Veteran journalist promises tell-all memoir

September 16th, 2008

Former Senior ST correspondent in Kuala Lumpur Ismail Kassim has written a memoir that he promises will become more controversial than Mahathir’s Malay Dilemma. In  A Reporter’s Memoir: No Hard Feelings, the author has  weaved in stories about himself, family and friends, associates and politicians amidst the social and political turbulence of the last six decades beginning from 1945. The book will be available from next month.

Unlike the work of former Malaysian premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Ismail said that he wrote about both the high and the low life openly, without fear or malice. “Nothing is sacred. I have expressed my views clearly on all issues from race relations to faith and religion and political differences between Singapore and Malaysia,” he added.

He recalled that as a journalist he had to learn to write with restraint, but for this memoir he had “given justice to his innermost thoughts.”

“Whether I write about my boyish escapades or my tribulations over faith or my recollections of Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, Mahathir, Anwar, Pak Lah, Najib and others, I have adopted the same irreverent approach and uses the same nonchalant brush,” said Ismail, who wrote for the defunct New Nation and The Straits Times for almost 25 years.

As for the title of his memoir, he said that after stepping on many toes – big, small and powerful –  he felt he ought to say No Hard Feelings (Usah Kechil Hati in Malay and Bie Jie Yi in Chinese) to all of them.

“This is my way of reminding all of those mentioned in the narrative not to take things to heart,” he added.

As to what kind of reactions he expects, Ismail, 65 years and retired, said that it was likely to get a mixed reaction that would vary with the background of the reader.

“Some would obviously not be too happy with my frank treatment on matters relating to faith, race and politics. But I have to point out that I have written my story as a Singaporean and for a largely Asian audience.

“I hope that readers will adopt an open mind. Even if they do not agree with any of my views or comments, I hope they will regard them as opportunities to stop and reflect,” he said.

He said that he started writing his memoir in late March 2007 primarily to entertain himself, his friends and former fans who used to follow his reports on Malaysian politics.

Although targeted at the average ST readers, he said that students, researchers and analysts might still find his memoir interesting and useful in many ways.

Ismail said that he opted to self-publish his memoirs for two reasons. One is to retain control of the editorial process from beginning to end. The other is to turn it into a project to challenge and to push himself out of his comfort zone. At 314 pages thick, the book will be on sale at $23 before GST.

“Through the book, I hope to meet and engage more people in a dialogue on matters of mutual interest,” he added.

A Malay of Indian-Chinese origin, Ismail was a teacher, soldier, reporter, unionist before becoming the Straits Times Senior Correspondent in Kuala Lumpur.

During his 15 years stay there, he covered almost all the major events and interviewed almost every politician and social activist of any note.

He began his journalistic career with the New Nation in December 1972 soon after completing his Masters in Social Sciences (Political Science) at the then University of Singapore.

In the late 70s, he was secretary general of the Singapore National Union of Journalists and concurrently vice-president and president of the Confederation of Asean Journalists.

Ismail has two other publications to his credit. They are Problems of Elite Cohesion: A Perspective from a Minority Community (Singapore University Press, 1974) and Race, Politics and Moderation A Study of the Malaysian Electoral Process (Times Books International, 1979)

At the inauguration of the annual Asean Awards in Bangkok in 1987 Ismail won the award in the field of Communication.

For more details, please contact Ismail Kassim: or

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