|1st February 1998
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Then, as now, many persons have asked me what stirred me into journalism? The pay
was poor (still is?), working hours are unsociable (despite that I did have a most
enjoyable stint) and it was not a prestigious profession. Why, then?
Politics. I discovered that journalism was a good gateway into it. Abdul Aziz Ishak,
Utusan Melayu's former chief reporter in Kuala Lumpur and an Umno vice president
and Minister of Agriculture, Samad Ismail, (now Tan Sri) deputy editor of Utusan
Melayu Singapore and S. Rajaratnam of the Straits Times Singapore were
big wigs in the PAP. Rajaratnam later became Foreign Minister and Second Deputy Prime
Minister of Singapore.
There were a number of former Utusan Melayu reporters in various state capitals
like Alor Star and Seremban who were Umno divisional leaders and all of whom were
to cross my paths in life. I will mention two of them: Samad Idris (now Tan Sri)
who was Minister of Youth and Culture in Tun Hussein's administration and Azahari
Taib (now Tan Sri) who was a deputy Speaker of Parliament and a long time member
of the Kedah executive council.
Choosing journalism was easier than making sure a newspaper would take you. I was
lucky as you have seen. I must confess that besides politics I also began to dream
of being a foreign correspondent! I nearly got my wish on two occasions: After a
year or so Miller wanted to transfer me to Brunei (primarily to work for the Borneo
Times). I declined as I did not consider working in Brunei as a foreign assignment.
Tamimuddin Karim, a colleague, went instead. Tamin was from Teluk Intan and after
a while he left to join Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) and retired as Director-General
of Sabah and Sarawak RTM five years ago.
Miller was not amused. He had expected me to grab the opportunity. I still, until
now, can not understand who or what made him think Brunei was an enticement. Then,
Kota Baru was foisted on me. I flatly refused and threatened to resign. Another colleague
from Penang, Khalis Mohamad Dan, was despatched. After two years, Khalis left to
join the Kelantan Civil Service (KNCS) and thence the Malayan Civil Service (MCS).
While this was going on, Fred Coleman, a nice jolly Australian journalist, chief
of Reuters in Kuala Lumpur offered me a job as his assistant (I was already stringing
for him). He dangled before me the prospect of eventually working in the Reuters
Saigon office. The boss of the Oxford Press, (Southeast Asia) Brammah, asked me if
I would consider working for him.
The salary offered by both men were better than what I was earning. The Reuters job
could have been my ticket to the world. Close friends and colleagues persuaded me
to be realistic: I would never make it in the "White culture of Reuters".
They argued Persuasively that I would always play second fiddle to a "Mat Salleh",
no matter how good 1 was.
I let both offers perish; the Oxford job because it primarily had to do with business
development and publishing.
Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations
(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun