Monday, July 27, 2015

Hot Seat Answers

Johan Jaaffar, Chairman of Media Prima Berhad

When I joined Media Prima Bhd (MPB) in 2009, the editor of PeopleConnect, its in-house portal offered the karyawan to pose questions. Anything about me.  I must admit that I was overwhelmed with the amount and quality of the questions I received and I am grateful they have asked them. I did my best to honestly answer all the questions. Well, here goes … (adapted slightly for this blog).

  1. We noticed that your email address is as such and Do these choices in email addresses have any history or relations to the South African ethnic Zulu tribe?

Hmm. When I first opened my account, I gave various names for the purpose of registration, each one being taken up. I thought of the word zulu and add a jj, thus the address I used for my NST column – zulujj. For my gmail address, I maintain the word zulu but add a sir- zulusir. You have to be an OBE to be called Sir right? So, why not use that as my email address! Hush, I read somewhere a terrorist used the word zulu as part of his email address. So watch out what you send out to someone with a zulu address

2. You’re a seasoned writer and journalist. What are the journalistic principles and ethics that you hold true?

Never say you’re right all the time. We erred. Journalists are humans. We report deaths, calamities, not to mention misfortunes of others. It is incumbent upon us to tell the truth. Then again, truth is a double-edged sword. Truth is elusive as it is debateable. Someone mentioned journalists are too fixated to sex, lies and pseudo-democracy. There is also a danger that the press is “hurtling out of control” and our “herd mentality” in chasing stories. I am not a believer in consumerism rules. We don’t sell newspapers at the expense of civility, good manners and truth. We shouldn’t harp on other people’s miseries. We have a role to play in nation building, whatever that means to us. Of course I am worried about “the tabloiding of Malaysia – I don’t mean the format, but the mentality. Journalists are responsible people. Freedom of the press is a virtue, not a license to abuse. We should take pride in reporting happiness, triumphs and successes too. 

3. Some say, journalists of mainstream presses are nothing more than cheerleaders for the ruling elites or simply their apologists?

I beg your pardon. Didn’t you hear, freedom of the press belongs to those who owns it? Some would argue press freedom is a fallacy. But what constitutes “free” and “freedom”? Opposition papers are free? At least the so-labelled pro-government papers gave spaces for the opposition leaders and views. You imagine that happen in the opposition papers? You called that objective? Why are we looking at ethics, fairness and objectivity only in the mainstream papers? The opposition papers have the licence to attack anything that moves? What about the writings in the Net – there is lawlessness in cyberspace. Those writing in cyberspace too have responsibilities. We have made a promise to the world, we won’t censor the Internet. Freedom is not about abusing the rights of others. “Hat-riots” are aplenty out there. They condemn, they insinuate, they assassinate characters. We should all be responsible for what we do. People punish the mainstream media for its slant – real or otherwise – but we close one eye on dubious methods and prurient practices by others.

4. You were in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the spring of 1989?

Come to think of it, it was a dumb thing to do. Afghanistan was at the height of its civil wars. 
The puppet President installed by the Russians, Najibullah was being cornered in Kabul.His government is crumbling. The Russians have gone. I was in Peshawar not too long after a TV3 crew attempted to smuggle into Afghanistan, but failed. Three of us, myself, Wan Omar Ahmad and pixmanMohd Ali Zakaria from DewanMasyarakat waited 10 days to be smuggled into Afghanistan. Meanwhile we spent a lot of times visiting refugee camps (KachaGari, Nasir Berg, Munda, Badabar and Michni) and hospitals. We visited Afghan Surgical Hospital where injured Mujahidins were taken care off. Imagine if a fighter was injured in Jalalabad, the journey back to Peshawar took days, he’s lucky if he survived. There’s many young people without limbs and children who lost their eyes and limbs for picking up small bombs in the form of butterflies and moths. We were smuggled through an unknown pass, Hewar into the Kunar Province heading towards the town of Jalalabad. It was scary as hell. The whole area was scared, rubbles were what’s left of villages and homes. There were abandoned tanks and plane debris. There were only the Kochis, the tribal people, who till roamed the plains, with their herds. We reached the last Mujahidin post near Jalalabad. Two days before that, Russian helicopters attacked them, the Mujahidins showed us remains of clothes, blood and body parts on the rocks. No protection for them – barren hills and the Kunar River, believed to be heavily mined at certain areas. You want to answer the call of nature? They send “the bravest” to make sure the area is safe from landmines – a 14-year old boy to walk ahead of you! My wife was pregnant with our third child back then. It was madness. But I survived to tell the tale. And I cherish every moment with the brave warriors. Remember, they were holy warriors back then, before they are labelled terrorists by the Americans. People ask me if it’s worth it. The June issue of Dewan Masyarakat1989 carried my reports. We collected a few hundred thousand ringgit to help the Mujahidin cause. Good journalists die for lesser causes.

