In loving memory of John McBeth
|May 31 1944 – December 7 2023
|Of all the foreign correspondents who have worked in southeast Asia over the past six decades, none surpassed John McBeth in dedication to his craft and the esteem and friendship of his colleagues.
|As a young and adventurous journalist from Taranaki, he left the Auckland Star en route to London. He never got there. Stopping off by chance in Indonesia he found a new Asian home and field for his talents.
|Working in Bangkok for a variety of publications and agencies, he was an early recruit to Asiaweek, then in 1979 joined the Far Eastern Economic Review where he was to remain until its 2004 closure. He was in a Bangkok bureau with such talents as Rodney Tasker and Paisal Sricharatchnya and close friend of Neil Davis, the noted war cameraman killed in an abortive Thai coup. Eased out of his Bangkok comfort zone to Seoul, he distinguished himself covering the turmoil and political change of the late 80s and, with colleague Nayan Chanda, scooping the world on the North Korean nuclear programme.
|From there it was to Manila and a still much-quoted series on the nation’s regional warlords. He then had a medical issue which resulted in the amputation of one leg. This trauma would have killed the spirits of most journalists, but with the never ending support of his wife Yuli Ismartono, the correspondent for Tempo he had met in Bangkok, he overcame the challenge. It is hard to overstate the importance of their bond.
|They moved to Jakarta where he again distinguished himself with coverage of the latter Suharto years and then turmoil which followed his downfall. After the Review’s closure he wrote a regular column on Indonesia for the Straits Times and contributed to other publications and in 2011 wrote an entertaining book accurately entitled “Reporter: Forty Years Covering Asia”.
|He had some strong opinions but never let them get in the way of accurate reporting delivered cleanly and on time.
|As a colleague, he was always good company. Good friends included not just his immediate workmates but correspondents at large, not least FCC immediate past president Keith Richburg.
|He seemed indestructible and was in fine form when I saw him just three months ago. But such is aging. Now we mourn with Yuli the passing of someone who has left us with so many good memories and a permanent record of good journalism.