As Nanyang Siang Pau prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary this Friday, Sunday Star catches up with its veteran journalists who have worked hard to make the paper what it is today.
IN a journalism career spanning almost 40 years, one moment stands out in Tan Yoke Swee’s memory.
“It was the eve of Merdeka Day. I was assigned, with a photographer, to cover the proclamation of independence by Tunku Abdul Rahman at midnight,” Tan, now 81, recalls.
“We got there early in the evening. The whole of Dataran Merdeka was packed with people. I was standing near the stage. They didn’t have a press area, so we stood together with the crowd. When Tunku made the proclamation… ‘Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!’, I was very happy. It’s hard to fully describe how I felt at that moment.”
He says his article in Nanyang Siang Pau on the Merdeka proclamation was published by three publications, and till today, it can still be found in the Chinese school textbooks.
Tan began his career in 1951 as a television announcer and then as a journalist for a Chinese newspaper (which has since shut down). In 1955, he joined Nanyang as a journalist and remained there for 35 years until he retired in 1990 as the paper’s deputy editor-in-chief.
“When I joined Nanyang, our team in KL was very small. There were only five reporters and two photographers, because we were only a branch. The main office was in Singapore,” he says, adding that his starting salary was 250 dollars (not ringgit back then).
“It was a lot of money at the time… enough to feed the whole family!” he says, laughing.
Tan also recalls the dark days of May 13, 1969.
“By then, the Nanyang office was at Jalan Travers, Brickfields (in Kuala Lumpur). I stayed there for three days and three nights during the riots. It was a very scary time.
“Initially, we were not issued the curfew passes, so I wrote the word ‘PRESS’ on a big sheet of paper and put it in the car when I had to drive around. I got stopped by the police… it was very risky but fortunately nothing happened to me,” he says.
Another major event Tan reported on was a huge flood in Kuala Lumpur in 1971, which affected more than 100,000 people.
“The flood was really bad. Nanyang chartered a helicopter... and I went with a photographer on the helicopter. We took many, many photos. Some of the photos are now with the National Museum.”
Tan smiles as he recollects his days with Nanyang.
“Throughout my career, I’ve interviewed four Prime Ministers – Tunku, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. I didn’t interview Tun Abdullah (Ahmad Badawi) because I was already retired when he became Prime Minister, or I would have interviewed him too!” he says.
This Friday, Nanyang Siang Pau, founded on Sept 6, 1923 by Tan Kah Kee, a renowned entrepreneur, educationist and philanthropist, will be celebrating its 90th anniversary.
Tan started the paper as a medium to inform, educate and protect the welfare of the Chinese community, and as a vehicle to promote nation building and integration. Nanyang originally had its headquarters in Singapore.
Nanyang executive editor-in-chief Sin Wai Yeng says the paper first ventured into Kuala Lumpur in 1958.
“At that time, we only had a circulation department at Jalan Sultan, with a skeletal editorial team. The paper was still printed in Singapore, and we used to fly copies in daily by plane,” she says.
In 1962, Nanyang moved its office to Jalan Travers, Brickfields, and remained there for the next 10 years. It moved its headquarters to Jalan Bangsar in 1972 (where the China Press office is today).
In 1994, Nanyang relocated to its own premises in Section 7, Petaling Jaya, where it stands till today (along Federal Highway). In its 90 years, the paper has stopped production twice – the first was a four-month hiatus, 23 days after it began publication in 1923.
“The second time the paper stopped publication was in 1942, during World War 2. The paper stopped production for about three years and seven months. It resumed publication on Sept 8, 1945,” Sin says.
Nanyang had its initial public offering (IPO) in 1989, the first Chinese daily to be listed in Bursa Malaysia, according to Sin. Today, it has a 250-strong editorial team nationwide.
Another veteran journalist, Cheng Chew Teh, 67, recalls his 23 years as a court reporter for the paper.
“I joined Nanyang in 1967. From day one, I was sent to cover court cases. Back then, the court building was on Court Hill, where Menara Maybank stands today. (Tan Sri) Siti Norma (Yaakob), (Tun Mohd) Eusoff Chin and (Tun) Ahmad Fairuz (Abdul Halim) were only Sessions Court judges then,” he recalls.
“(Tun) Salleh Abas was the Solicitor-General at the time. As reporters, we had good rapport with them as there were so few of us covering courts, only about six or seven of us… we all knew each other,” adds Cheng, who was with Nanyang for a total of 38 years.
Siti Norma would later become the nation’s first woman High Court judge, Court of Appeal judge, Federal Court judge, and Chief Judge of Malaya.
Eusoff Chin and Ahmad Fairuz were both later appointed as Chief Justices of Malaysia.
“We had our routine to check the courts to decide on which cases to cover… court reporters still do this today. But I think it was much easier back then. We only had 10 court rooms. Today there are so many court rooms at the court complex at Jalan Duta!
“I think I was very lucky to have gone through all the big cases in my time. I covered the corruption trial of former Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Harun Idris. I was also there when Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and five other Supreme court judges were suspended,” says Cheng, who retired as the daily’s deputy editor-in-chief in 2007.
(The five judges were Datuk George Seah, Tan Sri Mohd Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh and Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh. Together with Salleh Abas, they faced disciplinary action for standing up to defend the independence of the judiciary. Eusoffe, Wan Suleiman and Wan Hamzah were later reinstated.)
Lawyer James Doo, 68, recalls joining Nanyang in 1970 as a rookie reporter and he, too, remembers the day when Harun Idris resigned from his position as Selangor Mentri Besar.
“Our office got word, so I went to his house at Jalan Duta. I was the only reporter there. He confirmed the news of his resignation with me, and I got the scoop,” he says with glee.
Doo, who was the paper’s first online editor, left and rejoined Nanyang twice over the span of 26 years, finally leaving for good in 1996. He had read law while he was still with the paper and later decided to go into practice.
One thing that all three former journalists remember is having to write their stories by hand.
“I used to envy the foreign and English paper journalists. In the 1970s, they had started using the typewriter, but we still had to write our stories by hand because the typewriter did not have Chinese characters.
“We would write the story on a piece of paper, slightly bigger than an A4-sized sheet. As we wrote, we would use arrows to add paragraphs or sentences in. The paper would sometimes look very messy with arrows pointing everywhere, but our editors didn’t seem to have a problem understanding it,” he laughs.
Doo adds that it was only in 1992 that reporters starting using computers to file in their stories.
“I was in the first batch of journalists who learned how to use the computer to file in our stories. We didn’t type out the pin yin (phonetic pronunciation) but it was can jie (strokes of the Chinese characters).
“I made up my mind to learn it, and so for two months we spent two hours every day learning how to use the computer… the one with the black screen and green letters. After two months, they gave me a computer and that was the end of handwritten stories,” he says.
Although a lawyer now, Doo says he misses his journalism days in Nanyang.
“Journalism is very exciting… I enjoyed it very much. My sincere wish is for Nanyang to continue growing,” he says.