Oct 9, 2013
When I was a reporter in the late 70s, the home minister known to lecture journalists at press conferences on what to write was ‘King Ghaz’. But Muhammad Ghazali Shafie had our respect. He had style and substance.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has none.
The home minister’s verbal abuse of a Malaysiakini reporter however, had a plus. It provided a teaching aid to show students that the irrational antics of political morons during press conferences is fodder for great stories.
I commend the reporter for his tenacity despite the minister’s mindless heckling,and maligning of Malaysiakini for ‘spinning’ his words. ‘Spinning’ actually means to twist a report to one’s advantage, which readers know applies well to the mainstream media’s slanted coverageof the 13th general election while demonising the opposition.
Which reminded me of a media ethics workshop I conducted where a Malaysian journalist related how she was sent to cover a pre-matriculation preparatory workshop in an opposition-governed state.
“My editor said the government had been in a pretty bad light lately,” she said. “The ‘bigger’ boss was making noise. We had to report the ‘good things’ the government was doing for the community.”
Now, that’s spinning. What the alternative news sites do – and doing rather well – is contrary to ‘spinning’. They’re reporting what the mainstream media are not.
Ministers who act like feudal lords, manhandle reporters and evade questions by acting stupid should be condemned in the harshest words. The maturity of our parliamentary democracy is reflected in the conduct and intelligence of our MPs. The professionalism of our media is reflected in the manner that journalists represent the people, hone in to the issues, clarify the contexts and persist in getting a truthful answer from politicians, the people’s servants.
Missing police firearms and assets unaccounted for begs so many questions raised by readers in social media sites, which Zahid had blatantly brushed off. Sadly, the other journalists, in muted giggles, failed to join ranks with the Malaysiakini reporter. They failed to stand up for their rights to ask the hard questions, and defend their profession. They should be ashamed of themselves.
The fact that Zahid was completely oblivious that his antics were being recorded, that it would find its way to YouTube, confirms his vile imbecility, total incompetence and scant regard for journalists.
Rakyat won’t care about what they don’t know
Online journalism technologyshould embolden Malaysian journalists to push the boundaries of critical reportage. The rakyat rely on you to represent their concerns, to sieve the issues, to examine the implications of policies, to confront government ministers and to unravel the truth. The rakyat won’t care about what they don’t know. Hence, ‘citizen journalists’ and bloggers are attempting to fill the information gaps left open by the servile mainstream media.
To young reporters working their way up the career ladder, I say do not be disheartened when your editor changes your story to toe the government line. Let the censor not be you. Persist and ask the hard questions your readers would ask. Write the story as you see fit. You decide the angle. You choose your sources. Just be fair, accurate and truthful. If your editors change and ‘spin’ your story, let not your byline be used. At least your integrity’s intact.
I remember an interview I did with an investigative journalist from the Philippines, Glenda Gloria, of Newsbreak Magazine in 2006 (extracted from my book, Best Practices of Journalism in Asia, pp.81-96 and currently managing editor of Rappler.com, a social media news network. Here’s something to ponder on what it means to be a journalist with conviction:
Eric Loo: From 1996-2005, the Committee to Protect Journalists notes that 26 journalists have been killed, making the Philippines the third deadliest country for journalists today, after Iraq and Colombia. In your investigation into public corruption in high places, to what extent are you exposing yourself to intimidation or attacks? How do you take on this ‘occupational hazard’?
Glenda Gloria: On Aug 2 last year (2005), my mother and sister (who live in our family home; I live nearby) received a funeral wreath that the delivery man said was meant for me. The funeral wreath carried a ribbon that said, ‘Condolence from your loving friends’. It was my first death threat as a journalist.
This happened after I wrote a story about the military’s alleged involvement in the alleged wiretapping of President Arroyo and an election official in the 2004 presidential elections. It also came as I was supervising future stories related to election cheating. I realised then that what we’ve done and intend to do in Newsbreak have really angered some people. I felt vulnerable, and I started to worry for my family.
I wished that it was I, not my mother and sister, who received the wreath. That they were the ones who got it made it much more difficult to deal with. It does come with the territory. But that’s easier said than done.
When you get a threat like that, you get scared. You ask questions: am I overdoing it? Is this worth it? Is this the kind of media environment I deserve? But after a while, you just get over it. You take the necessary precautions, you lie low for some weeks, then you go back to work again.
Journalism is the only work I know. I love my work and it loves me, too. It has given me tremendous blessings and opportunities not just for personal growth,but for serving my community in my own little ways. I don’t know of a job better than this. So if what comes with it are these threats, I would have to live with them.
What traits do you think one should inculcate to become an ‘award winning’ journalist, as you have?
First, that you should never be conscious of getting an award for a story. You do a story, you expose wrongdoing because it’s worth doing and not because you’re going to get praised for it.
Second, you have to have a healthy dose of scepticism on one hand, and optimism on the other. Corrupt practices get exposed largely because there are good citizens willing to expose it. Even as you stumble upon wrongdoing, never forget the inherent goodness of people in government and society in general.
Third, you have to be willing to work hard and take risks. Fourth, you have to have a healthy dose of humility to make you say at some point – I got it wrong, I need to verify this, I don’t know all.
ERIC LOO left Malaysia for Australia in 1986 to work as a journalist. He currently lectures at University of Wollongong, Australia, and serves on the advisory committee of UPI Next, a journalism education and training platform run by United Press International. He edits a refereed journal Asia Pacific Media Educator and conducts journalism training workshops in Asia. Email: [email protected]