By John Moyle
Newsreaders are not oracles, for the latter tell us what is to be, while the former report our past and present in order that we may inform our future.
The most successful newsreaders are the ones who not only impart the day’s events, but entertain us while building a bond of trust.
Few have met this brief better than Lee Lin Chin, who presented the weekend edition of the SBS World News from 1992 until her recent resignation.
Chin has always chosen integrity over celebrity and, like her uncompromising taste in clothing, she managed the end of her news reading career on her own terms and without regret.
“I decided not to accept a new contract about two months before the end of the existing one,” she said.
While many of her friends were shocked at her decision she herself was shocked at the lack of response by SBS management.
“The Chairman only wrote to me because I wrote to him,” Chin said.
“I don’t know if he only found out because of my email or decided it wasn’t his place to get involved.
That a network could lose one its public faces without internal comment or acknowledgment is shocking enough, but Chin saw this as just the end of a long period of disconsolation with the direction in which the public broadcaster was heading.
“It’s easy to point to the change in management culture as beginning when advertising was permitted by the government,” Chin said.
“We produced quality and adventurous output because we weren’t constrained by advertisers and we were primarily concerned with observing the charter and being an alternative to the mainstream.”
Disgruntled with management she may be, but Chin wants to be clear there are also a lot of fond memories.
“There was a strong camaraderie that existed in the place all the way until quite recently.”
“Just because I am leaving it doesn’t mean that I am negating my entire experience there,” Chin said.
“I wasn’t attracted to SBS because I was at the time considered a member of an ethnic minority, but I liked SBS as a network that seemed to be doing things that weren’t seen on other networks.”
“It’s not as if everybody working there went around saying they were believers in multiculturalism, we just liked the place, we believed in what we were doing and were proud to be a part of it.”
“SBS was admirable in its uncompromising way it went about its business and I don’t quite know what happened in that it went from that to what we know today.”
Ironically it was SBS’s own youth news outlet The Feed that gave Chin a glimpse of her potential away from reading the news, when the producers cast her in a series of comedic roles.
“They thought they would try me out in a comedy segment and between the two people who wrote and directed it and myself it took off,” Chin said.
“I seem to have discovered an audience online and personally I discovered something I never considered that I could do.”
During her thirty years reading the news Chin has been affected by many stories, including the first Gulf War when the entire newsroom stayed behind all night for updates, but she singles one event out as being the most compelling story of her career.
“Naturally 9/11 was the most powerful news story and I remember saying to a floor manager friend ‘The world has just changed’.”
Besides her distinct news reading style Chin became known for her adventurous choice of wardrobe which draws heavily from a select few Japanese designers, and especially Jun Takahashi, Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo.
“Dressing up was something I brought from my life into the newsroom, and it comes from my childhood.
“My mother had seven children and she herself was always well dressed and she did the same with her kids, and I took after my mother.”
Besides collecting an internationally admired wardrobe, Chin’s other passion is reading.
Writers from the American South strike a particular chord, including authors Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.
“Since the day that I discovered Faulkner until today, I go back to every one of his books every couple of years and find new things,” Chin said.
“He’s hard, and that is why he’s a commitment, he makes no concessions in his style.”
Uncompromising even in the choice of her perspex Commes de Garcon outfit for her final news broadcast, Lee Lin Chin now informs her own future as she embarks on a series of productions under her control.
“I have formed a small production company with two others and we are interested in making material for television and online, although some of these may not be on television as we know it,” Chin said.
“One of my happiest memories of SBS is that I have made some really good friends and all of them are going to be lifelong friends,” Lee Lin Chin said.