THE day after I landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) after a two-week Java tour, I was with him and another colleague Zuraidah Omar, conducting a workshop at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The three-day programme from the February 18th was very much Datuk Ahmad Talib’s show. He was full of energy and demonstrating his true professional self.
He was unselfish in sharing his wide experience as a journalist and an editor. For more than four decades he was in the newspaper business, from a rookie reporter to become the executive director of news for Media Prima Berhad (MPB) during my tenure there as the chairman.
I have known him a long time despite the different routes in journalism we waded into. When I joined the Utusan Melayu group as chief editor in 1992, we got even closer. There were many times
we were on assignments abroad together. I left Utusan Melayu in July 1998, two months before the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
I was in limboland for many years. During those dark years even the newspaper that I once edited dare not publish my article. My last piece in Utusan Malaysia was for my “Nota Kaki” column published on July 13,1998 and my last Sunday column, “Selayang Pandang” was published on July 19.
It was almost three years later, on Nov 30,2001, my article was published in Utusan Malaysia. It was an obituary on national laureatr Datuk Dr Usman Awang who died a day earlier. Perhaps the editors couldn’t find anyone who knew Usman better than I did.
Ahmad has always been encouraging me to write for the New Straits Times (NST). Sometime in March 2001, I met the late Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail whom I greatly admired. He asked me what was I doing after I left Utusan Melayu. I told him I was doing farming at Gambang, Pahang. “You are not writing?” he inquired. I told him no newspaper would want to publish my pieces. The stigma attached to me was something I have to live with. He was at the NSTP at that point, playing the role of an adviser.
I got a phone call from Datin Rose Ismail, a senior editor inviting me to write for the NST. My first piece was a review of "Meniti Lautan Gelora", the book by the former Utusan Melayu editor, Said Zahari who was incarcerated under the ISA for 17 years. The piece was published on June 16,2001.
I wrote a few pieces thereafter. I was offered to write in a newly established “Weekend Guest” column for a few months then given a permanent column under the banner “Point Blank” for NST, which I started on Nov 30,2002. I was a columnist for the NST for 13 years, until October 2015.
When I joined MPB, I convinced the management to appoint Ahmad to oversee the news operation for both MPB’s TV networks and the NSTP. In 2009, NSTP was still a public listed entity and MPB. We were planning to delist NSTP and merge the entity with MPB.
Ahmad was a real asset for MPB. We have a good news team. He was always hands-on, moving effortlessly within the ranks. He has helped us tremendously to ensure we uphold professionalism and integrity at the highest possible level. When he left in 2014, his absence was solely felt. Things, to put it in perspective, was never the same again.
When Tun Abdullah Badawi was the Prime Minister, we had a huge problem with the Indonesians, instigated by the Ambalat issue (the sea blocks off the coast of Borneo) claimed by both countries and the Nirmala Bonat incident (the domestic helper allegedly tortured by her employer). The Indonesian press was not helping. I was dispatched to Jakarta with the Deputy Minister of Information at the time, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to meet with owners and editors of
Indonesian media. Both sides agreed to set up a coalition of editors known in Bahasa Malaysia as Ikatan Setiakawan Wartawan Malaysia- Indonesia or ISWAMI. I was the founding president. When I joined MPB as chairman, Ahmad took over the post from me.
Ahmad was still in the thick of things prior to his hospitalisation. He was in fact the chairman of the organising committee for the seminar on Eradicating Urban Poverty in December last year organised by the Ministry of Federal Territories. He was also appointed by the then-minister, Khalid Samad to lead the team to showcase Kuala Lumpur as Unesco’s World Book Capital 2020.
I have not met him since February this year but we were on WhatsApp always. I noticed in late April and early May there were fewer messages from him.
It was May 8th that I got a call from him. He told me he was at a private hospital and the doctors have diagnosed him with liver cancer, which was already in an advanced stage. I was naturally
shocked. We spoke about good old days. He even asked me about the weekly teh tarik session at Masjid India in KL. It was a tradition started by the late Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin (Zam) some 25 years ago for former Utusan Melayu reporters. I am now the natural leader of the group. Ahmad, who had never worked for Utusan Melayu, did join us from time to time. The last time he was there was about a month before the movement control order (MCO).
On May 19, he sent me this text when I asked him about his condition: “Hanging and fighting.”
He also mentioned something about looking for “old landscape book and resorts Asian or Dusun style. A dream still to pursue.” It was to be his last message. His health deteriorated from then on.
It was through his daughter, Sofia that I made contact, she was providing me with updates of his condition. I was seeking a possibility of visiting an old friend. Under current circumstances and with his frail condition I can understand why that was not possible.
Ahmad, who left us on Tuesday, May 26, was a man of many colours. He had his ups and downs and had gone through trials and tribulations. He was a true-blue journalist and lived a life in journalism as he has always wanted it to be.
I can say one thing about him with certainty, he was fearless in facing adversity, both professionally and personally.
I am going to miss a dear friend.
Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, former chief editor of Utusan Melayu and former chairman of Media Prima Bhd. He is currently a columnist for The Star. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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