Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Golden Jubilee (50 Years of Television in Malaysia)

1963 was a significant year for the country, broadcasting and yours truly.

Six years after “Merdeka” (independent) on 31 August 1957 we were on the verge of formation of a greater Federation of Malaysia on 16 September. Ten weeks later on 7 November, I changed career to be a broadcaster in Radio Malaysia, and 7 weeks after that the new broadcasting media arrived in the country with the launching of Television Malaysia, initially for the folk around the Federal Capital Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding Kelang Valley beginning 28 December 1963.

I have never dreamt of being a broadcaster but a friend tipped me to apply for the post of “Temporary Broadcasting (BA2)” in the Malay Broadcast of Radio Malaysia. After a stringent script and voice tests I was offered the job with an attractive remuneration of $550 basic which was a lot of money then. Initially the job was to write scripts for the documentary and magazine programme, most of which entailed either translating or adapting from the original English script into Malay. This was before I was given the task of writing my own scripts and producing the programme. It was a while later that I was allowed to go on the air after several trials by my bosses. It was formidable to be allowed to be on the air, a no mean feat for a rookie.

It was a busy time for the new Radio Department as it was entrusted with the task of being the national radio broadcaster for the new Federation of Malaysia with its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur at the Federal House building. From a mere feeder station it has grown up to be a full fledge radio broadcaster of 18 hours daily for its anchor, the Malay Service. The role of Malay as the national language was enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

At the same time across town at Dewan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Ampang, The Department of Television was being prepared for its launching for the Kelang Valley area on 28 December 1963. There was not much fanfare as broadcasting was small those days. The role and the impact of the broadcasting media as a mean of national unity were down-played. It was the newspapers which was also small in numbers that trumpeted the coming of the new media sporadically in brief. Television sets were snapped up like hot “goring pisang” in the shops as the TV broadcasters were testing their signals for sometimes. I didn’t have much time to get excited over the affairs as I was busy being tied up to my new chores at the office and studios but I updated myself with its progress.

Malaysia could be considered among the earliest country in the world to introduced television (TV) broadcast.  In fact it was only after World War II that TV was officially introduced in many countries in the west as well as Japan. The German introduced live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Berlin Olympics in 1936 to reinforce its position as a great country. It failed to utilise the medium as a propaganda tool due to the failure of its sporting team on the field of competition, as the American team was dominating most of the events. Excitement was in the air with its introduction. Thanks to the progressive minded Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman for its introduction and using the medium as a window to see the world. Tengku realised the impact of the media as he was a witness to its beginning in UK while he was a student there.

TV Malaysia was launched in a grand ceremony in the afternoon of 28 December 1963 by the Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra at the Dewan Tuanku Abdul Rahman which has been turned into a TV Studio due to lack of space at the complex. The ceremony was carried live by Channel 5 for the Kelang Valley area with a promise of expansion to cover the whole of the west coast of the Peninsular.

I came to know some of the 8 pioneer producers when they frequented the Federal House canteen, their former food hunting ground when they were staff of Department of Radio before opting to the new media. I was introduced to Dato’ Abdullah Muhamad, Tan Sri Ahmad Merican, Hashim Amir Hamzah, Thomas Mathews and Low Hing Boon. Then there were Hyacinth Leo and Richard Job from my student days.

I came to know the late Dato’ Aziz Wok who was my senior at Anderson School, Ipoh. He took me as his production announcer for his “Kuiz” programme. He also introduced me to the “sub-title” department enabling me to earn some extra pocket money. Of course I obtained my boss and the JPA’s permission. That was my initial encounter with TV’s work.

Then Dato’ Rahim Razali came back after completing his study in Australia in 1964. He was sought after by Dato’ Abdullah Mohamad, the senior Sports Producer. He spent a lot of time at my apartment making me more familiar with TV work. After my confirmation as a permanent a Radio Malaysia, I was sent to take charge of the Malay broadcast of the Northern Region based in Penang in January 1966. It was not the end of my relationship with TV work. There were many national events being held in the North which was carried live by TV Malaysia. As they were short of experienced personnel to anchor and commentate on the events, I was selected for the role.

After the 13 May 1969 incident, more events were taking place outside Kuala Lumpur especially in the North. I had my hands full, including commentating Football Malaysia Cup Final at the Penang City Stadium that year to ease the pressure of security at the Federal Capital.

