Zainon Ahmad, a voice of reason as a political commentator and a sometimes lone voice of media freedom among the working press, died in Kota Baru hospital this afternoon, a day after lapsing into a coma.
He had been fighting liver cancer for some time, unknown to many in the fraternity.
• Funeral at 9am Thursday from 467E, Jalan Bayam, Kota Baru, for burial at Muslim cemetery in Banggol, Kota Baru.
On Tuesday, Zainon was taken to hospital at 1am, and placed in intensive care after losing consciousness. He had complained of chest pains earlier in the day, and his condition worsened in the night, his daughter Zuhailawati said.
Zainon, 70, was consultant editor of the Sun, where he wrote a weekly column of political commentary in the form of coffee-shop conversations.
He started his career in journalism with the Malay Mail in 1978, before being moved to the New Straits Times, where he was Johor Baru bureau chief, chief news editor and eventually assistant group editor.
He was later redesignated editor-at-large, in one of those internal reshuffles at the NST that come about from political power games. In his new position Zainon travelled extensively to various conflict zones in Asia. “They thought it was a punishment, but I thought it was a reward,” he said in an interview last year.
Among his forays were assignments to cover the Moro rebellion in the Southern Philippines, as well as the conflict in Southern Thailand.
In 2001 he was let go by the NST. A year later he was appointed editor-in-chief of The Sun, before moving on a few years later to the position of consultant editor.
In his later years Zainon was an active campaigner for press freedom, and spoke often at public forums on the press. Last year, he was a leading member of a group of newspaper editors involved in trying to set up a Press Council, partly as a quid pro quo for the government relaxing newspaper licensing laws.
Journalists who worked with him fondly remember him as a master raconteur, with tales galore of his childhood and other personal experiences, his encounters with politicians, and the story behind the news story.
As a mentor, friend and teacher, Zainon touched many journalists’ lives and he lives on in their memories as a bright spark of Malaysian journalism.
Zainon is survived by his wife Hasnah Abdullah, 65, their four children, and many grandchildren.
He will be buried in Kota Baru at 9am tomorrow, March 28. His body was taken to his daughter’s home at 467E, Jalan Bayam, Kota Baru, for family and friends to pay their last respects.