Thomas Lee has been let go after 10 months as chief editor of MySinchew, the online English-language site of Sin Chew Daily.
Although the company’s stated reason was that MySinchew was being downsized, it is believed that Thomas’s departure was the result of subtle government pressure because of his outspoken commentaries, particularly on religion.
MySinchew itself only said the site was being reduced, with minimum staff, in anticipation of tougher economic conditions because of higher petroleum prices and the political unrest in the Middle East.
However, Thomas’s pointed commentaries on religion have not gone down well with the authorities. Thomas, a staunch and practising Christian, has been outspoken about the recent controversy over the impoundment of Bibles published in Malay, and the use of the word “Allah” by the Catholic weekly, The Herald, early this year, as well as on other political and religious issues.
Thomas said he had been told earlier in the year to “be more careful” in his writings; he was given to understand that KDN officials had made remarks about his columns at meetings with Sin Chew editors this year, particularly in January when the paper’s publishing licence was to be renewed.
Earlier this month, The Star was called in by KDN and issued a reprimand because of reports on the Bible issue, particularly a statement by the Evangelical Christian Fellowship which was contrary to the stand taken by the KDN.
Most newspapers have since toned down their coverage of the Bible issue, it is believed as the prompting of top political leaders and the KDN, in light of the Sarawak state elections to be held in April.
Sarawak has a large Christian population among the native communities.
Penang-born Thomas, 62, has been in journalism since 1975 after returning from Australia with a diploma in theology and a degree in history, economics and politics. He subsequently obtained master’s degrees in theology and journalism.
Thomas began as a reporter with The Star, and has since also worked with the New S traits Times, the now defunct National Echo, and The Sun; most of his career has been as a desk man in production editing. He retired from The Star as an assistant editor in the business section and was retained on contract until 2009.
He has been contributing political commentaries to Malaysia Today, Malaysian Insider, Malaysia Chronicle and Malaysian Mirror.
MySinchew was set up to broaden Sin Chew’s reach by publishing English-language translations of opinion columns and commentaries by senior Sin Chew journalists. Under its previous editor, Bob Teoh, MySinchew also came out with a commemorative publication, which was intended to be the first of a series of annuals. It is not known if another edition would be published this year.