For 33 years we carried on the good fight through Aliran Monthly – despite the obstacles and bureaucratic nuisance, recalls P Ramakrishnan.
When something dear to all of us comes to a close, it is always very sad. It evokes a lot of memory and brings to mind many memorable moments. This is the case with Aliran Monthly.
After having been around for 33 years, it will cease to be published.
This will be the final issue of Aliran Monthly. After this, there will be no more hard copies available, apart from what is in our archives. This is a heart-wrenching moment for all of us who have been involved in the production of the Monthly for 33 years.
For 33 years, the Malaysian public was aware of the Aliran Monthly which carried more than 350 cover stories and articles about human rights violations, abuse of the rule of law, the decline of parliamentary democracy, the marginalisation of the poor and the homeless, displaced estate workers, gender inequality, urban squatters, religious conflict, lopsided development, the selective use of the ISA, the fight against corruption, the squandering of the nation’s wealth and many more issues – you name it, we have commented on all these issues of grave concern to all of us and to the nation. We have fought the good fight through our publication.
For 33 years, we have carried on this good fight through Aliran Monthly. In spite of the obstacles and bureaucratic nuisance, we have never failed the Malaysian public. Aliran Monthly may not have been published on time, but we have come out regularly without fail. Every issue of Aliran Monthly was a labour of love. At times, it was difficult and even painful but it was nothing compared to the joy when the Monthly was delivered!
A publication is born
The first cover was white and the masthead was very different. It was a four-page tabloid. It was a rush job. We didn’t know that we had been given a permit. Probably it got lost in the post and never reached us.
But the fact was sometime in October 1980, we received a letter from the Home Affairs Ministry asking us why we had not forwarded copies of our publication as required by law. It was then that we found out that we had a permit to print. Since the year was ending, and as we hardly had time to put together a magazine, we came out with this four-pager which focussed on the spiritual aspect of life and clearly reaffirmed what Aliran stands for:
To start with let us declare clearly that Aliran is a multi-ethnic, non-partisan reform movement concerned with raising social awareness and fostering a common sense of nationhood. Aliran is therefore not connected with any political party, trade union, community organisation or any other institution and we stay outside the electoral process.
Then the following year, they did not give us a permit. Don’t ask why. It is the privilege of power. It is their right to be arrogant!
From Quarterly to Monthly
Then we applied for a permit to publish a Quarterly. The cover conveyed a valid and legitimate message: Criticism is not as crime. Indeed, it is our patriotic duty to criticise whenever it is necessary to do so.
We produced the Quarterly for two years. Each issue contained lengthy, analytical articles. But then, to wait for the next Quarterly took three months. It was far too long. We felt that we should communicate with the public more frequently.
So we applied for a Monthly and we were given a permit for 1984. The first copy of Aliran Monthly was published in January at the height of the BMF scandal. Of course we had a lot to write!
What was the significance of the Monthly? It meant news and views from Aliran every 30 days instead of 90 days as was the case with the Quarterly. It meant 12 issues (later 11) instead of four for the year. And because of its frequency, Aliran Monthly would be more current and topical. Remember there was no internet then!
We were selling the Quarterly and Aliran Monthly – you wouldn’t believe this but yes, just for a ringgit a copy. And to our credit – or otherwise – we maintained this price for 10 long years!
Each time, when there was a need to raise the price, there would be a great tug of war among the Exco members: to raise or not to raise? There would be vigorous debates. Reluctantly, we raised the price in 1992 by a mere 50 sen! Then the cost of printing went up in the middle of 1994, and after a lot of soul searching, we increased the price by another 50 sen.
You would realise that we were no prudent business people. No wonder we are in dire straits financially!
A touch of gloss… and going colour
In 1993 we decided to use glossy art paper for the cover and the middle pages. This issue focused on the Constitutional Amendments. We didn’t mean to gloss over this important issue!
At that time, Mahathir wanted to appoint Tun Mustapha as Federal Minister but he overlooked the then constitutional provision requiring Mustapha to resign from the Sabah State Assembly as he could not be an assembly member and a member of Parliament at the same time. This would have entailed a by-election. Umno Baru was on a very weak wicket in Sabah. A by-election at that time therefore could have had disastrous consequences for Umno Baru because of the formation of a PBS-Usno coalition government. This coalition had the advantages of government machinery and state resources to clobber Umno Baru.
So the constitution was amended to prevent a by-election and serve Umno’s interest. The amendments took care of two problems for Umno Baru: Mustapha need not resign and there would be no by-election. Not only that, in future there would be no by-election if a vacancy was caused either by the death or resignation of an elected representative within two years before the next general election was scheduled.
Then towards the end of 1993, we went full colour for the first time. It coincided with the Highland Towers tragedy. This issue featured this sad occasion vividly, and the title “Malaysians Mourn spoke on behalf of all Malaysians.
All this while, the masthead was static. We couldn’t feature our pictures full page on the entire cover. And so, in 1995, we opted for a new masthead which could be moved around and pasted on top of the pictures on the cover.
A bombshell is dropped
The cover featuring Rahim Tamby Chik was not meant to be the cover story. This was a last minute switch to replace a planned cover story. What we had wanted to carry was an important issue involving Al Arqam, which had just been banned. We had 16 pages of material on this subject matter. The artwork was done and the films were made and sent to Kuala Lumpur for printing. At that time, the Monthly was printed in KL.
