Bernama Rekindles Fond Memories For Mervin Nambiar

By Nurul Halawati Mohamad Azhari

The Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) will be celebrating its golden anniversary on May 20 and to mark the occasion, it will release a series of articles on its early days and achievements. This article is on one of Bernama´s pioneering journalist, Mervin Nambiar.

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- He cut his teeth as a newsman at the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama), worked there for 15 years before venturing out to broaden his horizons at an international media concern.

When Mervin Nambiar, 69, retired from Agence France-Presse (AFP) -- an international news agency headquartered in Paris, France -- in December last year, he was director of sales and marketing at its Asia-Pacific region office in Hong Kong.

Over the years, Kuala Lumpur born Nambiar had built a reputable career for himself in the media industry but it was his stint in Bernama (1969 to 1984) that he has fond memories of as that was where he gained a foothold in the world of journalism.

"I still remember seeing this ad (placed by Bernama) calling for cadet journalists. I applied for it, sat for the test and got through it. I still remember the test... it was quite a comprehensive one, testing us on our language and general knowledge.

"Then, a few weeks later I found myself working in Bernama," he said.

Only 20 then and fresh out of St John's Institution -- a premier school in Kuala Lumpur then -- and eager to try his hand at journalism, Nambiar was appointed a cadet reporter. He was confirmed in his post within a year (1970), instead of the usual two to three years it took to be confirmed in the government service.

In 1973, his career got a boost after he was promoted to deputy news editor at Bernama's economic news section.


The early years, recalled Nambiar, were challenging times for Bernama, which started operating on May 20, 1968, after being set up a year earlier under an Act of Parliament.

It was not as challenging for the individual reporters and editors as it had been for the organisation as a whole, as the news agency had to justify its establishment and prove that it was relevant to the needs of the nation.

"There were many sceptics at that time and one of the questions they asked was, 'Does Malaysia really need a national news agency'," Nambiar recounted.

Bernama being a new entrant in the local media scene, the established media groups were, apparently, concerned about its impact on their operations.

"They felt that the news agency would inadvertently end up assisting the smaller newspapers (by supplying them with the news they needed). Hence, the bigger newspaper groups didn't like the idea because Bernama would be helping the competition in a way.

"Then, of course, there were the other sceptics who thought it (Bernama) was the government's way to control the free flow of information."

Nambiar said like other independent countries which had their own news agencies, it was only fair that Malaysia had one as well in order to convey an accurate picture of the nation's affairs to the rest of the world.

Paying tribute to Bernama's editorial corps who held the fort in the early years of its establishment, he said their credibility and capabilities helped to turn the organisation into the respectable news agency that it is today.


Whilst working for Bernama, Nambiar had covered various national events involving Malaysia's first four Prime Ministers -- Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad -- and many of them remained in his memory.

When he was assigned as Bernama correspondent in Bangkok, Thailand in 1981, in addition to writing and transmitting economic news via the teleprinter, Nambiar was also involved in covering the conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia that led to a full-scale invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam and saw the fall of Phnom Penh.

"During that period in Bangkok, my office also served as my bedroom," he said, with a chuckle. His "small office" was situated across the street where Reuters had its office.

Whenever he had news stories to transmit to the Bernama headquarters, he would rush across the road to the Reuters office to use its teleprinter. If he was lucky, he would be the first person there to use the machine; otherwise he would wait patiently for his turn to use it.

"That was how it was like each time I wanted to send my stories to KL. Sometimes, I would call the (Bernama) headquarters directly (to dictate my story)," he said, sharing some of his experiences in Bangkok.


In 1976, Nambiar was also given the opportunity by Bernama to attend a three-month journalism course at the AFP headquarters in Paris. He was the first Bernama journalist to participate in the programme, which was fully funded by the French government.

At AFP, he was placed at the English desk and after completing the course, he served a two-month internship at the international news agency's London office.

Nambiar said the training programme was aimed at introducing AFP to Malaysia and several other Asian countries. The programme lasted 10 years and during that period, seven Bernama journalists participated in it.

Then, in 1984 came the turning point in Nambiar's career when he left Bernama to join AFP in its Kuala Lumpur office. He served as AFP bureau chief in Singapore before being promoted as head of the Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei bureaus in 1992.

Three years later, in 1995, he was appointed as AFP sales manager for the Asia-Pacific region.

"From writing news, I went to selling news," he said, grinning, and then confessed, "In fact, it was harder to sell news than to write them."

The new position took Nambiar to AFP's Hong Kong office, where he remained for 22 years before retiring as director of sales and marketing last December.

For his contributions to the media industry, Nambiar was conferred the French government's highest award, Legion D'Honeur, in 2013.


Although it has been years since Nambiar had written news features or articles, journalism remains embedded in his soul. And, he is also confident that the print media is here to stay, despite the proliferation of digital news providers.

"I think claims that (the traditional) newspapers will disappear altogether are overrated. News will remain news, more so because there's (a lot of) fake news in the world of social media.

"The world still relies on newspapers, the media and news agencies," he observed.

Asked if he had any advice to dish out to young journalists, Nambiar said they should have integrity and be fair in their news coverage and reporting.

"To me, there is no difference between journalists in the 1960s and journalists in the present era. A reporter still has to do some homework before making any coverage and has to be honest and fair when writing," he said.

Acknowledging Bernama's training programme for its cadet journalists, Nambiar said it was based on the journalism training programe used in London and was also used by many newspapers and news agencies.

"Under the programme, the cadets take turns to serve at the various sections (in the editorial department). After two years, only the best will remain," he added.