During his maiden press conference as the new information minister, Zainuddin Maidin or Zam was not happy when he was asked to comment on criticism made against him by former editor-in-chief and currently deputy chairman of the New Straits Times Press Group, Kalimullah Masheerul Hassan or Kali.
Zam described the article written by Kali (NST Feb 16) as "rubbish" and refused to comment.
Kali wrote that Zam's appointment, perhaps, was made because of his journalistic background in the Utusan Melayu Group(Malay language media organisation with links to Umno). For the record, the NST group is also linked to Umno.
What Kali trying to say was that Zam's appointment was certainly not made on other factors such as loyalty or his political credentials and capability to perform.
Since Zam's elevation as deputy information minister, Kali claimed that he (Zam) has had an uneasy relationship with senior executives of some of the mainstream media. I wonder which mainstream media Kali is talking about and to my knowledge only the NST, then headed editorially by Kali.
Kali wrote that it was ironic that just a day before his appointment was announced, Zam sought, in a closed-door Umno information bureau meeting, the sacking of the top editors of the NST group. If it is a closed-door meeting, how did Kali obtained his information? Who was the whistle blower?
But, according to Kali, bureau chairman Muhammad Muhamad Taib, brushed aside Zam's proposal by saying that Zam had chosen the wrong forum to vent his hostility on the media. Kali went on to disclose that a senator from Johor and a state assemblyman from Kelantan embraced Zam's views.
I am in full agreement with Kali on the point that Zam has had run-ins with other media executives, partly because he sees himself as editor of the Malaysian media. There is no such position, Kali added. In fact, when Zam was deputy information minister, my friends in the news and current affairs unit of Radio-Television Malaysia (RTM), for obvious reasons described him as chief editor.
Several Umno leaders were not happy with Kali for leaking "closed-door meeting" details to the public. They said that action should be taken no matter if such person or persons were seen as "close" to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.
As a friend of both personalities, I wonder what is going on. It is no secret that Kali was air-dropped by PM Abdullah as editor-in-chief of the NST although there were senior editors in the daily that were loyal and better qualified to head the newspaper. It is sad that in Malaysia, senior appointments in the news organisations are decided by the political elites.
Kali, whose parents were Pathans, migrated to Penang from Kroh, Perak and when he was in his teens, he joined the Indian-based Islamic missionary, the Jamaah Tabligh. He used to follow this missionary group to visit houses in my kampung in Burma Road calling on us to go to the Kelawai Road mosque for a religious talk.
When he was in early 20s, he joined the National Echo newspaper in Penang as a reporter before joing the Star, the NST, Singapore Straits Times and a foreign news agency.
I notice a huge different in Kali as a young Jamaah Tabligh follower and later as a a journalist. From preaching Islam to ......
As for Zam, we were neighbours in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur in 1971. I was squatting in my elder brother's rented house along Jalan Raja Uda while Zam stayed in his rented single storey house in Jalan Raja Muda Musa.
A few years later, we met again in Penang. Zam was then the bureau chief of Utusan Melayu and I was attached to the national news agency bureau office.
Zam, a constitutional Malay of Indian Muslim parentage, hails from Kuala Kedah and was seen as Dr Mahathir Mohamad's loyalist.