Suddenly the printer informed us that he wasn’t going to print the Monthly any more. According to him, he took the entire artwork to the Special Branch to get clearance. It appeared that they told him, “If you want to print, go ahead. If you get into trouble, it is up to you”. The printer got the message. It was time to stop dealing with Aliran. This was just before the 1995 general election.
We told him that it was not fair to leave us in the lurch at the last moment. We assured him that we would remove the 16 pages on Al Arqam and substitute other articles. We pleaded with him to print this particular issue so that this could give us some time to scout around for another printer. Finally, he agreed.
That’s how Rahim Thamby Chik hit the cover of this issue. Incidentally, we had reproduced an article from Asiaweek focusing on the flamboyant Chief Minister of Malacca in the previous issue of the Monthly. Titled “Riches, Romance and Rahim, the article touched on the disturbing allegations hounding the Chief Minister, including allegations of womanising and accumulating excessive wealth.
The Chief Minister’s press secretary, Khairuddin Hassan, promptly wrote to us, dismissing the accusations as baseless. In all fairness, we decided that he should be entitled to defend himself. The right of reply was honoured.
Meanwhile, after a long search we found a printer in Penang to replace the one in KL who had withdrawn. The cover story “Time to Speak Out” was the issue produced immediately after the Rahim issue.
In 1994, money politics became a big issue. It was so rampant that amendments were introduced to the Umno Baru Constitution to allow for disciplinary action to be taken against members who indulged in vote-buying during party elections. Mahathir speaking about the amendments made it sound as if he had found a cure to get rid of this disease at long last!
Some things never change
But money politics has been with us for a long time. For some reason, money politics during elections seems okay. Perhaps it is because when the voters are bribed in order to remain as a ruling party, it seems it is not corruption.
But when delegates are bribed to dislodge others from their position, then it becomes haram. In this party situation, one’s chances of being elected are threatened, and therefore a lot of noise is made about money politics. But all that noise about money politics is really to safeguard selfish interests and nothing more.
Rules, of course, do not get rid of corruption. Rules and regulations by themselves are of no effect in the absence of moral outrage against money politics. Amending the Umno Baru Constitution or legislating new laws will not curb money politics. There must be a revulsion for it. It must be seen and perceived as something morally wrong and unethical.
There must be the political will to act. Often, what we get is mere lip service
Exposing money politics
Corruption is part and parcel of Malaysian politics. We further pursued this topic in another cover story, “Gravy Train of Share Allocations.” You will be rightly shocked if you were to read it now. If you thought that awarding 16,000 APs to a single person is mind-boggling and unjustified, you were right.
We agreed entirely with Mahathir when he asked why such a huge number of APs was given to two persons and those two persons passed them to others and collected payment without a sweat. We have no idea how much they made and how little income tax they paid.
But did Mahathir raise the same questions when other shocking figures were released when he was the prime minister? What were these figures and who were the recipients?
The recipients reported included Mahathir’s son, Anwar’s brother, Hamid Omar’s son, Rafidah’s son-in-law and Megad Junid’s son and the staggering number of shares each received.
We raised the following questions with regard to these allocations: why were shares allocated to well-off relatives of leaders of government? If the whole scheme was introduced to help under-privileged bumiputras, why had it turned out that it only benefited the rich bumiputeras more? There was no reason why rich bumiputeras should become richer from schemes meant to help the poor.
Eleven years later, we were still asking the same questions. You must read Aliran Monthly – ‘’Whose Nation? Whose Agenda?’ – to realise the rot that has entrenched itself.
We have widely covered the Hindraf rally, the Bersih march and all the various protest rallies. We have written about the “Half-past Six Government of Badawi’s, as labelled by Mahathir and ridiculed. We gave coverage to Mahathir’s Crooked Bridge. Our write up on Karpal Singh was exhaustive and well received by the public. We devoted several issues to health care. We have highlighted the marginalised communities and the abuse of the migrant workers.
Obstacles and moving forward
While doing all this, along the way we encountered numerous obstacles. We had problems finding printing firms to take on our job even though we were reputed to be good paymasters. Printers were under intimidation and after some time refused to print for us. This happened at least twice just before the general elections!
There was an occasion within a period of less than two years, between February 1999 and September 2000, Aliran Monthly was printed by no less than eight printers!
We have had other problems as well. Since the sales of the Monthly was good, some unknown person/s were supplying copies of the Monthly without our knowledge. There was an occasion when the returns of unsold magazines were more than what we had supplied to the distributors!
The advent of the internet affected our print magazine badly. People want fast news, and we were not news-breakers and therefore many turned to the internet for up-to-date reporting. Our analyses and indepth reporting tend to be longer than regular news items, and some readers turned away from the Monthly because they didn’t have time for such longer pieces.
The time has come now to phase out the printed version of Aliran Monthly. With falling sales and dwindling income, it is painful but inevitable for the Monthly to bid farewell. The older generation of our Aliran Monthly readers who are not computer savvy will find this turn of events disturbing – though many of them have wished us well with our digitisation project. Many of them have been with us from the beginning. We apologise to them.
Finally, let me thank all of you from a grateful heart that cherishes your support and association with Aliran.
P Ramakrishnan served as Aliran Monthly editor for over a quarter of a century!