In conjunction with the National Journalists’ Day (Hawana) 2018, Bernama looks back on the journey of women through journalism. This is the first of a two-part series.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) — Malaysian journalists will be celebrating the country’s first ever National Journalists’ Day (Hawana) this Wednesday.
Themed “Wartawan Membela Bangsa, Membina Negara” (Championing the People, Building the Nation), Hawana 2018 is aimed at recognising and appreciating the sacrifices of journalists in the country.
The celebration will be officiated by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak himself on April 11 at the Matrade Exhibition and Convention Centre.
Hawana is seen as a platform to uplift the status of journalists as well as acknowledge and reward those in the profession.
The progress and prosperity enjoyed by the nation today is not only due to good governance but the contributions of journalists throughout the years.
These contributions date back from before Merdeka when journalists played significant roles in shaping the development of the nation and its people.
Journalists routinely put their lives on the line in their commitment to gather and disseminate vital information for the benefit of the public.
Due to rough-and-tumble nature of the profession, journalism used to be a profession dominated by men. Despite that, there have been many outstanding women journalists who have risen above the limitations and made their mark in history.
LOCAL WOMEN JOURNALISTS
In Malaysia, women first forayed into the profession around the 1950s .
Many at the time graduated from Malay schools with some knowledge of the English and Japanese languages, said the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Communication and Education of the Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur, Prof Dr Faridah Ibrahim.
In her study ‘Wartawan Wanita dalam Pengurusan Bilik Berita: Matlamat dan Pencapaian’ (Women Journalists in Newsroom Management: Goals and Achievements) that was published in a communications journal in 1990, Faridah said women journalists back then were former teachers, ustazah (religious teacher) or clerks.
Among them were the late Rosewita Ali, wife of Keris Mas (the late Kamaluddin Muhammad), the late Puan Sri Hamidah Hassan (wife of the late Tan Sri Samad Ismail) and Datin Salmi Manja, wife of national laureate Datuk A. Samad Said. They were all former teachers.
Two of the first broadcast journalists for Singapore’s Radio Malaya were also women. They were the late Zahrah Za’ba and the late Siti Hawa Zain (better known as Mak Iti).
“Zahrah Za’ba (daughter of Zainal Abidin Ahmad, better known as Pendeta Za’ba) had Senior Cambridge qualifications and a teaching certification from the Malay Women’s Training College in Durian Daun, Melaka.
“It was rare to find a woman of such qualifications at the time and it stood as testaments to how accomplished she was,” Faridah told Bernama.
Another accomplished female figure was the late Tan Sri Aishah Ghani, who was a former Minister of Community Welfare.
Aishah studied journalism at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London from April 1955 to December 1958.
THE RISE OF WOMEN JOURNALISTS
According to a paper by Universiti Sains Malaysia’s History Professor Dr Mahani Musa on the contributions of Malay women in newspaper and magazine journalism in Malaysia in the 1920s through 1960s, it is said that Aishah returned to Malaysia in 1958 and started serving as a journalist at Berita Harian in 1959. Berita Harian was at the time part of a larger group of newspapers called the Straits Times.
Mahani’s study, published in the book ‘Akhbar dan Tokoh Persuratkhabaran Malaysia Kurun Ke-20’ stated that the field of journalism saw the participation of very few Malay women in the 1950s.
In fact, Aishah was the only woman working at the The Straits Times, Malay Mail and Berita Harian before she was joined by Sharifah Azah Mohammad Alsagoff (Azah Aziz), two months later.
It was only in the 1960s that more women with Higher School Certificate (HSC-now known as STPM) and Senior Cambridge qualifications started joining the profession, one of whom was Zubaidah Abdul Rahman who joined Berita Harian.
At the time, the New Straits Times was where you could find renowned journalists like Margaret Wee and Lakshmi Natarajan. It was also in the 1960s that newspapers started dedicating a section for women.
“Famous women journalists back then include Azah, Zubaidah, Zaharah Nawawi, Maimunah Yusof, the late Azizah Ali, Faridah Idris, the late Siti Zaharah Ibrahim, Roseminah Ahmad, Rosie Hashim, Fauziah Rauf and the late Bahyah Mahmood,” said Faridah.
Interestingly, when journalism courses were first introduced at tertiary education institutes in the early 1970s, it attracted the participation of more women than men.
By the 1970s, more women with university qualifications started entering the profession, some of whom were Adibah Amin and Datuk Ng Poh Tip.
“You could count the number of women journalists in the 50s, 60s and 70s by hand. However, when the 80s came along, female graduates of Mass Communications courses starting flooding into the local news organisations and agencies.
“I was one of those who joined the newsroom of Utusan Melayu (M) Berhad from 1979 to 1985 before leaving to become a lecturer in communications at UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia),” said Faridah.
The rising number of women journalists inspired Azah to set up of the Malaysian Women Journalists Association (Pertama) in 1971. The association was aimed at safeguarding the interests of women journalists as well as to serve as a platform to discuss issues pertaining to the profession.
Despite the challenges of the profession, women journalists have risen through the ranks and quite a few have broken glass ceilings, be it in media organisations or politics.
“I see women journalists as having the potential to hold decision-making posts as they have high-calibre, are knowledgable and committed. However, they are still small in number.
“Today we have the likes of Datuk Ng (The Star’s former group chief editor, the first to hold such post in the country, the former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Bernama’s Economic Service Salbiah Said and the former magazine editor-in-chief and CEO of Utusan Karya, Maimunah,” said Faridah.
It is sad that the stories and roles of women journalists have not been highlighted as often as those of male journalists. This is because they contribute as much, if not more, to the profession as well as to the development of the nation.
Faridah therefore sees Hawana as an ideal platform to highlight their achievements and educate others of this oft-forgotten part of the national journalism history.
“It is time for someone to come up with a book on notable women journalists, perhaps from among scholars, university researchers or media practitioners themselves,” she said.