The 32nd edition of the Kenyalang Journalism Awards (KJA) last week brought back all the fond memories that I had as a younger journalist. Organised by the Federation of Sarawak Journalists Associations (SFJA), it is the crème de la crème of journalism awards keenly looked forward to by the Sarawak media.
I rarely missed the event except only on a few occasions due to work commitments — that also when the event was held outside Kuching. I could not afford to be away from my desk for several hours because of the heavy workload.
This year’s award edition was of great significance for my colleagues and I as the new kid on the block, Suara Sarawak (SS), which is slightly only more than one-and-a-half years old won an incredible 23 awards in the Iban and Bahasa Malaysia categories. Sister paper, the New Sarawak Tribune (ST), took five awards, making it 27 in all for the ST Media Group.
Not bad considering that the average age of these journos is only 24 years. Which reminds me of a colleague when I was heading an English broadsheet many years ago who went home with several awards and a few thousand ringgit richer in prize money. She was only in her mid-20s.
This time around, the organisers received a record number of 540 entries from the print and broadcast media — a 40.7 percent increase over the previous year’s 320 entries which proves the popularity of the KJA.
Most winners last week are new to journalism but that didn’t stop them from giving their best, which goes to show that while experience counts, what is equally important is hard work and attitude. And let’s not forget that they had awesome mentors in SS executive editor Rudi Affendi Khalik and a veteran newsman and former associate professor as the editorial advisor.
Veteran journalist and author James Alexander Ritchie, a columnist and feature writer with ST, finally received his long overdue recognition. He was honoured with the Tokoh Wartawan award for his work.
My journalistic ties with Ritchie go back to the mid-80s when he approached me to help edit a few of his publications which I gladly accepted despite the meagre fees which even in those days were considered peanuts. Nevertheless, I gave my best as it was a golden opportunity for me to improve my track record; others would have given Ritchie a monkey’s job.
Come to think of it, journalists in Sarawak have always been paid peanuts. Mind you, being a newsman in Sarawak is a thankless job, unlike in Sabah and Malaya where journalists are appreciated and remunerations can easily be double or triple the amount they receive here.
I have worked for several state- and national-based newspapers — both print and online — since 1979, so I am in a position to determine whether the salaries are peanuts or otherwise. I know some newspaper owners may not agree with me. It doesn’t matter!
In those days, many reporters received a basic salary of only RM250. Some companies provided petrol allowance of RM30-RM50.
I was paid RM350 in all and when I was promoted as a sub-editor four months later, my employer raised my remuneration to RM480. But I didn’t mind because all I wanted was the opportunity to be a newsman despite objections from my parents who wanted me to be a lawyer.
But except for my English and English Literature for which I scored distinctions, the marks for the other subjects were only average and I didn’t qualify to read law. Perhaps God had better plans for me — journalism as a career. I have no regrets.
Back to my earlier view that being a journalist is a thankless job in Sarawak. I say this because even though the state government appreciates the media’s role as a partner in the development of the state and gives due attention to the journalists, there are organisations or people who are not appreciative of what we do.
As a former KJA winner (let’s just call him Wong) put it, “Political parties do not seem to recognise our services to the state. Unlike political parties and organisations in Sabah and Malaya which recommend state or national awards (doesn’t have to be a datukship lah, the lesser categories would do), those in Sarawak don’t seem to notice us.
“Hopefully, political parties here will start looking into recommending us for some of the state awards next year. Journalist associations should also look into this. Jangan diam diam sehaja (don’t just keep quiet)!”
Yes, I concur with Wong’s view! Remember that what we write influences society and the government. At times, it may even affect policy formulation and programmes.
I hope I have not ruffled the feathers of some people — yet again.