On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The good, the bad and the racy

Flipping through a copy of the first issue of The Star, I saw a small report about the United States’ economy being in trouble.

Well, 40 years later, not much has changed. The US has progressed well but its economy is in trouble again. President Barack Obama has just announced a strategy to create jobs for Americans.

When The Star first hit the streets, I was just 10 years old and a bit young to read newspapers. But it became a feature in my home as my family decided to switch to this breezy and racy tabloid.

With its screaming headlines and emphasis on crime and hot beauties, it became my daily staple when I reached Form 1 and was able to read the newspaper better.

I remember seeing some of my teachers sneering at the newspaper, preferring to be seen reading the broadsheets in the staff room. But I suspected that The Star was probably hidden within the broadsheet they were pretending to read.

Interestingly, most of the pictures of women in bikinis that appeared then would never make it into today’s Malaysian newspapers. It isn’t just the cleavage, as Home Ministry rules today state that photographs should not show navels and armpits. These, supposedly, could sexually arouse readers. You go figure it out.

Never mind if they can be seen on Astro’s MTV or other programmes, and even in sports channels which show women athletes wearing outfits that expose their armpits and navels.

In short, 40 years ago, Malaysians were more open-minded. They had fewer hang-ups and weren’t prone to pouncing on editors or burning their newspapers.

Some liquor advertisements featured in newspapers, and in at least one souvenir programme for a teachers’ gathering, would shock most people today. If they appear in similar format these days, we would be accused of racial and religious insensitivity.

But then those were the days when Parliament had a bar and cigarettes sold there had the Parliament logo on the boxes. These made for good souvenirs for visitors.

The Star has become a huge part of my life, more than I realise, in fact. I was born at the carpenters’ guild in China Street, just behind the former office in Penang.

The school I went to for my primary and secondary education, St Xavier’s Institution, was within walking distance of The Star’s office. Its first office in Weld Quay was also not too far away.

SXI eventually produced six group chief editors, including this writer, for The Star. The late Khor Cheang Kee, then editorial adviser, and Hng Hung Yong, one of my predecessors, interviewed me when I applied to join the paper in 1980 after I completed Form Six. Both were Xaverians, which greatly helped in the interview.

I left to continue my studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and rejoined as soon as I finished my final exam. Now, 27 years later, I am still with The Star, which has become a full-fledged multi-media organisation.

While the company is known as Star Publications (M) Bhd, it has gone beyond being just a newspaper. It has grown into a large group and also holds pole position for its news website and iPad downloads for news.

The 40 years have not been an easy journey. We have had our ups and downs. We have produced some of the best news – and bad ones too.

We are not perfect and we hope to do better. But we are truly proud to be part of Malaysian life and we intend to stay on. To our readers, thank you for sharing this journey with us.