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In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day today, fledgling independent media activist group, Kami, honoured former Utusan Melayu editor-in-chief Said Zahari as the first recipient of their Press Freedom Personality Award.

The award was presented by Hishamuddin Yahaya, managing director of Harakah , PAS' official organ, at a dinner-cum-forum last night organised by Kami and Harakah .

Harakah journalist Shukor Harun introduced Said, 73, as a journalist who persevered in his struggle for press freedom despite enduring extreme hardship.

"Even though he was in jail in Changi (Singapore) for 16 years and in exile for a year at Pulau Ubin, the prison bars and the silence of the island did not weaken his spirit to struggle for press freedom and uphold justice even to this day," said Shukor.

Tribute to wife

In the 1961 strike by Utusan Melayu journalists and workers, Said, as chief editor, resisted all attempts by Umno to take over the then leading Malay newspaper and control it.

That incident was the only uprising by local journalists ever recorded in national history. It was the only time the nation witnessed journalists and workers of the press standing together to uphold press freedom.

In his acknowledgment speech, the freelance writer whose recently-released political memoir Meniti Lautan Gelora is the talk of the fraternity, said the sacrifices he had made in his struggle for press freedom were nothing compared with the hardship his wife, Salamah Abdul Wahab, had to endure while he was in prison.

"While I was in jail, all I thought was how I would continue my struggle upon my release.

"But my wife had to go through so much to feed and raise my children who were still very small then. The youngest then was only born three months after I was detained. I will share this award today with my wife, for she has played a big part in the struggle, even though she was not a journalist," said Said.

Press restrictions

Said also launched a 'Press Freedom in Malaysia' logo depicting a bird with one wing shaped like a quill, representing press freedom.

Entitled 'Press Freedom in Malaysia', last night's forum saw the participation of Parti Rakyat Malaysia's Suara editor Rustam Sani, Sin Chew Jit Poh 's senior writer James Wong Wing On and Kami spokesperson Ahmad Lutfi Othman. The panel was chaired by lecturer and freelance writer Abdul Aziz Bari.

The forum discussed pressing issues in the profession including the present dismal state of the country's mainstream media and the need for restrictions on the press to be lifted.