MGG Pillai (1939 – 2006)

CIJ Malaysia | 28th April 2006

Veteran Journalist and Pioneer Online Activist Dies

Veteran Malaysian journalist MGG Pillai passed away in the University of Malaya Medical Centre at around 10.45 am today (Friday, April 28th) due to heart complications. He was admitted into the hospital last Tuesday after complaining of chest pains. He was 67.

Pillai is survived by a widow and two sons and his funeral will be held noon tomorrow at the Cheras Crematorium. Those wishing to pay their last respects can do so after 5.00 pm today at Pillai’s house in Brickfields.

Pillai, a Nieman Fellow in Journalism (NF ’77) from Harvard University, was a freelance correspondent for more than 30 years and had a colourful career. He started out in the 1960’s and served with Reuters during the Vietnam War. He later served as a journalist with the now defunct Singapore Herald but was declared persona-non-grata and expelled from the island republic in 1971.

He continued his service with the Malay Mail but was eventually “blacklisted” by the mainstream media for his sharp and critical commentaries on the deteriorating political situation in Malaysia. Pillai was one of the first adopters of the then new medium of the Internet as a platform to disseminate his writings and commentaries.

In 1995, he started an e-mail based politics discussion group known as Sangkancil which eventually became one of the more popular English language online forums of such nature when the political crisis that sparked the Reformasi movement was at it’s height between 1998 and 1999.

With the advent of new alternatives to the mainstream media like the online newspaper, Malaysiakini, and CIJ’s and RadiqRadio by the turn of the century, Pillai found a new platform for his writings and commentaries and eventually set up his own website at as a depository of his writings.

Pillai was also subject to a multi million ringgit libel lawsuit and was found liable in 1994. He made unsuccessful appeals to both the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court but took a rare application to the Federal Court in 2002 to review it’s ruling. His application was successful and created history as no review had ever been granted in the past.

Pillai leaves behind large shoes for current activists and supporters of media freedom and freedom of expression to fill in. Thank you, sir, for blazing the path and rest in peace.

This may be a bit late, but I would like to extend my condolences to MGG Pillai’s family on their loss.

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