Bernama: From The Times That Have Gone To That To Come

By Sarimah Othman

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- This writer's career in journalism begun in 1982 at Pertubuhan Berita Nasional Malaysia, or as many know it, Bernama.

It was her first job and the 'school' she went to to learn the basics of journalism. At 19, it was also where she first learned to live away from her parents.

Bernama was where she was introduced to people of different quirks and personalities. Some of them became the source of her laughter and tears. Some caused her to feel fear, confusion and stress. They were quite a handful for her back then, as she had only begun to step into adulthood.

It was also through Bernama that she got to meet people from all strata of society, from those who live in squatter homes to those who reside in palaces; from those at roadside stalls to those running international hotel chains; from those who attended kindergartens to those in universities.


This writer has slept by the sidewalk to get a story. Once, while covering a crime in progress, the criminal ended up choosing a hiding place right beside her.

The courts, morgues, prisons and police headquarters were like her second home back then, as she spent so much time there in the quest of getting a story. Such were the experiences that helped her improve her news gathering and writing skills.

She remembers having to prepare as much small change as possible before going out on assignment. This was because the only way to contact the office when outside was by coin-operated public phones. She would make sure to inform the editors if her assignment stretched longer than it should to avoid getting rebuked upon return to the office.


If one were to measure this writer's work commitment by her loyalty towards the first company she worked at, she would probably score poorly. However, she could safely say that she gave her level best when it came to her work.

She left Bernama after 13 years of service to seek further knowledge in journalism, but stepped out with the intention to return.

The knowledge gained while in Bernama helped her with new employment, giving substantial weight to her credentials. Many, particularly those in the private sector, raved about the quality of Bernama "graduates" that had sought employment at their respective companies.

She used to be upset, angry and frustrated when recounting how her former editors would yell at and berate her for her mistakes. But today, she was able to see past their temper and learned the value of the precious lessons they taught her instead.

Several names will be forever etched in her heart. Among them are Ahmat Wahab, Musa Scully, Datuk Rejal Arbee and S. Sivaselvam. This writer was fearful of them back then, but today feel indebted instead. There were also several more who had been good teachers but have passed away. She would be lying if she said that she was fond of all of them, as some of them irked her to no end.

"Have you read the newspaper?"

"What's today's headlines?"

"Where is the PM (prime minister) right now?"

"You did this all wrong. Get it right and do it again."

"What do you think you are writing for, a school magazine?"

"How many hours do you need to complete a story?"

Those were the milder lines thrown at cadet reporters every day back then. There were times when they were asked to rewrite a piece again and again on the typewriter. Sometimes the painstaking process was accompanied by a good serving of tongue lashing by the editors.

Sometimes, though, the editors would soften the blow by telling them that the way they wrote was not wrong, but there were other better angles that they had neglected to see or pursue.

No matter how upset they felt, none of them ever spoke out or spoke back. They worked according to instruction and schedule. They showed up whenever they were asked to and never made excuses, be it for night shifts, weekends, public holidays and even festive seasons.

They never skived off work either. In fact, they spent more time at work than at home. They would not leave until their work was done and checked by the editors.


After decades of journeying through the vast world of journalism, this writer finally returned to Bernama.

That moment when she was accepted back into Bernama was a joyous and uplifting one. Although she had to leave another job to accept the offer, she felt neither regret nor fear.

A lot has changed since this writer left. When she first started out in Bernama, it was operating from a four-storey building and everyone knew each other. Today, Bernama has hundreds of staff and operates from a 15-storey building called Wisma Bernama.

When she returned, only a few were familiar faces. The rest were just a large group of strangers to her. The agency now has multiple bureaus in other states and offices overseas.

Despite the 35 years she spent in journalism, every day is a new experience to her. It is a field where every single day was an opportunity to learn something new. It never feels tired or old, despite the changes that have taken over the industry. Bernama, too, seemed to have stood the test of time, and she has no doubt that it will continue to do so.