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Ode To Sin Chew

Over the last few years, readers of this paper (even those like myself who rely on my research assistant to translate many of the articles in this paper) have watched the quality of coverage of issues improve markedly.

This March, Sin Chew's coverage was in my view the strongest of all the mainstream newspapers in Malaysia, in that it covered issues multi-dimensionally and across political lines. While the issues and candidates focused on the Chinese community, the reporting was truly national in orientation.

No where was this more evident in how the paper reported the events over the last week. When the arrest of senior reporter Tan Hoon Cheng occurred, the paper called on its readers to stay calm, to listen and express quiet non-confrontational outrage.

The sound advice spoke volumes, as across the world people watched the Malaysian public openly and peacefully condemn the unjustified arrests. Your readers joined with Malaysians across races in solidarity to show that unfair treatment of innocent people should not be tolerated.

And even though Tan has been released, Sin Chew has kept the coverage of others under the Internal Security Act in its pages. It is this coverage that will play an important role in contributing to the release of Teresa Kok, Raja Petra and now another blogger, Kickafella, who all have been arrested on unsubstantiated grounds.

The ISA arrests are tainting Malaysia's image internationally and undermining the credibility of the BN government. All Malaysians, not just Chinese Malaysians, are being affected by these draconian actions.

In the last week, I have been moved by another side of Sin Chew, its humanity.

The bravery of reporter Tan Hoon Cheng is now well known. Her calm demeanor and professionalism in the face of difficult circumstances has been lauded and recognised widely.

In a moment of crisis, she showed to the world that true professional journalists will speak truth to power and stand by their principles. Well done! She is part of a community of quiet heroes.

When I read about how her colleague Puah Eu Peng stood in front of the police car, I was reminded of the one man in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. I watched video coverage of her colleagues reporting diligently on her case, and in the process was deeply inspired by solidarity of these largely young reporters with Tan.

As they stood outside of the police station, there was a sense of purpose in their mission in carrying out their reporting, to protect one of their own. Each reporter knew that it could easily have been one of them in a similar situation.

The coverage was exceptional. Throughout, the reporters never forgot about Tan as a person. It was reporters who brought her clothes and were sensitive to the difficulties of a woman in prison. What few know is that Tan was backed behind the scenes by an editorial staff that lobbied hard to win her release through appeals to Malaysian leaders.

They supported Tan's family and friends and were quiet pillars of strength, as they called people to express their appeals. The Sin Chew community deserves to be recognised for its collective human spirit.

Thank you Sin Chew for standing together and reporting on these important issues with principles that reflect a truly national outlook. You have really shown how Malaysians are all part of a national community and simultaneously part of the community of human beings. (By BRIDGET WELSH/MySinchew)

(BRIDGET WELSH is an assistant professor in the Southeast Asia Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C.)

MySinchew 2008.09.20


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