“…We must also identify early those with the best potential in the community, and offer them help and guidance to maximise their potential. Hopefully their success will encourage others and in the process, help pull the rest of the community up.” – Mr Mohd Guntor Sadali
RIMA: How do you perceive the print media, particularly Berita Harian/ Berita Minggu, as shaping or influencing the MMC over the years? How did you carry out your role as Editor-in-Chief of the nation’s leading MMC daily newspaper in achieving this objective?
MGS: BH and BM are the only Malay newspapers in Singapore and are read by about 70 per cent of the Malays here. While many Malays also read English newspapers (ST and TNP), BH and BM are their main source of Malay news. There are also many in the community who depend solely on BH/BM for their news.
As national newspapers, BH and BM also publish national news in addition to news about the Malay community. The national news, for example, on government policies or trends and developments in the country, often has significant implications on their lives, and BH and BM have an obligation to inform its readers about these. BH and BM also play an important role in conveying news on issues that may be sensitive or that require comprehensive explanation to the community, for example, the policy of bilingualism, the tudung issue, the need for racial quotas in an HDB estate, the importance of national integration, the threat of terrorism – just to name a few – and these issues must be presented in BH and BM in a way that will help them understand. And this can only be done by those who understand the psyche of the Malay community. Being the only Malay newspapers in Singapore, this is where BH and BM come in.
As an editor, it was important for me to give our readers a balanced view on the news that they read. For example, some of the social problems faced by the Malay community such as high divorce rates, drug abuse rates, dysfunctional families and educational underachievement are very sensitive issues. While it is important for us to highlight these issues to create greater awareness in the community, it must also be done in a way that it does not demoralise the readers and the community. This is where the reporting and writing skills of our reporters are needed.
At the same time, providing a balanced selection of news is also necessary. While we acknowledge there are shortcomings in our community, it is equally important for us to highlight the achievements of the community the various fields, be it education, business, social work, career or so on, to motivate the community further, with the eventual hope that the gap between us and the other communities do not widen. Such news also serves to encourage more to achieve excellence in the community.
RIMA: What had been some of the biggest challenges you had faced in your former capacity in dealing with issues affecting the MMC?
MGS: The biggest challenge is in helping the community to understand some of the important but yet controversial issues. In the early 1970s for example, some mosques needed to be demolished to make way for Singapore’s development. It was a very sensitive issue that needed to be dealt with carefully. I was a rookie reporter then and I learned a valuable lesson on how to handle such stories.
The other challenge was when the government introduced compulsory education. The community was very concerned on the implication on madrasah education. The government eventually made adjustments to the compulsory education policy vis-à-vis the madrasahs. However, the challenge then was how to convey the government’s policy in a way that the community will understand the rationale behind it as well as presenting the community’s interests on the issue.
The aftermath of the 911 attacks also presented another difficult challenge to the BH/BM team, especially when the Jemaah Islamiah movement was uncovered. The Malay/Muslim community became the focus of attention overnight and it was important for BH and BM to strike a balance in the different views that existed in the community.
Yet another challenge is managing what the community and the government expect from BH and BM. The government is often concerned when we highlight the weaknesses of the community as it does not want to upset the community. BH and BM, on the other hand, feel that it is necessary for us to do so in order to jolt the community. There are also members of the community who are uneasy when we do so, accusing us of airing dirty linen in public. But we at BH and BM feel otherwise, as we do not believe in sweeping our problems under the rug, and think that there are some issues that the community needs to face head-on.
RIMA: Now that you have surrendered the mantle of responsibility to your successor, what will be your future aspirations for the community?
MGS: I hope that the community will not become complacent. We have produced successful individuals in many fields – sports (particularly soccer), art and culture, in the corporate world – with some holding high and important posts in MNCs, and we have made tremendous progress over the years. However, there is still much to be done in various areas, and we still have yet to produce many successful business people and entrepreneurs.
We must also go all out in tackling the dysfunctional family problem. It is the root cause of many of our social problems such as drug abuse and addiction, crime and underachievement in education. We must devote much of our resources in this area. Perhaps a full-time and dedicated person or organisation should be appointed to look into this issue. It is a huge task that needs support at national level. We cannot do this alone because our resources are limited.
At the same time, we must also identify early those with the best potential in the community, and offer them help and guidance to maximise their potential. Hopefully their success will encourage others and in the process, help pull the rest of the community up.
Mr Mohd Guntor Sadali is currently the Editorial Advisor of Berita Harian (BH) and Berita Minggu (BM) of Singapore Press Holdings. He was previously the Editor of BH and BM for 15 years and has been a journalist for the paper for 41 years. Apart from his present duties, Mr Guntor also contributes his time as a member of the National Transplant Ethics Panel and a Board member of the Housing & Development Board (HDB). He was formerly a member of the National Council for Problem Gambling and of the Malay Heritage Centre Board of Directors.
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