5. You met anyone of substance among the Mujahidin leaders?

Gulbuddin Hekmateyar in person. But I met him in Peshawar. He was the leader of Hisbi-Islami, the most organised Mujahidin group at the time. He later became the Prime Minister of Afghanistan, the first PM who bombarded his own capital with bombs when he had a tussle with his President. I met Abdul Raff RasolSayaf, the leader of another faction, Ittehad-e-Islami, He was killed not to long after that. I wanted to meet Masood, the Lion of Panshir Valley, but he was at the northern part of the country.

6. What strikes you most about Afghanistan?

Its people. Their bravery. Sylvester Stallone saved the Mujahidins in one of his Rambo movies. But they don’t need Rambo. They fought the Russians with only Lee Enfield riffles. They do have AK-47s. But the ones I met at Jalalabad and Kunar Valley had small arms – some of them old ones. Their faith played a role too. They succeeded in chasing out the Russians. Remember the venom of the cobra and the vengeance of the Afghans? They have never been invaded, until the Americas came. Proud people, the Afghans. But they are still at war, even now. What a pity. Our guide was MuhammedMunier who took his leave from his studies at the International Islamic University. He wanted to see a free Afghanistan. We never heard of him since 1989. One of the most poignant pictures recorded by Mohd Ali was an old man reading the Quran amid the sounds of fighting around him. He was squatting between boxes of ammunition, oblivious of what was going in. We reproduced the picture in my NST column for the 10th March 2007. I met a 14-year old boy SherMuhammed, separated from his parents when they fled to Drosh in Pakistan. He died a week after we left. I have hundreds of such stories.

7. What genre of books do you like to read? Where do you normally shop for good books?

I read many books at any one time. And as many magazines. I have them piled near my head on the bed, pick them up and read at any time of the night. I sleep very little. I read everything – novels, books on management, health, politics, memoirs, books on lists, even fungshui, ghost stories. And great literary works. I read Ulysses 5 times, War and Peace 3 times, Don Quixote 3 times. These are all boring classics. And I enjoy reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter adventure. Hey, I read all the works by Shakespeare – every single one! I read a lot of books about books. My all time favourite, A Spendour of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World. Great title. You’ll be surprised what you can get from second hand bookshops and not-so-good books stores. I got some of my most precious collections from such outlets.

8. Any particular works of literature of books you’d wish to read?

The Bugis epic La Galigo, said to be the longest written poem in the history of mankind. At 300,000 lines it is longer than Homer’s Odyssey, The Iliad, Ramayana or Mahabharata. I wish I could read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.

9. We understand that you’re a fan of the late Michael Jackson. What’s your favourite Michael Jackson song, and why?

Who isn’t. He’s cool. And he’s notoriously talented. One of the kind in the world. When he “moonwalked” on stage in the Motown’s 25th anniversary concert, I shrieked like a little boy. He’s awesome guys, awesome! My favourite? Hmmm, Beat It. Why? Simply out of the world. No one can beat it! Period!

10. Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley?

Elvis who? Nah. Mickey by a 1,000 kilometers!

11. In your opinion, which was the more imaginative creation: his music or his persona?


12. Who is the one leader that you truly look up to?

Nelson Mandela. He’s the coolest guy around. 27 years incarcerated and he came back like an honourable gentleman and a true hero he is. No vengeance. No hatred. I met him twice. Can I add two more? Vaclav Havel, the former President of Czech Republic. He too was a political prisoner. An accomplished playwright. I read his Living in Truth 12 times. I met him in Prague at the legendary Charles Bridge made famous by Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.He invited us for a drink at one of the waterholes. Imagine a President doing that! Tun Mahathir, I have a lot of respect for that man, regardless what he did to me in 1998. He’s truly a visionary, a giant among us.

13. What’s the best gift anyone has ever given you?

A little book, Three Bags Full: An Anthology of Nursery Rhymes. A perennial convict known in my village as Mat Gomleh gave it to me when I was in Standard Four. He was a thug with a gentle heart. I was the only boy in my village who went to English school. One day he called me, “I have something for you,” he said. I was shaking with fear. He gave me Three Bags Full. “I stole it,” he said without missing a beat. He was quite a character, one of the finest Quran readers in the kampung. He left for Singapore and later jailed there. He came back to the kampung and he was always in an out of jail. I wrote a TV play back in 1980, AsySyura, a story about Mid, based on his character. Karim Latiff played the part and directed by Abdullah Zainol for RTM. When I came back one day soon after the drama was aired, someone told me Mat Gomleh was looking for me. I was terrified. I met him at a coffee shop. “Akubelanjakauminum,” he said. I didn’t even have the courage to ask him what he thought of Mid. He died in 2007.

14. What’s your most favourite travel destination with the family? What do you do together?

Bali in 2005. The last time we were all together. The children have all grown up. They took turns going abroad for their studies. In many other trips, at least one of them would not be around. The trip to Bali was our last one together. I think I am close to my children. I cried a lot when any of them left for abroad (Am I revealing too much?). My wife is more composed.

15. You have a durian orchard and yet do not eat durian. What’s the story?

I knew someone will ask this question. I can guess who! I was once canned for stealing durian when I was small. But I didn’t eat the durians I stole. I am not allergic to the smell, nor hate the fruit. Just that, I don’t eat them. I guess I enjoy watching people eating my durians! Mine is the BMW of durians from the durian capital of Johor, that is Pagoh.

16. What are your hobbies other than writing?

Reading. Travelling. Dreaming. Though not necessarily in that order. I watch lots and lots of movies. And I loved rugby, and football.

17. Your proudest moment?

I was a head boy in 1965. Something I can never imagine happened to me. It lasted 5 days though. A boy hit a girl, I slapped him. I lost my badge. But not my dignity. I was a hero to my friends.

18. Who is the one most must-read writer of our time? Why?

I’d go for PramoedyaAnantaToer. His Nyanyi Sunyi Seorang Bisu (translated into Mute Soliloquy) is one of the finest novels ever written in any language. I can forget his chequered past just for that book. He was involved in communist-led Lekra (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat), which targeted writers and initiated the burning of books. Can I mention a few more? A. Samad Said and Anwar Rithwan for their novels. Baha Zain and Muhammad Haji Salleh for their poems. I love dramas by Usman Awang. Gabreil Garcia Marquez and Umberto Eco are my favourites. I like Jumpha Lahiri.

19. In your opinion, does Malaysia have an intellectual society?

Good question. Here’s my diplomatic answer. We do. Or we are heading towards that. We must contribute to that. We can’t allow our society “to be dumb-ed down” – we need a society that allows healthy debate, and having a vibrant, free press. We need discourses. We need to be critical. We need thinking, creative people. Then again, how do you define intellectualism? Or who are the intellectuals? A towering intellectual among film-makers, Michelangelo Antonioni once said, “I’d rather be the hero of the enlightened ones than a prophet of the clueless masses.” That’s snobbery. But we need snobs to remind us there’s more than just mindless entertainment and works meant for half-wits to move us to another plane. Great traditions and civilisations hinged on the brainiest few

20. According to a search, you once wrote a Cerpen "Potret Seorang Anu Sebagai Anu" while attached with DBP. Can you tell us what all these "anu" are about? Is it the same thing like what one controversial female director wants to produce as a feature film?

