Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dinner with YBs: Guest #2

Shaziman Abu Mansor, Works Minister. The National Press Club exco will meet the Works Minister for dinner this week. I am particularly interested in how he is going to solve the problem of long queues at highway/expressway tolls. These multi-million highways were constructed to ease traffic congestions but they have ended up being the cause for massive bottlenecks, as the Works Minister discovered for himself earlier this week.

The ideal solution is to abolish toll but that would create other problems for the Government.

If you have any question you'd like to ask the Minister, go to my Comment box.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Have the 4th Estate failed themselves?

What a BUMmer! One major theme of last Saturday's B.U.M. 2009, dubbed the most important blogging event in Malaysia this year, was on the 4th Estate, or rather the question: Have the 4th Estate Failed Us?

Ahmad A. Talib, the man a certain online news portal with Italian connection said Najib Razak did not want back at NSTP, asked: "Have (the 4th Estate) failed themselves?".
Go to his blog here for his pictures from BUM and his thoughts on the matter.

In my brief presentation as the last panel member of the last panel discussion, I said that during the last three years the MSM failed the citizens. There were the occasional exceptions here and there but the mainstream newspapers and television stations were generally behaving like lapdogs instead of watchdogs during that period. I cited their failures to pursue, let alone uncover, the controversies and misdeeds that the online news and blogs were exposing. I failure was man-made. I blamed it on some editors.
But having said that, I also reported to the Bummers that day that the online news portals and bloggers are also failing us pretty quickly.

Maverick SM waited for the next day to see how the mainstream media reported on what Dr M had said at BUM 2009. "That was not the essence of Tun M's speech," he blogs here, with a news cutting as proof of how - or why - the MSM are still failing.

A Voice, who identity was exposed recently by a politician-blogger bent on doing more such exposes, enjoyed the whole day affair. In his posting, he wrote:
"Sorry folks, if you were expecting a brawl with blood all over the premise it didn't happen. In fact, they were so cordial and friendly and even exchanging handphone numbers. Perhaps they would stop leaving nasty comments on each others' blog after this since they personally know each other now."
Amir Hafizi has a toe-sucking - or, rather, toe-tickling - take here on the Q and A with Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Bummers (except he kept calling us Bums). Shamsul Yunus did it "live" here. And Big Dog has a posting "Bloggers are VIPs", plus pictures, here.

Jinggo has lots of pictures, here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Who, What is a Malaysian Journalist?

The National Press Club Malaysia has 9 categories of members. Top of the list are "Ordinary Members". Only bona fide journalists can be Ordinary Members, and only they can vote at meetings.

Under the 1992 Constitution of the club, Ordinary Members are "residents in Malaysia who are on the editorial staff of newspapers, radio and television, news agencies, photo services, feature services, magazines, Government Information services and resident freelance journalists whose main income is derived from the above media".

Basically, that's how journalists have been defined by the NPC, the oldest and one of the biggest journalists bodies in the country. The National Union of Journalists, the Malaysian Press Institute, and the other organisations may have their own definitions.

"...whose main income is derived from the above media ..."

I have always had a problem with this line. Journalists should not be defined by ringgit and sen. By the years of journalism they have put in, maybe. By the number of articles, columns, books, working papers they have published, perhaps. By way of recognition by their peers, especially.

But not how much the journalist earns from his writings vis-a-vis other things that the journalist does to supplement his income (like singing in a pub, script writing, giving tuitions, treasure hunting, etc). Journalists know that they are some of the poorest paid professionals in the country!

One of the first things I did after assuming the Presidency of the NPC last month is to convince the Exco that we need to redefine ourselves. We need a new definition for "Ordinary Members". My "sabbatical" in cyberspace/blogosphere has also brought me closer to New Media journalists. Those with online news like MalaysiaKini and Harakah, for example.

Tonight a committee led by our Advisor, Encik Mokhtar Hussein of Bernama, met for the first time to review the Constitution of the NPC, especiall with regards to the defition of Ordinary Members/Journalists. We are going to bring in veteran journos as well as people who have been dealing with journalists nearly all their lives, especially those in advertising and PR, to help us with the undertaking. A former Judge will be consulted for this exercise.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rocky returns to Malay Mail as CEO?

CEO, as in Chief Editorial Officer?
I'm flattered that the Malaysian Insider, the Malaysian news portal with the Italian Connection, has found it newsworthy to put up a news about my return to the Malay Mail.

The May 6 report headlined "Rocky" returns as Malay Mail CEO contains one fundamental factual error! I have NOT been appointed as the CEO of The Malay Mail.

