet or 24-hour TV then) and unique community services like Hotline and People's Live Telecast Fund (PLTF). So, we are more than old friends.”
 
Pause. PLTF is a truly inspiring story generated by a call to Hotline by an insurance agent Peter Teo. A day after he had watched Belgium upset Argentina 1-0 in the opening match on June 13, Teo suggested that Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) allow the public to contribute RM1 each to pay for more live telecasts.
 
RTM began live telecasts of the World Cup from 1974, and continued this in 1978 and 1982, but up to that time football fans here could only expect live transmissions of the opening match, the two semi-finals and the final. 
 
Then editor, Ahmad Sebi Abu Bakar, saw the potential in Teo’s suggestion and a story was published in Hotline on June 15. It triggered a lightning-quick chain of events such that by June 19, The Malay Mail launched the PLTF and handled the fund-raising.
 
PLTF’s aim was to collect at least RM60,000 for one ‘live’ telecast, and from the meagre RM228 that trickled in on the day of the launch, the donations swelled to RM66,116.45 on June 24. Each day, The Malay Mail listed the names of all new donors and the amount they contributed ­— and they included the king and prime minister.
 
Eventually, the PLTF soared past RM300,000, enough to pay for  five matches. The pride-inducing phrase, “Ditaja oleh Rakyat Malaysia” (Sponsored by the People of Malaysia) became a buzzword. The intense interest shown by Malaysians that year influenced the corporate sector that subsequently sponsored live telecasts of all World Cup matches until 2006 when Astro took charge.
 
And last Friday — 2,039 days or 32 years, 11 months and 17 days later — we relished in the power of PLTF and the tone it had set for the tagline ‘The Paper That Cares’.
 
Several of us are still in the epicentre of newspapering. Then high-flying reporter, Lee Boon Siew, who recently retired as editor-in-chief of The Heat said: “This group's history dates more than 40 years. And some of them are still churning out great stories. Of the 18 present, nine are still practising journalism, either in writing or editing.”
 
D’Cunha, now with The Sun and Malay Mail sub-editor Ian Pereira, both in their mid 70s, exude marathon endurance in the profession and show no signs of winding down.
 
Once eternally combative photographer Chai Khian Chong who delivered stellar images and stamped his mark on ‘Page Three Girl’ is sort of winding down. He squared his jaw, grit his teeth and said: “I just want to enjoy being in this ‘newsroom’ with the best of the best.”
 
The more serious ones spoke about the hoary topic of the newspaper business, circulation challenges and current affairs. Such talk however took long breaks especially when engaging stories of Chua as editor were related.
 
Chua, who at times as editor resembled a bulldog chewing a wasp, looked like the cat that got the cream that night as he milked every moment of the occasion.
 
Much of journalism is about knowing when to press and when to withdraw. The temperature in Pietro, owned by former New Straits Times group editor-in-chief, Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan, never plummeted to sub-zero.
 
In many ways, this was a celebration of human relationship.
 
The reporting landscape could well be different if only today’s journalists embraced the life these newspaper elders knew. The life they loved. The life they enjoyed.
 
Pereira and I are now the only ones in this group whose days are governed by Malay Mail. Both of us continue to preach that the paper should herald itself as a beacon of liberal sophistication and objectivity.
 
Fortunately, that pride among the current batch is there all the time.

Comments

  1. Like most things in Malaysia, we can only take pleasure in talking about the "good old days" ! Ain't that a shame. Cheers to the journos of an era gone as we now struggle with the education and calibre of today's reporters and their knack in sending out uncanny messages.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What went wrong with KL SEA Games?

145 gold medals.
It's the best Team Malaysia has ever achieved since the inception of the SEAP Games in1959.
The 29th edition of the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur ended yesterday. The opening ceremony dazzled those at the stands and viewers at home while the performances during the closing ceremony yesterday jogged plenty of musical memories to many.
Our athletes, the real superheroes, brought smiles through their heroic display. They made everyday a happy day.
Kudos to the officials - from the coaches, the National Sports Institute and National Sports Council - for their hard work in ensuring our athletes perform to their best.
But it was not all memorable.
From

'World fashion disaster' in KL

World Fashion Week Asia 2017 ended over the weekend.

And the launch on Friday at Palace of the Golden Horses at Mines Resort City just outside Kuala Lumpur turned out to be a forgettable night.

Why?

It was poorly organised.

Just as many are trying to get over the nightmare witnessed throughout the KL SEA Games, the organiser of World Fashion Week Asia 2017 has made it look like Malaysians seem to have lost it when it comes to hosting major events and hospitality.

Here's why.

Royal protocol ignored

1. The Sultanah of Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah was invited to grace the event.
    a. There was no holding room for the Sultanah and VIPs accompanying her.
    b. The Sultanah was invited on stage without anyone accompanying her there (a big NO NO if anyone knows protocol involving royalty).
    c. The event dragged on till 11.30pm, way past the cut off point of the very many events I've attended with members of the royal family present.
   d. The Sultanah was forced to walk all t…

Klang run 'illegal', says Sports Commissioner

UPDATE (Dec 11; 11.58am): Sporting events approved by Sports Commissioner's Office will be posted on the Youth and Sports Ministry's website starting Dec 14, as revealed by the Sports Commissioner in her statement today. I'm glad the last point of my observation (as per posting right below) has been addressed.

---

UPDATE (10.57pm): A Twitter user had sent me a link by the organiser of the Klang Heritage Marathon 2017. It states that the marathon has been "postponed to Oct 14, 2018" and that they have been victims of fake news and will lodge reports with the authorities against materials with elements of defamation or fake news. Read the full statement, posted on Dec 2, here.

---
ORIGINAL POST

A Klang City International Marathon 2017 pacer suffered serious injuries after she and two others were hit by a car

Turns out that the organiser of this morning's event, Earth Runners International Group Sdn Bhd, DID NOT submit any application to the Sports Commissioner&#…