A job with no qualification

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 )