KUALA LUMPUR — MCA’s public complaints go-to-guy Datuk Seri Michael Chong’s 38-year ties with Malay Mail started in 1980 when he became the secretary of the party’s then youth leader, Tan Sri Lee Kim Sai.
Chong, who was tasked with inviting the media to cover Lee’s press conferences and who learned about community service from the latter, continued to tap on these connections when he worked full-time in MCA’s Public Services & Complaints Department in 1987 to this day.
“Malay Mail always liked to carry community service news,” he said, adding the newspaper covered news that helped the public and exposed scams.
“You must not forget that Malay Mail at that time also did a lot of humanitarian work; we saved lives, we raised money to save lives, and that’s why I’ll never forget Malay Mail,” he said.
For Chong, publicity through the media is crucial for his public services and the cases he handles, noting that Malay Mail had worked with him to seek public donations for those who needed financial assistance.
“Whenever I wanted help, Malay Mail would carry the story and help me,” he said, adding the fundraising efforts with the paper for the less fortunate and those who were sick and needed funds for medical treatment such as children were always “very successful”.
Chong also went on multiple humanitarian trips abroad to help Malaysians, adding Malay Mail journalists who went along with him would go all out to provide news coverage.
“[Journalist] Badrolhisham Bidin and I went to Taiwan in the early 1990s. We went there and tried to save a Malaysian from facing the firing squad,” he recalled.
“I cannot also forget guys like Freddie Ng, who is now editor-in-chief of The Sun, in the early 1990s. He and I went to Tokyo to rescue stranded Malaysians. That’s how Malay Mail helped me,” he said, referring to Malaysians who were working illegally in Japan and could not return.
Even when Malay Mail had no funds for its reporters to go with Chong, he said well-wishers would help to support those missions.
But most unforgettable for Chong was an incident in the late 1980s, which came about after Malay Mail published stories about illegal prostitution dens and massage parlours in Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Bintang and Jalan Hicks area.
He said he did not think the prostitutes would dare call a press conference to protest against the authorities’ raids on them in Jalan Hicks as they affected their livelihood.
“Because Malay Mail was bringing up all these stories about prostitutes and all the vice in Kuala Lumpur, and because of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the authorities had to show a good image to the foreigners that Kuala Lumpur is very clean,” he said, referring to the time when Malaysia playedd host to the international meet.
“The prostitutes were so angry, they called me for a press conference and I remember they wanted to look for Eddie Chua and Badrulhisham. They said if they ever caught these two reporters, they vowed to take off their panties and put them on the reporters’ heads.
“So I had to call up [then news editor] Lee Boon Siew and we alerted Badrulhisham and Eddie Chua not to go to that area, because they had angered all the prostitutes. That is the biggest Malay Mail news I can never forget,” he said.
He also remembered The Edge Media Group’s Datuk Ho Kay Tat and New Straits Times’ Datuk Yushaimi Maulud Yahaya as young reporters with Malay Mail covering his press conferences.
Ads for everything
Chong recalled that Malay Mail was, in its heyday, the paper that one turned to when it came to placing advertisements.
“At that time, when you thought of Malay Mail, you thought of advertisements. Even when you wanted to rent a simple room, you thought of Malay Mail; you wanted to sell a car, you thought of Malay Mail,” he said, adding that was how well the newspaper performed then.
When Malay Mail later faced difficulties when the economy was not doing well and almost shuttered amid a decline in advertisements, Chong recalled discussing with Malay Mail reporters on how to keep the paper going, and he agreed to pass every good story he had exclusively to the paper.
“We kept Malay Mail alive. Because of my good relationship with all these reporters who had helped me, I gave a lot of exclusive stories to Malay Mail. They got it all the time, they hit the front page,” he said, noting the paper did continue to survive.
Keep the legacy going
With Malay Mail going fully digital tomorrow after a print run of close to 122 years, Chong said he was “very, very sad” as the paper “has been with me for so long and has been helping me from day one.”
“I owe a lot to Malay Mail. I want to thank all the reporters. Some have passed away. They are really wonderful people, we really strived together. So it’s coming to an end. From my heart, I want to thank them,” he said, adding Malay Mail was a paper which published news “without fear or favour”.
“I salute all the management, from the editor-in-chief to the reporters, photographers, everyone in Malay Mail. I salute them because they really have fought so hard for Malay Mail and brought this newspaper up.
“The legacy of Malay Mail must continue with better ideas, I would not like to see a 120-over year-old [paper] to go and just fade away. It should continue,” he said.