Friday, August 29, 2008

Samad Ismail - Father Of Malaysian Journalism

Tan Sri Abdul Samad Ismail, affectionately called Pak Samad (Grandpa Samad) by all journalists, me included, is the one man we all owe a debt to for he is the father of Malaysian journalism and the man who pioneered a truly Malaysian newspaper, the New Straits Times.

A no-nonsense disciplinarian in his heydays, never afraid to scream profanities at lazy bums or those who simply did not use their heads, he was nevertheless a reasonable and understanding team leader who genuinely cared for the well-being of his troops and made sure they received every cent’s worth for their hard labour.

His “lion king” image was only to be feared during work hours, however. Off-work, he had a great sense of humour, was a great poet, cook, musician and vocalist, and a walking encyclopedia.

To his loved ones, he has always been a doting parent and grandparent.

Samad was born in Singapore on April 18, 1924.

He is of Javanese descent, not unlike one of his dear friends Datuk Aziz Sattar, the Walter Matthau of Malaysia also known as the grand old man of Singaporean Malay cinema.

Twice married, he has 10 children, among them Nuraina Samad who was once an editor in the NST, 26 grand children and 4 great-grand children.

Today she works with a lifestyle magazine, Tell.

Samad began his journalistic career in 1941 with Utusan Melayu (Utusan Malaysia) whose founding editors included Rahim Kajai of Negeri Sembilan and Datuk Ishak Muhammad (Pak Sako, later the leader of the Labour Party).

In 1958, he joined Berita Harian, the Malay paper of the New Straits Times and became its editor.

He became the New Straits Times Group’s managing editor from 1972-1976 and editorial adviser from 1982-1988.

When the country’s first private TV station TV3 was formed in 1983, he became its editorial adviser, too.

Throughout his days as an editor and beyond, he also served as a media adviser to the Malaysian government. He counted as his close pals all Malaysian Prime Ministers and their Deputies.

Initially a political activist with Ishak’s Malay Nationalist Party, he became a founder member of Singapore’s People’s Action Party [an offshoot of Ishak’s Labour Party] before having a rift with Sir Harry Lee Kuan Yew and joining the Malaysian ruling party Umno in 1958.

Samad was made a Tan Sri by Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak, the ninth King of Malaysia in 1992.

He played a key role in the formation of the Confederation of Malaysian Writers Associations or Gapena in 1961.