I wrote that in 1982 I think. “Anu” means “something” or “someone”. It could be anything. The short story was about a person, confused, dazed and disoriented in the convoluted world he was not able to comprehend. It was my best short story ever if you ask me. Why didn’t it win the annual literary awards? They overlook that or the judges were simply dumb. For the record, I won three coveted literary awards – for an adaptation (Hari-hari terakhir Seorang Seniman), for a short story (Sang Politikus) and for a play (Asiah Samiah). Not bad eh?

21. Rumours had it you’re an accomplished stage actor.

I was the Brad Pitt of my generation. That is supposed to be a joke. Seriously, someone said, to qualify to be a great stage actor, one has to act the part of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Dr. Stockman in Ibsen’s Enemy of the People. I have done both. The late Mustapha Noor directed me in the Malay adaptation of Enemy of the People. Hatta Azad Khan directed me in A. Samad Said’s Di ManaBulanSelaluRetak. I was the playboy, Omar. I played Sultan Mahmud Shah and Patih Karma Wijaya in Othman Haji Zainuddin’sZamanGerhanaand TitahTuanku respectively. ZakariaAriffin made me act the part of a Bangsawantauke in Pentas Opera opposite RohaniYusoff. See, I played the parts of bad persons in all the plays. The only good character I played was that of a station master in Hatta’sStesen. Do not judge me by the stage characters I played ok?

22. Since you have such a passion for writing, has the thought ever crossed your mind to be a full time writer/ author?

Nope. My children wouldn’t go to good schools if I opted to be a full time writer in this country. NST pays pittance for my Saturday column. Hush!

23. Hypothetically speaking, what would you do if one day a natural disaster (say a tornado) strikes the country and the national library was in its path?

I’ll send a lorry to pick up the debris. I’ll rent another office space to keep the books I salvaged. I have one already.

24. Are you a big fan of football? If you are, which team do you support?

I go for one that played the best game that day. My wife is an MU fan, so too my second daughter. My eldest son supports Everton, my second son is a Liverpool fanatic. The other two girls would rather watch Korean anime. I’d rather go for rugby. All Blacks! That’s my team! I am more of rugby fanatic. I am a huge fan of All Blacks!

25. What is your favourite local travelling destination? Why?

Sabah and Sarawak. I love nature. I love the mountains and the jungles. I climbed some of them. I have never been to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, but I have been to place higher than that, the base camp of Mount Everest. Sabah and Sarawak offer some pristine tracking routes.

26. Social networking sites and new media have become hot trends today. What is your opinion on Twitter, the latest installation to the e-media trend?

I’m a believer in new technology. Twitter is cool. Twitter is in. Social networking platforms are redefining the way we communicate and interact. I believe to win elections in the future, the cyber domain must be won. I hope our leaders look at Barack Obama not just for being the first black President of the US, but as the first Blackberry President.

27. What’s you take on Media Prima Bhd?

I am surrounded by good people – tested and proven. I have many extremely talented and dedicated people to help me.  I am a believer in the African proverb, to go fast, do it alone, to go far, go together. Let’s go far together.

28. You were hosting a few talk shows before your appointment as MPB’s Chairman, Whom do you most want to interview that you haven't yet done?

I hosted a TV talk show for 5 years. I have interview Tun Mahathir, Tun Abdullah even Datuk Seri Najib before he became PM. I have interviewed almost everyone that matters in the country – across the political divide. I’d love to interview SitiNurhaliza for a talk show.

