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How CC Liew rescued and revived Sin Chew

Mon 2011-Sep-26 @ +08 20:41:07 pm

Bob Teoh, former editor of Mysinchew, the English-language online site of Sin Chew, takes exception to the attack by MalaysiaKini columnist Joshua Hong on Sin Chew and its longtime chief editor CC Liew, now managing director of the company. Bob recalls the time CC rescued the paper when it was at the point of collapse (and negotiated the paper’s return from suspension in Operation Lallang) and led it through to its present-day success.

By Bob Teoh

Josh Hong’s diatribe against Sin Chew Daily clearly shows he has an axe to grind with them and he does so beyond the decorum of fair comment.

His past columns in Malaysiakini had irked even blogs like http://shuzheng.wordpress.com to term him as “Joshy: New voice in Chinese bashing, but an old racist” and “a variant of Ridhuan (Tee of Utusan),[who] has Malaysiakini to deposit his vomit.” Shuzheng’s denigration is most uncharitable to Hong and also beyond the convention of fair comment and I do not subscribe to it in the least. But the point is that those who live by the sword will surely die by it.

Mine is not to defend Sin Chew. Let me be clear about my association with Sin Chew Daily which stretches way back to the mid-1980s till recently when they invited me to help out in their English news portal. I left after two years and ten months to take up an appointment in Indonesia a year ago.

Hong aptly prefaced his column by quoting Oscar Wilde: “By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

One must be pretty uneducated not to be able to understand that mainstream media all over the world serves only one purpose: an apologia or defence of the establishment. For instance, The Wall Street Journal invariably is an apologist of Wall Street. What else do we expect? Pravda, the former Soviet state; and here in Malaysia, Utusan to defend Ketuanan Melayu. Similarly, Sin Chew Daily is a mainstream media. Surely we don’t expect it to play the role of social media.

It does not matter whether Barisan or Pakatan is the government of the day, mainstream media will always be mainstream media. Needless to say, with the acceleration of the convergence culture, mainstream media is or will be significantly altered in form and substance, thus democratising the media.

Now let me address Hong’s two strident attacks: C.C. Liew and Tiong Hew King.

C.C. Liew was left holding the baby way back in the mid 1980s when its previous owner ran Sin Chew Daily to the ground and [the company] was threatened with liquidation. Salaries and EPF were not paid, creditors were knocking at their doors. It was then I came to know C.C. Liew. He was Sin Chew chief-in-chief and trying to put out the fire, while I was the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists. The situation was so bad that Sin Chew was left with little option but to close down.

Out of desperation to keep the paper afloat, the NUJ even advised its members in Sin Chew to take a drastic pay deferment and whatever is owing and accrued is to be converted into shares in the company with an NUJ rep on the board of directors. This didn’t happen.

But in the October 1987 Ops Lallang, former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad shut down Sin Chew Daily together with The Star and Watan. Sin Chew’s search for a buyer came to an end. It is a newspaper with a newspaper licence. Nobody wanted to buy the paper. C.C. Liew went knocking at the doors of any and every “suitable” Chinese businessmen but no buyer was found. The last door he knocked on was in Sibu faraway in Sarawak. Tiong Hew King listened to Liew’s proposition and decided to put in his cash in the failing newspaper that Sin Chew Daily then was. The rest is history.

Sin Chew Daily didn’t become the #1 newspaper with weekday circulation even bigger the English papers by accident or sucking up to the government. When faced with no jobs or pay for some six months way back in 1987, most of the staff and journalists chose to remain, sustained only by their steadfast faith that their newspaper will see the light of day yet under C.C. Liew.

They are the unsung heroes; young NUJ members and officers back then but who have risen through the ranks to become Sin Chew Daily’s senior editors today. I have worked with them nearly three decades ago as trade unionists and recently in their editorial rooms. Theirs is an unenviable job of trying to keep a fine balance between their readers, their owners, their advertisers and the powers that be. Every day. These are no armchair journalists. I am glad to have been able to be counted as a comrade, a friend and a professional among them, albeit only for 34 months.

On Hong’s conjecture of Tiong’s supposed conspiracy with Umno and MCA to monopolise and muzzle the Chinese media, I have no comments as I had emigrated to Australia before the deal went through and had nothing more to do with the local media until recently.

It is fitting that Hong, in running down Sin Chew Daily viciously, also cited a wise obiter dictum: “To err is human, to forgive divine. When one has been forced to swallow a large slice of humble pie, what else can we say?”

Yes, indeed Hong, what else can we say?

Bob Teoh
West Kalimantan, Indonesia
via email

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One Comment
  1. casper permalink
    Tue 2011-Sep-27 @ +08 03:38:55 am 03:38

    Wow, Bob Teoh in West Kalimantan ! Wonder what wind blows over that neck of the woods ? And in the case of Josh’s less than condescending diatribe, it may all boil down to ignorance with Josh not knowing the severity of “Ops Lalang” all those years ago when hell broke loose – my opinion mere speculation.

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