Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.— Aldous Huxley, writer
As I wallow in the glory of being named ‘Tokoh Wartawan Sarawak 2020’, I realise I am just a rookie when compared to the great Sarawak writers of yesteryear.
Looking back, I know more than a few dynamic local journalists who wrote about Sarawak long before I set foot in Kuching in 1967.
It was in the days of the Sarawak Vanguard that personalities such as Desmond Leong who dared to be different in the early 1970s that led to the closure of his newspaper.
At the same time a young Marudi reporter Chan Seng Chai aka SC Chan emerged as a champion of the government and endeared him to the leadership of Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub.
Even though he only passed his Senior Cambridge, SC excelled and rose to become one of the most talented journalists of our time, even surpassing ‘uncle’ Raymond Reggie Adai.
As the Sarawak Tribune was the mouthpiece of the government during Sarawak Communist Emergency as it is today, it was publishers such as Ee Ghim Yam, whose son Kenny Ee, rose to be a prolific horse-racing writer and Tribune sub-editor together with many others.
These are the unsung heroes who re-wrote badly written articles to make us look good in the eyes of the public.
It was a time when KC Jong who was well-versed in English and Mandarin, Yusof Heaton and a long list of talented writers such as Balia Munir ruled the roost. It was only when I arrived during the era of Sarawak’s fourth chief minister Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud as an experienced crime reporter from the NST, albeit a rookie in Sarawak politics that I chose to follow a path that would endear me to the new leadership.
Needless to say, I learned the ropes of political writing from peers like the Tamil-speaking Malay Zainon Ahmad of New Straits Times (NST), a master degree graduate well-versed in regional politics.
As a rookie political write, I broke the exclusive story on the date of the 1983 state election when Taib gave me an exclusive interview at his Rumah Sarawak residence.
The front page NST headline made me famous until the Election Commission called me to ask who my informer was and threatened to report me to the police for ‘fake news”.
Looking back, I remember that the Bernama office at that time in Jalan Satok was just above the NST and that Effendi Ariffin, the brother of Deputy State secretary Datuk Taha Ariffin, was the boss.
Many years later Effendi became Taib’s press secretary and later private secretary, a post he held for almost 30 years.
Coincidentally, I joined Effendi in the Chief Minister’s Office as a public relations consultant in 1999 and we both hit it off — he in his formal attire and I, as a typical long-haired reporter much to chagrin of State Secretary Tan Sri Hamid Bugo.
After all I was the blue-eyed boy of Taib.
I remember the time when my neighbour Ho Ah Chon — a photo-journalist who has the best collection of historical news reports comprising Sarawak Information Department press releases and Sarawak Tribune reports — would share his material with me.
There were other unselfish journalists and writers like the late Tribune photo-journalist Mohd Jaya Tan who died tragically in Pontianak when he had an asthma attack in the early 1980s.
I was distraught when I learnt that Jaya’s family was not paid his dues, and attempted to form the Sarawak Union Journalists.
Even though it was supported by the Sarawak Teachers Union, the plan was scuttled by some journalists who felt we were becoming too political.
My greatest concern was that without a union the local reporters would continue to be underpaid and become errand boys for affluent politicians with connections to the newspaper barons.
Looking back and realising the Sarawak journalists continue to be short-changed, I would like to remind the authority that there are more than a dozen journalists who deserve recognition.
The likes of the talented John Tiong, who is way ahead of me in writing skills, and Tribune columnist Francis Siah, who is able to write deliciously political stories.
And recently columnist Karambir Singh who is proving to be a journalist with heart for the truth.
To end this short report, I would like to list out the names of authors of books in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Iban and Mandarin of the olden days who deserve our praise for their contributions.
It is from a book published in 1993 which was State Secretary Datuk Amar Yusof Puteh’s labour of love, librarians Johnny Kueh and the late Ahmad Ebi.
Those listed in volume 2 of the publication include 50 authors — out of which 35 books were written in English, Malay and Iban.
Some of the prominent writers include Datuk Amar Yusof Puteh himself, Heidi Munan, Dr Peter Kedit, Dr Charles Leh, Datu Sanib Said, Darrel Tsen, Dr Paul Yong, Dr Chang Pat Foh, KC Jong, Dr Lam Chee Kiong, Datuk Sim Kheng Hui, Dr Soon Choon Teck, Datuk David Teng, Lim Beng Huat, Dr KK Loh, Daniel Ngieng, Hasbie Sulaiman, Datuk Mohammad Kassim, Mohamed Abdul Ghani Kassim and Wan Ali Tuanku Amit.
Twenty-seven years have passed since the last ‘Biodata Pengarang Pengarang Sarawak’ and the time is right to update the list of Sarawak authors and writers.
There are so many others like my peers Dr Jeniri Amir who started out as People’s Mirror reporters during my time.
Who ever said Sarawak lacks talent?
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.