Remember how journalists jobless in ’87 were left to cope on their own?

By Reina

In 1987 during Ops Lalang, Mahathir carried out an operation where over 100 people were arrested under the ISA and four newspapers were closed down. One of the four newspapers affected was The Star, which was closed for five months. Prior to the closure, The Star was highly critical of Mahathir.

And just before its license to publish was suspended, the paper ran what was considered one of the most memorable of front pages to depict the mass ISA arrests. The front page had the mugshots of some of the more prominent people to be arrested – and that said it all.

People were hailing The Star for being so brave and when the paper was ordered to be shut down, the support was even more overwhelming. Star journalists and editors were hailed as heroes for standing up against the oppressor of free speech.

One of the editors recently said that in the first month, there was a lot of sympathy from friends and opposition politicians and activists. As the months passed, sympathy waned. By the time the third month came, the free food and sympathy was almost nil and the jobless journalists found that their savings were almost depleted.

Public sympathy was turning into scorn as people were saying the journalists should start getting jobs instead of relying on help. Many of the journalists started selling their old books so they could feed themselves and their children.

So with such a past record, can the Malaysian public be depended upon to support journalists who make a bold stand?

Fast forward to today

On April 20, senior producer Joshua Wong Ngee Choong quit ntv7 after receiving complaints from the Prime Minister’s Department and the Prime Minister’s wife Rosmah Mansor over two recent Chinese talk show programmes focusing on current political developments.

A week later (April 28), another television producer, RTM’s TV2 producer Chou Z Lam claimed political interference in his work after his documentary on the Bakun Dam was taken off the air allegedly due to Barisan Nasional concerns over it chances in the upcoming Sibu by-election.

These two men stepped into the spotlight, risking their livelihoods and ready to face a jobless and uncertain future for themselves and their families and dependants, to show one and all just how strong the intimidation by the government can be.

These men did it not for fame, glory nor money. They did it because they wanted to be the change that the media landscape needs to have. They wanted to see a free and independent media that is not ruled by the government or big advertisers and corporations.

So what happens next?

There will be a few follow-up stories in the alternative online media and probably some half-hearted attempts by the government to deny the whole issue. The mainstream media will either ignore it, play it down or highlight the government’s stand / explanation on this issue.

  • Will there be any MACC or police investigations into the matter? Nope.
  • Will the Parliament debate on this? Nope.
  • Will Suhakam call for an enquiry? Nope.
  • Will the Bar Council ask for an explanation? Probably. But nothing much will come out of it.
  • Will the National Union of Journalists or the National Press Club do anything about this? Nope.

The next step is up to you

The general public has been constantly saying that those in the mainstream media should speak out against intimidation and meddling by the powers that be. Many have screamed asking mainstream journalists to have some dignity and speak out. Not one, but two journalists have spoken – loud and clear. So now’s your chance to take the baton from the two men, who are risking their future and their lives for the sake of freedom of speech, and run with it.

Here are some things that can be done:

1. A one-day nationwide boycott of mainstream media – both electronic and print, in peninsula and in Sabah and Sarawak, all languages, etc. If the government does not budge, increase it to two days.

2. Hold demonstrations outside TV2 and ntv7 buildings

3. Offer these two men a job, then offer jobs to other journalists who are willing to step out and talk about the government’s control over the media.

There are many more ways to drive home a point but the main issue is, how far will the Malaysian public go for the sake of media freedom?


This is a revised version of an article that first appeared yesterday in the Centre for Policy Initiatives under the title ‘Put your money where your mouth is, Malaysia’. It has been expanded and retitled.

4 Responses to “Remember how journalists jobless in ’87 were left to cope on their own?”

    We have to admire and respect all those with guts
    Standing up for their professions than get into a rut
    Even prepared to move out from mansions to stay in huts
    Keeping their ethics and integrity intact even with pay cuts

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng – 300410
    Fri. 30th Apr. 2010.

  2. dahi ketiak says:

    Samuel Goh,
    Just admiring tak cukup lah. Out the money where your mouth is. There are so many batu apis in ther guise of “supporters” and are the first jump ship at the first sign of trouble.

  3. Jeremiah says:

    Look, as a former journalist of the Star (through the grace of God,I left to join Singapore Business Times before the Star was closed down) and an ex-magazine editor, I propose a different strategy to fight the seemingly powerful MSM:

    1. a boycott campaign is too slow and knowing Msians nature, they won’t change unless others change first.

    2. What we need to do is get a signature campaign running on the internet (perhaps with all internet portals like Mkini and Minsider, etc sponsoring) to have the public sign a form pledging to boycott all English newspapers (esp the Star/NST) AT A CERTAIN DEADLINE, say in one month of June or July or Aug.

    Take this list to the MSM advertisers and show them the impact of the shift in readership numbers from MSM to internet media.

    Even if the MSM advertisers ignore the campaign, the signatures will be sufficient to show the newspapers and their advertisers READERS POWER within one month. We can even run the campaign as an alternate week boycott to wean our families off the newspapers.

    I personally can do without the Star as I read most of my news from the internet Perhaps a facebook campaign can get the ball rolling.

  4. kee says:

    Hi, Jeremiah, you may not aware a lot of malaysians do not have computers…

    I hv stopped buying Star/NST for more than 2 years…

    Am lucky, i can still read some Chinese…

    Honestly, we are stuck in this land…

    To place our trust in God, sometimes, i feel that He is very very slow…

    Sometimes, really dont know what to do… feel like crying but the tears are all dried…

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