Managing Director of RED Communications
20 years ago, Lina Tan had an epiphany. A successful producer at the time, with many commercials to her name, she was in the midst of shooting an ad for a detergent. While trying to get a shirt as white as possible for the shoot, she questioned whether this was what she wanted her career to be. It wasn’t. She walked away from it and went on to form RED Communications, a production house that would focus on issues to do with young women.
“When I started RED Communications, one of the things that I looked at was that there were really no shows for myself. I was looking for content that I wanted to watch and I hardly saw it.”
It was during that time that Tan conceptualised a women’s programme that was aimed at empowering young women on a variety of issues. She pitched it to Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir and 3R – Respect, Relax, Respond was born, RED Communications most memorable productions.
“It was a pivotal time because 3R ran for 15 years,” she states, explaining that she continues to own the brand. “It was crucial because as a producer back then, nobody owned their own brand. Everyone said it was impossible to own your IP (intellectual property).”
With her background in advertising, Tan pitched the programme to advertisers, successfully convincing them to form partnerships with the brand. At the time, she asserts, there was nothing for young women. The issues for women were focused on fashion, beauty but there were no discussion on harassment, rape.
It was something that she felt young women would be interested in. Hence, the selection of the hosts—Low Ngai Yuen, Azah Azmin Yusof and Rafidah Abdullah – “real young women that other young women could relate to.” But it was there that she met her first hurdle as advertisers asked for more stereotypically “prettier” hosts.
“A host with glasses (Rafidah) at the time was unheard of.”
But Tan was adamant that she didn’t want the typical ‘muka seri’ and ‘wajah ayu’ kind of stories that most local women’s programmes dealt with. She was also convinced she didn’t want the word ‘wanita’ in the title. Instead, she believed that Malaysians were ready to take on bigger issues. And she was right. 3R achieved tremendous success, with its hosts emerging as role models for many a young girl.
“At the time, TV was the only medium and we used to get 10,000-20,000 emails and letters,” she exclaims. “And that’s how we knew we were connecting to the audience.”
Some of these were pleas for help, detailing accounts of sexual abuse. The team then sought help from organisations like AWAM and WAO on how to intervene in such cases. Tan is also involved in HIV/AIDS and women’s NGO work.
“We took a strong stand,” she asserts. “Rape is rape. It is not the girl’s fault. People recognise the stance we were taking and it made it easier for young people to connect with us.”