A taste of a reporter's life - Abdullah Ahmad

17 August 1997

I was barely twenty when I left Rida College, the forerunner of the Mara Institute of Technology (ITM), at Jalan Othman, Petaling Jaya, to work as a reporter on The Straits Times (now New Straits Times) five months before Merdeka.

The federation editor, Harry Miller, the author of Tunku Abdul Rahman's biography, The Prince and Premier and other books, said I would be on a six month probation. I must have made a tremendous impression because he confirmed my job after a month!

A bit of history for the young and those under forty. The Straits Times was, until 1959, headquartered and edited in Singapore. The paper's editor-in-chief was the late Tan Sri Leslie Hoffman and his deputy was Lee Siew Yee (now Tan Sri), a 78-year-old sprightly man. I last saw him, accompanied by his golf-playing wife, at my son's wedding on July 25.

Miller was the head of the Malayan operations and when The Straits Times moved its headquarters to Kuala Lumpur to escape control by the PAP government, he became the chief news editor. The last I heard of him was that he now lives in Marbella, Spain. He must be well into his eighties now. He last visited me at my home in London in the mid-eighties.

I left The Straits Times after three years to go on study leave. I never returned to it although I was later to play a crucial role in the takeover of The Straits Times by a group of Malaysians with close connections with the Umno leadership.

Interviewing and reporting had been my major jobs. My MCKK background was a great advantage: it opened doors. One of the first things I discovered about interviewing people was that they did not like it except for politicians, social climbers, and parvenu.

The civil servants hated being interviewed. The few who dared did not like to be quoted. I did manage to persuade several of them to give me tips and leads to big news once they were satisfied I would protect my sources. I must say there were one or two brave ones who did not mind being quoted, a rarity though. None, I am glad, ever got in trouble as a result of talking with me and being quoted.

On the contrary, one official was rapidly promoted for his courage mainly because what he said not only proved to be right, but was politically correct. He was noted by the political leadership and not least by his superiors in the civil service.