Both Departments of Radio and TV were merged after the incident under the new Department of Broadcasting (Radio-TV Malaysia, RTM), a catalyst to the reorganisation of the Department. A new broadcasting complex was being built and made ready to function at Bukit Putra, known as Angkasapuri. TV was the first to move to its permanent home. The Programme work-force was compartmentalised to specialise functions such as Public Affairs, Drama, Entertainment, beside the existing News and Current Affairs Department, and the other coordinating units in TV and Radio. The broadcast was geared towards national unity, muhibah and national resilience, with the introduction of the New Economic Policy.

The 13 May incident has a big impact on my career. More events outside Kuala Lumpur were highlighted as TV expanded its broadcast throughout the Peninsular as well as to Sabah and Sarawak. Pressure of work increased for us in the Regions. I was to double up as “stand uppers” for reports from the North. It was exciting time for a young broadcaster. The Director of Public Affairs programme, Dato’ Sulaiman Alias was quite impressed with my performance and requested for my transfer to KL, to support his division. In February 1972 I reported for duty in KL. Initially I was with Radio when the whole operation moved to the spanking new Wisma Radio in Angkasapuri in mid 1972. I was later appointed the supervisor of the Radio Public Affairs department, which included Sports under its wing. Being a new department it was a daunting task building landmarks as the broadcasting hours were getting longer each day, besides spotting new talents. To complicate matters, I was asked to double up as TV anchor person and commentator. I took the responsibility in my stride enjoying the work.

In 1974 I was transferred to Suara Malaysia, the overseas broadcast component of RTM better known as the Voice of Malaysia (VOM), when the no 2 man (Programme Organiser) Manaf Abdullah suddenly passed away. Besides being deputy to the Head, En Idris Shah, former BBC Malay Broadcaster, I also double-up taking charge of the Indonesian language broadcast which has long broadcasting hours in the morning, afternoon and evening. It was “cultural shock” for me, so used to busy working pace, now enduring multi-tasking at leisurely steps. I didn’t allow that to upset me. With the longer free hour, En Idris allowed me to anchor and commentate for TV programmes and coverage, besides reading the main news over Rangkaian Nasional Radio. At the end of it not many outside the broadcasting sphere realised I was a staff of VOM, taking for granted I was on the payroll of TV Malaysia.

When it come to “coverage” of important national events including sports, I was quite happy to be on the spot to do TV work and at the same time communicate with my staff of VOM updating them with the latest. It was a convenient arrangement.

At times doing work for TV entailed travelling overseas, taking me away from office. I did a lot of travelling overseas for TV coverage. I appreciate the trust the department had on me, and gave my best effort for a performance well done.

Among the sports coverage I have done was 2nd World Cup Hockey Tournament in Holland in 1973, 10th Commonwealth Games New Zealand, 1974, Montreal 1976 Olympics, Tehran Asian Games1978, 1978 FIFA World Cup Argentina and the SEA Games series in Jakarta, Thailand and the Philippines.

In 1980 I was transferred to Head the Public Affairs Division of RTM, inclusive of Radio and TV. Besides revamping the division, the Director-General Dato Abdullah Mohamad asked me to present a paper for the establishment of a Sports Division in RTM. The JPA and the Treasury were positive in their response and the Sports Division of RTM came into existence on 1st January 1982. I was appointed its pioneer Head. It was a daunting task at that time as TV broadcast and production underwent changes in its equipments and methods of work with the advent of the latest development. Film was suddenly becoming obsolete and videos were invading in a big way with lighter equipments and smaller size video tapes and equipments. The 2 inch VTR was no longer in use by the big boys of broadcasting internationally. In later years it became obsolete with the advent of the computer and chips.

To complicate matters, the privatisation policy was in full swing, creeping into broadcasting with the introduction of TV3 at that time. The new kid on the block wanted to be known as the “sports channel” by hi-jacking the broadcasting rights of 1984 Los Angeles Olympics at a price 20 fold higher than agreed upon with RTM. They were yet to on the air and their trial broadcast was only for the Kelang Valley area. There was uproar among sports fan outside KL area. TV3 has got no choice but to extend the rights to RTM.

