A PRO­FES­SIONAL JOUR­NEY OF PAS­SION WITH BER­NAMA

Many renowned in­di­vid­u­als be­gan their ca­reer at the na­tional news agency

New Straits Times - - Viewpoint - Email: ah­madt51@gmail.com Twit­ter: @aat­pahit­ma­nis Ah­mad A Talib The writer is chair­man of Yayasan Salam Malaysia

AGRADUATE from a lo­cal uni­ver­sity re­ported for duty at a me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion in 1972, full of con­fi­dence and sound­ing a lit­tle cocky. He walked in hold­ing a brief­case and spoke to one of the staff seated near the en­trance.

“I’m re­port­ing for duty to­day. Can one of you show me to my room? I have some calls to make,” YLP said as he was ea­ger to start work as a cadet jour­nal­ist at the na­tional news agency, Ber­nama.

A se­nior ed­i­tor walked up to YLP and ges­tured to the lat­ter to fol­low him. He was taken across the floor and through a cor­ri­dor. At the end of the cor­ri­dor, he was taken to a door.

Open­ing the door, YLP yelled: “This is the toi­let!”

That was YLP’s in­tro­duc­tion to Ber­nama. He stayed on as a jour­nal­ist for sev­eral years.

Ber­nama did not have a build­ing back then. It rented sev­eral floors at Wisma Belia in Jalan Syed Pu­tra (Jalan Lornie then).

Started in 1968, Ber­nama was gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion. It was im­par­tial, ac­cu­rate, fast and reli­able. It had to do a lot of news mar­ket­ing, mean­ing it had to ex­plain to news sources that Ber­nama does not have news­pa­pers but the news does get dis­sem­i­nated.

News sources were sur­prised to find their news ap­pear­ing in sev­eral news­pa­pers and an­nounced on the ra­dio.

Be­ing new, Ber­nama em­ploy­ees were close-knit. There was ca­ma­raderie and ev­ery­one looked out for each other.

They formed a recre­ation club to fos­ter the spirit of to­geth­er­ness.

In to­day’s par­lance, Ber­nama was a start-up, formed un­der a Par­lia­ment act, which turned it into a statu­tory body. Salaries and em­ploy­ment terms were sim­i­lar to gov­ern­ment agen­cies but em­ploy­ees later formed a trade union to fight for bet­ter wages and ben­e­fits.

Ber­nama was seen as a “lev­eller.” Em­ploy­ees came in with all sorts of qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences. But once in­side Ber­nama, you leave your aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions out­side the door and you start on a new learn­ing curve al­to­gether.

Let’s hear what its chair­man, Datuk Seri Az­man Ujang, has to say.

“Ber­nama was like a uni­ver­sity to jour­nal­ists in the days when schools of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions were un­heard of.

“And I can’t think of a bet­ter place to learn the trade be­cause over here, jour­nal­ists have to be bilin­gual (English and Malay).

“Ca­reer-wise, es­pe­cially for those with a pas­sion for jour­nal­ism, Ber­nama gives them the sat­is­fac­tion be­cause one gets to see his or her news in more than one news­pa­per, be­sides ap­pear­ing on ra­dio and tele­vi­sion.

“Ber­nama was a step­ping stone for many of its good jour­nal­ists.

“This was not by de­sign but due to the nat­u­ral sup­ply and de­mand sit­u­a­tion in the job mar­ket.

“Some jour­nal­ists be­came press sec­re­taries to min­is­ters, while oth­ers were drawn to the pri­vate sec­tor where they gained more ex­po­sure and bet­ter salaries and perks.

“There were those who joined academia and be­came lec­tur­ers and rose through the ranks to be­come pro­fes­sors and deans.

“If I re­call cor­rectly, one Ber­nama jour­nal­ist be­came press sec­re­tary and later, a cab­i­net min­is­ter sev­eral years ago.

“At least one Ber­nama em­ployee has moved into pol­i­tics and ended up be­com­ing a deputy min­is­ter. Ber­nama has spread its wings far and wide.”

Its ed­i­tor-in-chief, Datuk Zakaria Wa­hab, said: “We have in­ter­na­tional cor­re­spon­dents in var­i­ous parts of South­east Asia, In­dia, Europe and the United States.

“While they pro­vide our cov­er­age an in­ter­na­tional di­men­sion, we have close co­op­er­a­tion with news agen­cies around the world. This is where we ex­change news, photographs and videos of com­mon in­ter­est.

“Ber­nama is also an ac­tive mem­ber of the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Asia-Pa­cific News Agen­cies, the In­ter­na­tional Is­lamic News Agen­cies and the Non-Aligned Move­ment News Net­work.”

In other words, Ber­nama has widened its net­work and news em­a­nat­ing from its head­quar­ters in Kuala Lumpur is dis­trib­uted on mul­ti­ple plat­forms and in var­i­ous lan­guages such as Man­darin, Tamil, Ara­bic, Span­ish and Nepalese.

I was re­cruited in Oc­to­ber 1972 and served Ber­nama’s new­ly­formed Eco­nomic Ser­vice Desk for six years.

I re­call vividly my in­ter­view held on the first floor of the Ber­nama of­fice in Wisma Belia.

The in­ter­viewer was the late Datuk Mohamed Sopiee Ibrahim, its sec­ond gen­eral man­ager. Af­ter ask­ing nu­mer­ous ques­tions about Malaysia and world af­fairs, he handed me the jawi news­pa­per, Utu­san Melayu.

“Read this,” he said.

I re­alised then that Ber­nama was look­ing for in­di­vid­u­als with all kinds of skills and abil­i­ties. It wasn’t go­ing to be a walk in the park. For­tu­nately, I could read jawi.

He asked me to read sev­eral news items, in­clud­ing from the sports pages. I was asked whether I could speak and read Chi­nese and Tamil, to which I replied I could only curse in both lan­guages .

One week later, I was of­fered the job as a cadet jour­nal­ist, a high point in my life then as my am­bi­tion was re­alised.

I have yet to meet an ex-em­ployee of Ber­nama who has a neg­a­tive word about the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

All the best, Ber­nama! May you con­tinue to be a pro­fes­sional and cred­i­ble news or­gan­i­sa­tion, be­fit­ting your rep­u­ta­tion as a news or­gan­i­sa­tion that dared to be dif­fer­ent and spread the news as it is.

Ber­nama was seen as a ‘lev­eller’. Em­ploy­ees came in with all sorts of qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences. But once in­side Ber­nama, you leave your aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions out­side the door and you start on a new learn­ing curve al­to­gether.

For­mer Ber­nama jour­nal­ists, in­clud­ing New Straits Times Press chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Datuk Ab­dul Jalil Hamid (sec­ond row, fourth from right), at the na­tional news agency’s 50th an­niver­sary in Kuala Lumpur re­cently.

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