While editors all over the the country are busy plotting their coverage of Sarawak’s crucial elections this month, the titular editor of the Sarawak Tribune is at home. Shaking legs. Or twiddling thumbs. He’s been doing that since September, seven months now.
Paul Si has been sacked.
Not officially, that is. He’s still on the payroll, he still has the title of executive editor, with two more years left on his contract. He still clocks in at the office, by swiping the electronic door lock.
But he doesn’t go upstairs to the editorial floor. He’s been told to stay out.
Someone else has moved into the editor’s corner officer.
Paul Si is now in cold storage, in deep freeze after he carried a front-page splash on Aug 30 of a Bernama story written in Kuala Lumpur and containing comments by political analysts on Taib Mahmud’s statement at the time that he was considering stepping down.
The Tribune is regarded as Taib’s paper even though he has tried to distance his family from direct invovlement in the media.
The front-page treatment of the Bernama report raised eyebrows, but all remained quiet on the day — until a furious Hanifah Taib, the CM’s daughter, stormed into the editorial office that night while Paul and crew were putting the National Day edition to bed.
A tongue-lashing ensued. Angry words were exchanged. Paul was suspended for two weeks. Hanifah held a meeting with editors long into the night.
Gordon, the chief sub-editor, was told to take charge as acting executive editor, which he did for two months, working from his usual desk.
At the end of Paul’s two weeks’ suspension, the general manager came to tell him he need not show up for work any longer. The company was about to terminate his contract, and that of Paul’s wife Rena, the foreign editor, as well as Paul’s brother Si Poh-Liang, a senior reporter, who had already been several years with the paper when Paul and Rena came.
Then the company changed its mind. Paul was out, but Rena and Poh-Liang were allowed to go back to work. They did, but Rena found conditions in the office to be too stressful with Paul in limbo and someone else in charge.
A new acting executive editor had been appointed when Gordon’s health suffered from the stress. Dunstan Melling took over and promptly moved into Paul’s office.
Paul and Rena had decided by then that she should leave, and they paid off her two months’ notice so she could stop immediately. She returned to The Star, as a sub-editor with the Sarawak edition of the paper.
It was hardly the homecoming the couple could have expected when Paul was recruited from the Malaysian Insider early last year to be editor of what was then the Eastern Times. He was to revamp the paper, improve the quality of its journalism and writing, and as a sub-text, prepare for the state elections, then a year away.
As part of the deal, Paul’s wife was offered a position as foreign editor so that the couple could return home to Kuching, a decade after leaving the Borneo Post to join The Star in Petaling Jaya,
All smiles as Taib launches the “new” Tribune with his daughter Hanifah is his side. Paul Si is at the right.
The couple were glad of the opportunity to revamp the hometown paper and try to revive the paper’s flagging circulation, a far second to the Borneo Post, which had filled the vacuum and taken market leadership after the Sarawak Tribune voluntarily closed down in 2006 after publishing controversial Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
Corporate changes were in the works, in order to distance the Taib family from the Eastern Times, published by Sarawak Press Sdn Bhd, which also owned the successful Malay-language Utusan Sarawak. Hanifah was a director of Sarawak Press, and had been a managing editor of the old Sarawak Tribune. She was to have no role in the new Tribune that was to come.
As part of these changes, the Eastern Times was shut down on May 19.
The next day, May 20, on the eve of the birthday of Taib Mahmud, the same presses rolled out the New Sarawak Tribune, a revival of what was once Sarawak’s leading newspaper.
Its controversial past was long behind them by the time of the launch of the new Tribune.
A glittering ceremony was held at a leading hotel. A web site went live at the same time. Brave words were spoken about the paper’s future, and the future of Sarawak journalism.
The Chief Minister himself was at hand to launch the “new” title, with Hanifah, as director of Sarawak Press Sdn Bhd, by his side, and with the presence of Taib’s cousin Hamid Sepawi, who had got the family into the media business in the early 1980s by starting the People’s Mirror, the forerunner of Eastern Times.
All that bonhomie was to come crashing down around Paul’s ears three months later.
Now an editor without a paper, Paul Si clocks in at work, then turns around and goes home, to busy himself with personal matters and keeping up with the news on the Internet and 4WD adventures.
As the tide of election news begins rising with the elections this month, Paul Si is alone, in a little bubble of censorship, bobbing along adrift as the waves of political news crash against the rock that is Taib Mahmud.
Later this month, Sarawak voters will cast their ballots. Only then will it be known if the tide has washed him away. The political tide will decide the destiny of Taib Mahmud and his family, and their reputed billions.
Only then will we know if the bubble around Paul Si has burst.
Cast adrift on the political tide, Paul Si is keeping nose above water
Photo: Paul Si personal album. Lifted from Facebok without permission.
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