The last minute stance made the coverage of the LA Olympic 1984 a difficult one for RTM, and yours truly in particular as the Head of the newly created department in RTM. Our satellite booking was haphazard as we scourge for the left over. As for the events to be covered RTM chose to allow TV3 to have the first option, as we knew the preliminaries and the qualifying round in the earlier part of the Olympics made no difference in the interest of the audience. RTM manage to hold its ground with the limited access to the satellite signal. At the end of the day the press report by the media, especially the Malay Mail, an ally of TV3 at that time, was in our favour. That set the trend of cooperation and understanding in coverage between both stations.

My location of operations shifted from Wisma Radio to Angkasapuri when I headed the Public Affairs broadcast. Two of the most affected areas in TV when the usage of film was reduced were the Film Department and the TV Archive Library, both are big in size of staff and equipments. They were being displaced and had to adapt to the new development. Suddenly the film operation became redundant. The cameramen had to be trained in the usage of video cameras. The editors found themselves with strange new machines. So was the other sector associated with production such as lighting, sound etc. The bulky 2 inch tape and the large spool of film are now reduced in size with the advent of video in the library. The film and the 2 inch video materials now had to be hurriedly transferred to the new video tapes. The most badly affected area of the film department was the Laboratory which now became “jumut” (redundant). The chemical used to develop the film were no longer in used and the staff had to be trained to a new “operation”. We had a cultural shock as they could not be absorbed into other Departments such as Filem Negara as it is also affected with the recent development.

The development was rapid when we suddenly we found we are going into the “digital” age where bulky equipments are no longer in fashion. A roomful of film and video can now be placed in tiny chips. The mobile phones output was now accepted as broadcast quality when international broadcasters were using them for their news reports. Revolution was taking over the broadcasting world with the advent of computer and IT in a big way.

As the Head of the newly created Sports department RTM I found the operation was dragging behind with limited budget shared with the Public Affairs. It was then decided by the Finance Division of the Ministry of Information and the Treasury to operate the “Akaun Amanah Tajaan” AAT (Sponsorship Trust Account) for the Sports broadcasts, which was getting good support from the big sponsors. I was one of the three signatories appointed to operate the account. AAT reduced “red tapes” in the operation. The operation of the AAT was later expanded to include the Drama and Entertainment broadcasts which was quite popular with the sponsors and the audience. Much later AAT also took in the Engineering Division under its wing for urgent equipments which was newly introduced in the market, not under purview of the normal budget. Technical development of equipments was expanding fast.

At the same time there were changes in the status of staff graduating from Institute Teknologi MARA (iTM). The JPA recognised the status of their Diploma as a Degree as the status of their institution was upgraded to University Institut Teknologi MARA, UiTM. This solved the intake of Producers whose entry qualification was a degree. Many of the staff with UiTM qualification opted to be Producers as positions in the other sectors were limited.

As this was also the time of stream-lining the civil service in term of salary structure, RTM was also involved. Some staff was placed in areas quite new to their work experience, where they have to undergo a refresher or coordinating courses. To many it opens the door for promotion to hire grades. To some this became sort of a problem as they have to serve in places outside Kuala Lumpur where vacancies had to be filled. I felt the standard of broadcasting in RTM’s radio and TV was slightly affected, as the staff involved were trying hard to grasp with the situation on their own.

It was during this period too I was promoted to the position of Deputy Director of TV taking charge of local production. I had my hands full of RTM’s in house production. The privatise programmes were placed under the Privatised Programme Committee chaired by the Director TV but at times it was led by higher level officers, including the Deputy Director General (Programme). I don’t have a role in that Committee.

The privatised dramas theme evolved around family affairs and the triangle intrigued between lovers. RTM decided to enhance its religious programme via its in-house productions. With the assistance of the Federal Territory Religious Department our Religious Section ventured into the production of “Yang Arif”, marriage guidance, based on true court cases. It was well received by the audience and the production went into its third season. It was well handled by its producer Ngani Annuar.

RTM also carried live signal of the Pilgrimage in the Holy Land during the Haj season. Due to lack of anchor person from among the religious personality then, Ustaz Osman Fauzi and yours truly played the role at the initial programme. RTM also carried the Tarawikh live during Ramadan from Mekah. With my experience in Sports coverage, I had a busy time coordinating the satellite booking until our Religious Section was able to manage it. As for local presentation we started the nightly Tadarus during Ramadan. I find getting the religious programmes on the air over RTM was a big challenge. We had to find ways to make the “nasyid” competition and programme well received by the audience especially the young. Today “nasyid” music is standing tall on its own.

