NST editor quits over truth and 1MDB

Mustapha-Kamil

PETALING JAYA: Mustapha Kamil’s online posting of why he resigned as group editor of the Umno-controlled New Straits Times newspaper last month was highlighted by DAP leader Lim Kit Siang today, with an accompanying challenge to other Malaysian journalists.

In the posting, Mustapha said he had left after a struggle with his conscience and the journalists’ code to seek the truth.

He said his decision came after the Wall Street Journal was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in April for its reporting on corruption allegations surrounding 1Malaysia Development Bhd – which he descibed indirectly as “an issue that happened right under my nose”.

Mustapha did not refer to the Journal by name, politely describing the financial daily as “an American newspaper, headquartered somewhere in Lower Manhattan in New York”.

His posting was highlighted by Kit Siang at his blog and in a press statement, Lim asked: “Are there no more journalists in the mainstream media in Malaysia to uphold the ‘truth discipline’ or who could search their conscience whether they are doing right by their nation, profession and future generations?”

Lim has been known to lambast Malaysian journalists, particularly editors, working in the politically-controlled press and often demanded that they leave the profession.

Picking up from Mustapha’s note, which has circulated on Facebook, Lim said the 1MDB affair had affected the reputation and standing of institutions such as the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Bank Negara, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the police, Auditor-General’s Office, the Public Accounts Committee and even Parliament itself.

Mustapha’s resignation was reported in May. Although confirming that he was leaving, he would not speak about his reasons. He ended his 26-year career with NST at the end of May.

Lim reproduced Mustapha’s note verbatim. It said:

On the morning of April 25th I walked into the CEO’s room with my resignation letter in hand. We sat and talked about my wish for a good one hour where naturally, the CEO enquired why I had wanted to do so.

“The CEO is a chartered accountant, a man who took his job very seriously, one who is adept with numbers and besides heading the company, someone whom I also considered a friend…

“There were two things I related to him that morning. First, just as he, a chartered accountant, would not hesitate to qualify a set of flawed accounts, signing each of them not only by his name, but also by the ethics enshrined within the professional body in which he was a member, I too take journalism ethics seriously.

“In my line of work, there is this element called the ‘truth discipline’. It is one that requires a journalist to be correct, right from the spelling of names of persons or places, to all the reports he must file. His responsibility is first to the truth, by which he must then guide society in navigating the path they had chosen.

“Second, I told him that I had weighed the situation for as long as I could but when an American newspaper, headquartered somewhere in Lower Manhattan in New York, wrote a story that got nominated for the coveted Pullitzer Prize, about an issue that happened right under my nose, I began to seriously search my conscience and asked myself why was I in journalism in the first place.

“We had a cordial discussion that morning and the CEO fully understood my predicament and the fact that there was little else that I could do. In my 27 years of being a journalist, I never once subscribed to the saying that if you can’t beat them, join them.

“In this line of work, there is no such thing as the path of least resistance. You have to stick to your principles. Around the world, an average of 110 like us, pay the ultimate price each year to get the true stories out. At the very least, I felt that as a journalist, I had to honour the sacrifices they had made in abiding by the discipline.

I hope that answers everything.”

“The Wall Street Journal was nominated for international reporting. However the Pulitzer Prize – the highest annual journalism award in the United States – went to Alissa J Rubin of the New York Times for her moving accounts from Afghanistan about Afghan women “forced to endure unspeakable cruelties”.

The Journal wrote about 1MDB in a series of reports between July and August last year. The prime minister, Najib Razak, and his supporters have accused the Journal of making false accusations and of being used by the anti-Najib campaign to force him out of office. – FMT

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