Tunku’s lament, then off in search of jobs
Tales of the Dark Days – III
Recollections by Star journalists of the Shutdown days.
By Chong Cheng Hai
The week of Ops Lallang saw me in Penang, on leave from the Subs Desk in Section 13, PJ. A day before I was to report back to work, I visited colleagues at the Pitt Street office and was shocked to learn that the paper’s KDN had been suspended.
My first reaction was that of delight at having an extended holiday in my hometown. But when the days stretched to a week and more, I returned to PJ.
Before that, a group of us called on Tunku Abdul Rahman, chairman of Star Publications, at his home in Ayer Rajah Road (since renamed Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman).
The Tunku graciously met us, lamented the paper’s fate and advised the staff to be patient. He said he could not do much as the matter was in the hands of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was home minister as well as prime minister.
The paper’s closure and subsequent temporary pay cuts as the suspension stretched from weeks to months did not affect me that much; I was still single then.
Other colleagues weren’t that lucky. On the day of the paper’s suspension a photographer with Penang office had just bought a second-hand Honda car; Subs Desk slotman Uncle John Khoo had started renovating his home kitchen and another colleague had signed the purchase agreement for a new home in Subang Jaya.Around March, I was among several who attended interviews for subbing jobs with the Straits Times in Singapore. An offer soon came in the post but by then, Andy Ng, Gerard Suchasingh and I had made arrangements to try our luck in New Zealand together with Peter Martinez who had family in Auckland. We caught up with Charles Chan who had got a job with the Auckland Sun.
Andy soon got an offer from the NZ Press Association, and we attended other job interviews in Wellington and Napier. On the way home, Gerard and I stopped over in Sydney where we learnt that The Star’s suspension had been lifted and that it would resume publication in April. It was as if a heavy weight had been lifted from our chests; we just couldn’t wait to return to work again. I gave up the chance to join the Straits Times and went back to the desk.
October 1987 was a career and life-changing experience. Nothing was ever or has been the same again in the newsrooms across the country.
• Chong Cheng Hai left the Star at the end of 1993 for the Sun as assistant editor, and subsequently editor. He retired last year, had a spell with the Malay Mail as consultant editor and is now putting together a new business weekly newspaper.
• Andy Ng, then chief sub-editor and subsequently assistant editor, became editor of the Sun in 1993. He is now editor of The National in Papua-New Guinea.
• Gerard Suchasingh, a senior sub-editor, went to Australia for several years before returning to the Star where he retired as production editor. He now lives in Australia.
• “Uncle John” Khoo was with Penang’s local paper, the Straits Echo, after the Second World War, and later worked with the Eastern Sun, the Straits Times, New Straits Times and the Star as a sub-editor and check sub. He now lives in Australia with his son Tony, a member of the Star’s pioneer editorial crew, and later chief sub.
• Peter Martinez, sports writer, took up the job offer from the New Zealand Press Association and emigrated. He returned to Malaysia to work with the Sun for a spell, then rejoined NZPA until it closed last year. He is now at The National in Papua-New Guinea.
• Subs Desk: the unit of sub-editors (subs) who edit news and features, provide headlines and captions, and lay out articles, photographs and graphics for news and feature pages.
• Slot-man: a senior sub-editor who allocates work to other subs and takes a final look at edited work before publication.
• KDN: the annual newspaper publishing permit issued by the minister of home affairs under the Printing Presses & Publications Act. The act has been amended but a licence is still required before a newspaper can be published. The licences are now good for the lifetime unless revoked.