Ismail Kassim, veteran journalist known for regional political coverage, dies of cancer at 76

Veteran journalist Ismail Kassim was known for his reporting on the political scene in Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the author of several books.
Veteran journalist Ismail Kassim was known for his reporting on the political scene in Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the author of several books.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Veteran journalist Ismail Kassim, who was the former general secretary of the Singapore National Union of Journalists and vice-president of the Confederation of Asean Journalists, has died of cancer. The bachelor was 76.

Mr Ismail, known for his reporting on the political scene in Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the author of several books, died on Saturday (May 25) at Changi General Hospital.

Mr Ismail had worked initially as a teacher in the early 1960s, but went on to further his studies at the National University of Singapore, eventually getting a master's in Social Sciences (Political Science).

He entered journalism in his 30s where he started off as a feature writer for the New Nation daily in 1972. He eventually transferred to The Straits Times in 1982.

The former editor-in-chief of the then-English and Malay Newspapers Division of Singapore Press Holdings, Mr Cheong Yip Seng, remembers Mr Ismail as a “pioneer” who had a great interest in Malaysia and Indonesia. 

"He was given a free hand, and he travelled to Malaysia frequently. He cultivated contacts in high political circles in Kuala Lumpur. He gave us insights not found in the work of the news agencies on which we heavily depended on," said Mr Cheong, also the former editor of ST.

He added: "Singapore journalism owes much to Ismail."

Retired ST and Berita Harian correspondent Salim Osman said that he was saddened by Mr Ismail's death.

Mr Salim, 67, said he regularly met Mr Ismail on a weekly basis, and had considered him to be his mentor.

"When we were covering politics in Malaysia and Indonesia together, he let me follow him around and taught me what were the issues to watch out for and how to write about them," said Mr Salim.

"The editors trusted and allowed him to go wherever he wanted, and he would always deliver good stories."

Mr Salim said that beyond his reporting prowess, Mr Ismail would also be remembered for being a good and kind person who often checked in on colleagues and made the time to talk to them.

"He was very humble and friendly and could always find the time to chitchat. I am really going to miss him," he said.