29. Do you mind sharing with us one of the silly moments/childhood memories in your life that you could remember?

I slept standing while holding the rope of the tirai (curtain) with jungle drawing. As the result, the jinafrit walked into the istana. Let me elaborate. The famous Bangsawan troupe, BintangTimur Opera came to my kampung in 1965. I was 12 then. Since I was the only boy around, I ran errands for them, buying cigarettes and groceries. But I helped out preparing the actors with their keris and things. The owner was Bakar M, his children were Rahman B, Rahim B and Rohani B. Rohani B was the primadona of the troupe, a Seri Panggung. She was stunningly beautiful. Had she joined the movies, like many Bangsawan actresses of the time, she would have been bigger than Sarimah, Latifah Omar or Zaiton. She stayed because without her, the troupe would have very little else to offer. I was given the task almost every night, making sure the tiraihutan would come down on cue when the scene where the jin came in. I was too tired that night, I slept while on guard, the actor Noor K.K. was furious when he jumped in, realising he entered an istana not a jungle. They had a big laugh later. But I lost my 15 sen that night.

30. I heard you are into farming and agriculture before you came into MPB? Tell us more if it’s true for your love of farming and the extent of your hobby or passion that covers several hectares of land which you purportedly own.

I was in banana cultivation. Perhaps one of the more successful ones back then. I didn’t own the land. We rented 1,000 acres of idle land somewhere in Pahang. Henry Ford famously said, you can have any colour of the cars he produced as long as it is black. Similarly, the world only knows one banana – Cavendish, or montel. That bland montel. The funding? From Singapore. They packed the bananas, in boxes labeled “Produce of Singapore.” Our pisang! I stopped planting them. Couldn’t find the acreage needed. See, you can only expect two harvests from the same place – there is the danger of FusuriumOxysporum or the Panama Disease, the HIV of bananas. Did I tell you I attended the world’s first annual International Bananas Symposium in Bangkok in 2000? Serious! The best and the brightest in the banana business were there. There were banana taxonomists – like the wine tasters – who classify and grade the bananas. These are the banana connoisseurs if you like. You go bananas seeing so many types of bananas.

31. You were the Chairman for Dewan Bahasa danPustaka (DBP). Tell us about it

a. Do you see yourself stressing the need for championing the cause of the Bahasa Melayu/Bahasa   Malaysia language in our country through our media arm, or perhaps you’re more open to options since it’s the entertainment industry?

I was the  Chairman of DBP. I love my language. English is my second language, in fact my third, after Javanese. I am always mindful of that. Bahasa Melayu is the national language of the nation. It is guaranteed by the constitution. DBP is entrusted to develop and promote BM, the task it had played relatively successfully since its inception in 1956. Remember, DBP was born a year before the Independence of this country. What does that tell you? Our founding fathers saw the role of language to unite us, to educate us and to spearhead our future. Language is serious business. When BM was accepted as the national language, DBP’s role was to develop the language corpus to supplement the task in teaching our children the various disciplines known to men. They coined terms in BM. They promote the good usage of BM to the populace. DBP had played a significant role in nation building. I’m a believer in the need for our people to master more than one language. English is critical to us. We need the competency in the language, more so now than before. The entertainment industry is one that transcends language barriers. Hollywood fares, Hindi movies, Latin American telenovelas, not to mention Chinese and Koreans serials are big hits among Malaysians of all races. I don’t see language as a barrier to promote our agenda in the entertainment industry.

b. What’s your opinion on the level of Bahasa Melayu used in our Malay TV stations? Should they  continue with the spoken colloquial terms used currently, or should they revert back to the proper use of bahasabaku, once stressed for news coverage?

Good point. We are at a critical junction now. Formal language is under threat, not just BM, but English language too. SMS and email are changing the way we communicate. They are threatening formal language as we know it. SMS has become an aberrant world of abbreviations, numerals and pictorial icons. “Anti-formal communication structures” are alarming language purists. I believe there should be a formal language and an informal ones. Just like the BBC English, we should maintain a TV3-Malay to portray some semblance of formality and conformity in our usage. Bahasa baku has being scrapped. The Johor-Riau Malay is being accepted as standard BM.

32. What is that you wish you have done, you have not.

Drive a 24-wheeler lorry from Bukit Kayu Hitam to JB


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