The error is found on the first paragraph:
Ahirudin ‘Rocky’ Attan, known for his Rockybru weblog that was critical of the Abdullah Administration, has been named as chief executive officer of the 112-year-old The Malay Mail.
When we train cadet journs, we tell them how to avoid such basic mistakes. We must verify the information we get. We can't trust all our informers all the time. In this case, the Insider could have easily avoided the mistake if they had contacted me to verify their info.

Malaysian Insider has also omitted some necessary facts when discussing me and blogging, including the fact that I was the first blogger, together with Jeff Ooi, to be sued by a newspaper company then headed by certain individuals who now lead the Insider. And that the VSS was not really "voluntary". I won't deny the "substantial pay-off"; after all, I was not a small fry.

Usually, when faced with misreporting by a newspaper or online news, you ask for a correction and apology. But I'm cool here.

I spent 21 years as a journalist with the NSTP. I was editor of two of the newspapers - the Business Times in 1998 and the Malay Mail in 2001-2006. Like it or not, I am still attached to that place. It has gone down the gutters lately but it's not beyond redemption.

At a talk organised by a GLC the other night, where a senior editor was a fellow panelist, I was asked by the moderator if I'd go back to the NSTP or the Malay Mail if I was offered to. My answer was, yes. If I know I could bring changes to the profession, I shall return.

But to be able to make any changes, I must go back as an editorial man, NOT as Chief Executive Officer as reported by the Insider.

p.s. The Malaysian Insider did get the spelling for my name right (Ahirudin Attan - single D, double T) so I'm really quite impressed with the quality of their reporting. Honestly.

‘Rocky’ returns as Malay Mail CEO

tmi-n.jpgKUALA LUMPUR, May 6 - A prominent blogger is returning to the mainstream. Ahirudin ‘Rocky’ Attan, known for his Rockybru weblog that was critical of the Abdullah Administration, has been named as chief executive officer of the 112-year-old The Malay Mail.

His appointment as CEO paves the way for the departure of current chief editor Tony Francis. But the afternoon tabloid will remain under Dynahall Sdn Bhd, which is owned equally by Datuk Ibrahim Mohd Noor’s Simpletech and Media Prima’s Gabungan Kesturi Sdn Bhd.

“Rocky was named CEO today and Tony Francis will leave immediately. Malay Mail will remain outside NSTP,” an editorial executive with the tabloid told The Malaysian Insider after being briefed on the matter this evening.

“Morale is a bit low as the staff are shocked,” he added, saying the staff had tried to prevent Francis from resigning.

Ahirudin was acting editor of The Malay Mail from 2001 and was later made the editor. He took a voluntary separation scheme in February 2006 and was said to have received a substantial pay-off.

He began blogging in May 2006 and built up a following by attacking Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the establishment and supporting Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Following Abdullah’s retirement and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s appointment as the Prime Minister, he has been less critical of the government.

The Malay Mail, founded in 1896, was part of The New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad until it sold its 100 percent interest for RM5 million to Dynahall. The purchase did not include the newspaper’s archives, which is seen as a valuable commodity.

Simpletech’s owner Ibrahim has a stake in BlueInc that owns string of lifestyle magazines. Gabungan Kesturi is a substantial shareholder of public-listed Media Prima Berhad which, in turn, is a major shareholder in NSTP Berhad.

Ahirudin was also president of the National Press Club between 2003 and 2007 and recently re-elected as president again. His former editor Datuk Ahmad A. Talib has just been appointed editorial adviser to the NSTP group, which led to speculation that Ahirudin would return in a senior post.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dinner with YBs at Jalan Tangsi

At the first exco meeting which I chaired as the new President of the National Press Club, we resolved to organise a series of meetings with Cabinet Ministers, including the PM and his deputy, as well as leaders from the States. The primary idea is to build rapport and see how we can help the YBs carry out their duties to make Malaysia a better place for our children to grow up in.

Guest #1: YB Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Minister of Sports and Youth. I also told our first YB guest last night that we were also asking the YBs' support to help the National Press Club, which comprises working journalists, to "push the parameters of openness and Press freedom".

Shabery drove himself to the Press Club for our 9 pm dinner. Dinner was a simple buffet and we sat at a long table for 20. No formal speeches, but the Minister told us of his plans to develop not just sports "but a sports industry" for Malaysia, where there's revenue instead of just "spend, spend, spend". He's already established a media centre - wifi and all - at the Ministry itself, probably the first ministry to have one. The former Information Minister appreciates the need for info and news to travel fast. Shabery is also talking about IPTV for sports to help develop the industry. "We are not talking about just one channel but five or six".
And yes, he'll help push our "openness and Press freedom" agenda. Within reason.

