TRIBUTE I have always enjoyed and admired the stories that Claudia Theophilus wrote when she was a journalist with The Sun and Malaysiakini. Never did I expect Claudia herself to hit the headlines with her own death last Saturday in Lebanon.
Her death and the way she died was tragic. My heartfelt condolences to her family. I know Claudia has been a great daughter in keeping the family intact after her brother's accident.
I know that her passing is very hard for her family to accept. I wish them strength during these hard times as they await her to arrive home for the last time.
Claudia was a great journalist and passionate one. When she writes a story, she puts lots of energy and heart in it, something which I see is missing in most journalists today.
In earlier days, The Sun used to have a special team under Steven Gan, which wrote on many issues of public interest. Claudia was part of the The Sun team.
For me, those were the best feature articles published by The Sun. Some members of this team later found their way to Malaysiakini which, also in its early days, highlighted lots of grassroots public interest cases. Claudia fitted very well in this.
I have worked with Claudia on many issues, such as on eviction of plantation workers, urban settlers and as well as the since-aborted mega-incinerator in Broga, Selangor.
Claudia had an interest in the poor, the victims and the downtrodden. She always took the extra step in asking “How can we help these people?”
I remember during the eviction of plantation workers from Bukit Jelutong in Selangor. The workers’ houses were demolished four times and they were losing every court case that came their way.
I told Claudia then that we needed someone to talk to Musa Hitam (right), then chairperson of Guthrie Bhd, just to get us to the negotiation table.
Claudia then managed to get a quote from Musa during the Umno general assembly and that story in Malaysiakini paved the way for negotiations with Guthrie and eventually settlement for the workers.
Besides being a passionate journalist, Claudia was also a unionist with the National Union of Journalists. She organised pickets when there was a fallout with the management of The Sun over trade and professional issues in late 2001.
I remembered her fighting hard for her fellow journalists, as well as on her own behalf when she was summarily dismissed for her part in the union activities and took The Sun to court. She used to complain that people are not brave enough to take on their bosses.
Whenever Claudia was involved in any struggle or when she starts writing, she puts in lots of effort. She was very pro-active and worked hard with activists like me to ensure that people get some form of justice.
Most of Claudia’s stories had an element of human interest and feeling in it. They were not dry stuff. Claudia used to get very upset whenever her stories were spiked by her editors.
She used to get very affected by this, and complained whenever her stories did not appear as she wished. But like most good journalists, she found a space and moved on.
Benchmark for journalists
The last I spoke to Claudia was during Christmas. Whenver she returned home from Doha, Qatar, where she was based with Al-Jazeera, she would call to say hello.
She would say it was difficult to meet up because of the situation of her family, but kept saying “we should meet up one of these days”. She wanted to be updated on the many cases of plantation workers and urban settlers with which she she had been involved.
In her last conversation, she asked about Broga, especially about Alice Lee - who coordinated the anti-incinerator campaign - and about her well-being. Claudia told me that Alice (left) is a good activist and that we must continue to support her as she has lots of potential.
That is Claudia, always concerned with the issues and the people she has written about.
I hope The Sun and Malaysiakini will reproduce some of the public interest stories she has written. These stories are worth a second read.
We shall miss her and her writings. Claudia has indeed set a high benchmark for other journalists to follow.
S ARUTCHELVAN is secretary-general of Parti Sosialis Malaysia.
Some stories by Claudia