With its strong environmental advocacy, The Star remains an active ally of Mother Nature
COME rain or shine, The Star has faithfully chronicled the country’s environmental concerns since its inception in 1971.
From hard-hitting reportage to recycling campaigns supported by thousands of Malaysians, the newspaper has never been a shrinking violet about its commitment to a better tomorrow.
R.AGE, The Star’s youth platform, even faced up to a charging elephant last year while filming for an award-winning documentary titled The Elephant In Our Room!
It documented the human-elephant conflict in the Royal Belum State Park, which the orang asli said had escalated due to the Wildlife Department’s elephant translocation programme.
But as the people’s paper has a long track record of listening to the grassroots and effecting change, let’s start a little closer to where it all began.
In one example, a special report in the late 1970s revealed that villagers around the Kuala Kedah area suffered from poor padi harvest, dying fowl and fish, and worrisome health ailments such as red eyes and itchy skin.
The article got the attention of those in power who began investigations to find out the reasons why the Farmland is slowly being strangled (March 4, 1977), with The Star lending its voice to the people of Kampung Sematang who were twice ignored when they wrote to the authorities for help.
It was later reported that the factory responsible for the effluence affecting the padi plots would pay the farmers compensation.
Over the years, concerned parties would write in to the Views section, while the footnote of the EarthWatch column encouraged readers to send suggestions and information to The Sunday Star at Jalan Travers, Kuala Lumpur.
In a historic move, The Star also assisted the then Malayan Nature Society (MNS) in the first scientific expedition to document the rich plant and animal life in the lowland Endau-Rompin rainforest.
Our first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman is shown flagging off a convoy of five vehicles from his home in Kuala Lumpur as they ventured Off into the unknown (June 3, 1985).
As the ambitious project would cost an estimated RM433,000 for the first six months alone, what followed was a continuous clarion call for readers to support the expedition conceived and organised entirely by Malaysians, for Malaysians.
And just one month into its spare-a-dollar appeal, the newspaper raised RM4,031 from the generous Malaysian public, with more digging into their pockets to help fund the landmark effort.
The newspaper also promoted a nationwide art competition for students and a fundraising art market which saw the participation of 100 local artists, potters and craftsmen at the Petaling Jaya Dewan Bandaraya foyer on July 14 that same year.
The world learnt of exciting discoveries such as the New species of ferns found at Endau-Rompin (June 11, 1985), and the expedition, which was extended until June 25, 1986, would see over 1,500 scientists, university students, lecturers, schoolchildren and research groups taking part in the mission.
All this coverage would contribute to greater awareness and concern for the environment, culminating in the Johor section of the Endau-Rompin park being gazetted as a state park in 1993. As MNS notes on its site, years of discussions with the state government had stemmed from the expedition.
In 1992, The Star also decided to literally “go green” to welcome the new year.
The paper changed its signature warm red logo to bright green for one day, and even announced the adoption of a policy to use newsprint containing recycled paper fibre.
The Star has always tried to nip environmental problems in the bud, such as the award-winning Damning The Lotus Lake (Sept 27, 1994) which warned that building a dam at Tasik Chini merely for the convenience of tourist boats would endanger the lake’s environmental resources.
Unfortunately, the prediction would come true in just two years, as the newspaper revealed in September 1996 that thousands of trees there had died because of flooding caused by the dam.
But try and try again it did. Undeterred, The Star would continue to champion the environment, chronicling everything from air quality to ozone depletion.
For one, the rampant logging of Cameron Highlands did not go unnoticed as overdevelopment of the highland area has dismayed many a Malaysian fond of its cool climes.
Slews of reports on the issue resulted in great public outcry and Saving the Highlands (May 20, 2013) became a priority anew. Today, there are special enforcement teams to monitor illegal land clearing and prevent further devastation.
The newspaper also rang the alarm on a highly-allergenic Killer weed (Dec 9, 2014) mushrooming across various states.
Dubbed the “worst weed of the century”, Parthenium hysterophorus can cause severe skin disease and hay fever.
The resulting influx of infestation reports from the public provided the Department of Agriculture with valuable information to act upon, and they deemed the Killer weed no more a threat (March 16, 2016) after containing and controlling it with continuous spraying of herbicide.
The newspaper also shed light on the Fading fireflies (Aug 21, 2004) of Kuala Selangor, as the tourist draw was in danger of extinction due to prolonged pollution in the area.
The front-page exclusive was not a one-off effort, as the natural wonder was assiduously covered across many years.
The report saw Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, ordering the state government to Act now (Aug 22, 2004) and immediately take every possible step to protect the world-renowned firefly colony.
An immediate investigation commenced, authorities were spurred into action, and the resulting care has helped the firefly sanctuary survive to this day.
As reports indicate, because the health of fireflies is used intelligently in Japan as an early warning system of water quality for human communities, their light should never go out.
The Star had also highlighted the call for a pause on bauxite mining in Kuantan, pending better regulation of transporting the aluminium ore.
A Red alert (Dec 16, 2015) was raised as experts believed the mining areas could cause dangerous mudslides and worsen floods during the monsoon season.
The stories continued well into this year, culminating in the start of a three-month moratorium on bauxite mining and transportation in Pahang from Jan 15 so existing stockpiles could be cleared and exported.