THE significance of “57” to Berita Harian? The newspaper was born in 1957 and on July 1 this year the newspaper turned 57.
It is one of the earliest Malay newspapers in Rumi (Romanised) script. It made its debut 10 years earlier than Utusan Malaysia, the Romanised edition of Utusan Melayu. Berita Harian was born exactly two months before the independence of Malaya.
The history of Malay newspapers and magazines has been an interesting one. The first Malay newspaper in the country was believed to be Jawi Peranakan published in Penang in 1876 by the Indian Muslim community. It was edited by Munsyi Mohd Zain and Dada Mohidin.
Most of the newspapers and magazines before the Second World War were published in Jawi. Researchers believed that the first newspaper in Romanised script was Bintang Timur first published in Singapore in July 1894. Interestingly, the editor was Ong Siong Song. Very little is known about the newspaper that lasted about two years.
A man reading the Berita Harian at a stall. The history of malay newspapers and magazines is interesting.
In 1939 Utusan Melayu, the first newspaper “owned, financed and staffed solely by Malays of the Archipelago”, was published in Jawi at Cecil Street Singapore and edited by A. Rahim Kajai. It took the company 28 years to publish the Romanised edition, Utusan Malaysia in 1967. On the other hand the company that published the Straits Times took 112 years to come out with a sister newspaper in Malay. The management must have realised the importance of a newspaper in Bahasa Melayu.
Back in the 50s, the renowned literary movement Angkatan Sasterawan 50, popularly known as Asas 50, was championing the case to popularise the Romanised script. In fact Asas 50 was instrumental in changing the Ministry of Education’s stand to use Rumi in schools and in official correspondence. After all Malaya was on the verge of independence. The written script for national schools that have always been in Jawi needed to be “Malayanised”. It is not a coincidence that the first editor of Berita Harian was (Tan Sri) A. Samad Ismail, one of the articulators of Asas 50.
Berita Harian started rather modestly, perceived by many as merely the translated version of the Straits Times. Over the years it developed its own character. Berita Harian was there to record the exuberance of the people of Malaya celebrating their independence on Aug 31, 1957. Berita Harian has been chronicling the history of this nation ever since — its trials and tribulations, its exultations and sadness.
Newspapering is never easy. For the fledgling Berita Harian it was even tougher. But it had some of the best people at the help to lead the newspaper. Other than Samad, Abdul Wahab Zain, A. Samad Said, Salim Kajai, Adibah Amin, Ahmad Sebi, A. Kadir Jasin and Ahmad Nazri Abdullah were among the editors. Others like Ahmad Rejal Arbi, Hishamuddin Aun, Manja Ismail and Mior Kamarul Shahid made their marks in other vocations later or moved on to greener pastures.
Berita Harian has gone through many design changes and most notably the migration to compact format from broadsheet in 2008. It is now known asBH and BH Ahad for its Sunday edition. The current editor, Mahfar Ali, literally grew up with the newspaper. He started 29 years ago. He understands very well the challenges in the media today and the dwindling circulation numbers bedevilling all major newspapers of the world.
BH is more than just a newspaper that harps on news and events. For many years it has positioned itself as a newspaper of choice for students. Its education supplement Didik is hugely popular. More importantly its spaces for culture and the arts are the mainstay of the newspaper. The literary columns have nurtured many young writers over the years. I am one of the proud “graduates” of these pages since my university days. But what is a newspaper without gossips and faces of pretty starlets and dashing young male artistes? BH Sunday supplement B*Pop provides that and more. It has entertainment pages every day.
BH prides itself as a paper for all. And speaking on behalf of the people. The recent series of expose made by the newspaper under Mahfar’s leadership is a vindication of its commitment to journalistic excellence. It is good to know 10 of its journalists were awarded the coveted Hadiah Kajai since 1983.
True to its current tagline, Merentasi Generasi (transcending generations),BH has reinvented itself many times over to endear itself to the young and old in line with the changing dynamics in society. It has been around for the last 57 years and certainly looking forward to 57 more.Dirgahayu BH! JOHAN JAAFFAR - NST 5 JULY 2014 @ 8:01 AM