Ian is an award-winning investigative journalist with a focus on social justice issues. The press freedom he experienced in the UK during his time as an international student at LJMU helped shape his decision to pursue impact-driven investigative work.
Ian shares his journey from a deprived village in Malaysia, recovering from the state of emergency that the nation remained in following the end of the Second World War and the struggle for independence from the British Empire to his career today in journalism.
“I was born in a place called Jinjang, a former "New Village", which were basically internment camps that were created during the final years of British rule in Malaya. Even decades after the Malayan Emergency that saw these villages being created, Jinjang was still considered one of the roughest parts of Kuala Lumpur. There was a lot of urban poverty and gang activity, and my family grew up with very little.
“Nevertheless, my parents did a lot of great work for the community, especially through the local church. They helped so many people, and there always seemed to be different people coming to our home for help and guidance.”
It was this lasting influence from seeing his family bringing communities together and giving back to others that perhaps led Ian along the career path he finds himself on today.
“I think seeing the impact of my parents' kindness and selflessness was why I eventually gravitated to social impact work, even as a journalist.”
So how did he decide to pursue journalism and to travel to the UK to complete his studies?
“I have to be honest — it was one of the most affordable and achievable courses for me at the time. I wanted to be a musician, but those courses were pretty expensive. The closest thing to creative work that didn't cost an arm and a leg was communications. And I did like to write — creatively — and the lady at the career fair said journalism would be the closest thing. It was terrible advice, because it was nowhere close to the kind of writing I wanted to do, but I'm glad I took it anyway.”
Ian completed an advanced diploma in journalism at Tunku Abdul Rahman University of Management and Technology and was able to gain his degree through a partnership programme with LJMU, one of many international collaborations that the university has around the globe, and an affordable option for Ian.
“It was the only twinning programme my family could afford! Being the youngest in my family, my parents could afford to pay that bit more to get me to the UK (even if it was just for the summer). I was the first in my family to study abroad.”
Studying abroad in the UK gave Ian an insight into the different freedoms that journalists had in other countries, and he became empowered to use his knowledge and skills to make positive change.
“The main thing that stayed with me was the amount of freedom of expression we had in the UK. It was a stark contrast to what we had in Malaysia, and it had such a profound impact on different layers of society, from the kind of work we were doing in university, to the kind of policy debates we were seeing on TV.”
– Ian Yee
Returning to Malaysia after his studies in Liverpool, Ian got a job as a journalist at The Star, the largest English daily newspaper in Malaysia. Eventually he started an investigative documentary team there called R.AGE, leading undercover investigations to expose crime and social injustice, working with policymakers and law enforcement to drive real-world change.
Through this work, Ian and his team managed to push through high-level policy reforms, disrupt organised crime operations, and even contribute to the arrest of syndicate leaders; leading to nearly 40 major awards in six years, and two Peabody Award nominations.
His work around this time also saw him selected as an Obama Leader in 2019, during which time he met former US President Barack Obama and Mrs Michelle Obama. He has also been selected for the UK government's International Leaders Programme, the Acumen Fellowship, and the Bertha Fellowship; and he currently holds advisory positions with the international Environmental Reporting Collective and Pulitzer Center Rainforest Journalism Fund.
“I was very fortunate to have worked with a very talented and extremely committed young team at R.AGE. None of our success would have been possible without their courage and dedication to telling stories that matter, and they had such a huge impact on so many communities.”
Ian and his team eventually left The Star to set up their own independent investigative outfit called The Fourth. They even run an academy to train young journalists alongside their continued investigative work.
“I know there are many young Malaysians out there who are afraid to go into journalism, and I can totally understand why. But if we do not defend the role of media as the Fourth Estate, as a force that holds people in power accountable, then nothing will ever change, and we'll just always be afraid. So be brave. Berani kerana benar.”