Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Journalist at war and war journalism

Friends have been asking questions about my experience during the Iran-Iraq War in the early 80s (which led to my first interview with Saddam Hussein) and my other similar encounters.

Some even asked as to why some of my interviews were not published by my editor then.

I would love to relate all that. However, I need to start with a small mission - finding old pals whom I used to work with and for.

Names like Kak Shidah (Rashidah Ismail, sub-editor BH, foreign desk, 1981), Abu Bakar Ismail (editor, BH, foreign desk, 1983), Ben D Cunha (senior writer NST, 1985) and Kak Sal (Salmiah Rahman, senior journalist BH, 1982).

Where are they now, I wonder...

I managed to locate Kadri Taib (senior sub-editor, foreign desk BH, 1984) who is now one of the directors at Coca-Cola and Khairuddin Othman (senior sub-editor, foreign desk, BH), now a senior lecturer at UiTM Shah Alam.

This people were very sentimental in supporting my 'odd assignments' then because I had to go overseas on unpaid leave and own pocket money, just to get those stories.

Besides A Kadir Jasin (group editor NST then), the other person whom I owe much gratitude is Pak Samad Ismail (Tan Sri). On a few occasions, he helped me dealt with 2 senior officers from Bukit Aman (one name I remember is Inspektor Fadzil, the other I've forgotten).

These officers were at my neck each time I came back from Iraq, Iraq, Nigeria, Lebanon or Libya, waiting for me at Subang Airport, going through the books I brought home and asking tonnes of questions.

To some extent, they came over to my house as they wished, twice or thrice a day, 10pm, 1am or 3am. They thought I was becoming a socialist like the Baath Party of Iraq. Or they may have thought I was inclining towards the Shiite teaching of Iran.

So, such was the perception when a Malaysian, including journalist, went to these countries. Not only your editor found it difficult to publish you stories, our security system was also a bit passive then.

No wonder no local journalists (correct me if I'm wrong) were involved in making reports or taking photoshots of the 2nd World War which affected Malaysia then. Only the army personnels did that. Or, there wasnt any printed media at that particular time.

War journalism was only introduced and encouraged by our local media practitioners in 1990 when the Americans invaded Iraq under Operation Desert Storm. Even that, Malaysian journalists were sent to save places, reporting from hotel lobbies and army camps located nowhere near the battlefields.

Do I have to tell you how I met Peter Arnett, the CNN senior journalist whose reports were internationally-known during Operation Desert Storm? I will.... later.

The only thing I can say about him now is that, he too, compiled reports from hotel lobbies.

1 comment:

Jane Smith said...

At least until the late 1980s, our government was very suspicious of Malaysians visiting countries which are not "traditional" holiday destinations. You're a journalist. You may have privilaged information. And your pen is mightier than sword. You could come back with some new ideologies. You are a threat to the national security.

I'm not defending the government authorities for questioning you. But such is our government. We have very ancient law. We never review our law.

That's why developers who "raped" green lungs got away with just a fine, which is very small compared to the money they made from the development.

That's why we cannot bring in hybrid vehicles into the country because some laws in JPJ doesn't have provision for it.

That's why we cannot solve a lot of problems that affects the rakyat.

Sorry. A bit off track from your topic.

Anyway, you're right about our journalists in the "war zone". Most of them were just filing stories of their experience in Jordan which is closest to Iraq. And it's pathetic that "our point of view" of the war was limited how the journalists had to survive only on maggi mee and biscuits. Duh.

Only Shahanaz of The Star was right smack of the war zone. And yes, she was in a hotel, too. But, hey...she had to keep away from the windows because bombs were flying all over outside the hotel.