As the new private station was expanding its operation, RTM was faced with competition affecting its commercials income from the new broadcaster. It was during this period that decision was made to privatise the Commercial operation under “G-Team”. The commercial income did improve tremendously under the new operation over the two TV networks TV1 and TV2.

Suddenly in 1992 I find myself heading RTM’s Sarawak Region operation as its Director based in the state capital, Kuching. It has a small TV outfit, mainly covering the news happening in the state. It also contributed to the cultural, social, economic and development life in the state. RTM service in Sarawak was mainly radio based in Kuching, Sibu, Miri, Limbang, Sri Aman and Kapit. It was while I was in Sarawak, the Chief Minister, Pehin Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, who is a great fan of the legendary P.Ramlee, came out with a proposal of starting a bi-annual competition of P.Ramlee’s presentation (Pertandingan Lagu-Lagu P.Ramee). Earlier he had suggested talent spotting among the young with the competition “Bintang Kechil” which was being held a few years earlier and supported strongly by the young. The P.Ramlee competition was launched in 1993.

1993 was significant for the country as we celebrated the 30th year of formation of Malaysia. Kuching was selected to be the centre of celebration. We really had our hands full in the coverage of the Annual Parade at the Padang Merdeka.

To be station in Sarawak was a respite in my lengthy career in broadcasting. Suddenly, again I found myself being transferred to Kuala Lumpur to end my career, as Director of Training at the then IPTAR. It was a brief stay of 2 months, when I was shockingly transferred to be the Director of Television, taking charge of TV1 and TV2. I didn’t know the reason for the sudden switch of jobs. I took it in my stride, and off I went immediately as demanded.

I was guided by the transfer letter signed by the KSU, Dato’ Zawawi Mahmuddin, with a page of appendix of duty specification to be performed. The original duty of the Director TV was restored, mainly the procurement of programmes including that of the “privatised”. The position now would chair the Purchasing as well as the Evaluation Committees which was taken away for sometime by officer of higher positions, leaving the Director of TV with implementing the daily schedule only. With that situation I later found myself operating without guidance from my seniors.

My initial action on taking over the post was to stream-line the payment to the privatisation producers, the artistes and those taking part in the programmes. The target was 3 weeks after transmission the cheque should be in their hands. The Financial Clerks had been instructed to go through all the files to rectify the position. Within 6 weeks we were able to streamline the situation. Payments were made within the 3 weeks target.

At the same time the other sectors were taken care. The Evaluation as well as the Procurement Committees was streamlined and updated. Work went on smoothly and the usual complain were minimised to zero. That gave me plenty of time to visit the staff at their operation centres and settled their problem immediately.

At the Ministry’s coordination meeting the Minister Tan Sri Mohamad Rahmat was complaining for the lack of talent spotting in the entertainment sector. The Director-General did not have an answer to that but I decided on my own to run a mini singing competition in the ever popular weekly “Hiburan Minggu Ini” to be called “Bintang HMI” as additional to the programme on a small scale. When the preliminary was completed the quarter final was getting a fair share of publicity in the media with the ever popular rival programme of the private station. There was much talk about the quality of the competitors. The Final of the 1994 edition was won by the talented Nora who later became a star in her own right.

The Bintang HMI was continued in 1995 getting greater attention from the entertainment industry. This time the Final produced an icon in youngster Siti Norhaliza. I retired in 1996 and the Bintang HMI continued for the last time with another star being born from Sarawak.

I have not been an active and serious contributer broadcaster as far as Entertainment and Drama sector is concern. I learn production on religious programme seriously and try to contribute considerably for its holistic value. In a nutshell whatever I have done for these sectors I consider that as a personal contribution to the development of country’s broadcasting industry.

On the 50th anniversary of television existence in Malaysia, may I convey my humble greeting and congratulate the industry for its success. I am humbly obliged to be given the chance to contribute in a small way while serving its pioneer, Radio-Television Malaysia RTM for 32 years. May it climb to greater height with the coming of the Digital Age while celebrating the industry’s Golden Jubilee.