While we were dining, a crime journalist from theSun told the Minister of the arrest of activist-lecturer Wong Chin Huat of the Coalition of Clean and Fair Elections for sedition. The story here.

[pictures coming]

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New NSTP head honcho

Group Editorial Adviser. The Italian-backed* Malaysian Insider has a speculative story here that Ahmad A. Talib, the Pahit Manis blogger, will be going back to the New Straits Times Press to restore order.

I've heard something to that effect, too. By next week, all the speculation will be put to rest.

In the meantime, just to put some perspective to the Malaysian Insider's byline-less piece (usually, if there's no byline in MI, then the writer would be Brenden Pereira or Kalimullah Masheerul Hassan himself, but I can't confirm that):
"Both individuals were senior members of the media establishment during the Mahathir era, a period when the Opposition had to be content with footnote coverage and the public was served with daily dose of government speak."
Yes, that's a fact - Johan Jaafar and Ahmad, 57, were major players then. But during that era the de facto media baron was Anwar Ibrahim, Dr M's trusted DPM. Johan Jaafar, in fact, was said to be an Anwar man along with Nazri Abdullah, Khalid Ahmad, and Yunos Said. Ahmad was close to Abdullah Badawi and was widely expected to be made NSTP editorial supremo when Pak Lah became PM. That was before Kalimullah came into the picture and "reluctantly" took up the post of Pak Lah's man in NSTP.
"During the Abdullah years, the media were given more space to criticise government policies and debate contentious issues. But Umno members felt that this policy was misguided because it only opened the ruling party and some of their politicians and institutions to ridicule."
If that's true, then the NSTP under Kalimullah's rule and Brenden's leadership failed to take advantage of that "more space". Instead, the NSTP became a paper to prop up one man and one man only. The Malay Mail (then an NSTP subsidiary) which I headed was turned into a "college paper" not because it was not doing well BUT because it was doing exposes´involving cronies of the PM and for being too critical. I was there, so I know. Kali and Brenden know. Hishammuddin Aun, who could be reporting to Ahmad Talib soon, knows that too.
"Ahmad left the NST in 2004 and was part of senior management which presided over the steepest drop in the newspaper’s circulation."
I can't help grinning at the attempt of a spin here. The NST newspaper's circulation was hovering over 150,000-180,000 for many years. It dropped to 120,000 a day and sometimes lower in the last 4-5 years. It also shrunk in terms of size! The editors believed then that if you go tabloid, the NST would beat The Star in no time. Amateurs. Luckily they managed to sell the tabloids to the schools, otherwise I do not know what the numbers would look like.

When Ahmad Talib was the GE of the NST, he was also responsible for the Malay Mail, which became the fastest-growing daily by 2004. In 2003, the Malay Mail's permit (KDN) was not renewed for three months because they said we were breaking too many rules. Ahmad and I went to the KDN together to bang tables and got back our KDN. Something a lesser GE would not have done!

I shall look forward to the announcement next week.

* Vincenzo is an Italian restaurant in Bangsar that Kalimullah set up (when he was at NSTP and a friend of the Prime Minister) because he didn't know what to do with so much loose change. He wrote about the restaurant lovingly in his column back then. The restaurant advertises heavily in Malaysian Insider.

p.s. For the record, the last real Editorial Adviser to the NSTP was the late Pak Samad.

NPC 2009-2011

A New Term. The new exco of the National Press Club completes its first month next week.

We have had:

1. One exco meeting, in which we decided to set up a committee under the watch of the club's Adviser, Encik Mokhtar Hussein of Bernama, to review the National Press Club's Constitution, especially with regards to how we should define "Journalism" and who qualifies to be called a "journalist".

2. A talk at the club for bloggers, by prominent lawyer Datuk Shafee Abdullah. The topic was the Perak issue. Bloggers present included OutSyed The Box, Parpukari, Melayu Lama, A Voice, Shar101, Old Fart, Big Dog, and SK Thew.

3. The launch of the NPC's Series of National Discourse in Ipoh, Perak, where we had the counsels for UMNO and DAP square off at the Ipoh Town Hall for the benefit of some 250 members of the public. Shafee delivered the keynote address, OutSyed the Box moderated.

4. A media night for NPC members at GAB. Charles Ireland, the GAB boss, was made an Honorary Member of the NPC.

The next do is a morning event, on the 9th of May, to mark Press Freedom Day. The event will be jointly held with the National Union of Journalists. We hope to rope in other press bodies to support the do. More details, soonest.