Sycophantic Editors Ruin Trust

by M. Bakri Musa

The result of the recent Permatang Pauh by-election was a surprise only to those who depended on the mainstream media and the government’s massive propaganda machinery for their source of news and information.

A measure of how far detached from reality those who sit in the editorial suites of our mainstream papers can be gauged by the pre-election editorial of The New Straits Times where its Editor-in-Chief Syed Nadzri boldly predicted that Anwar would be defeated. Obviously Syed Nadzri was beginning to believe his own spin.

In coming to such a wildly off-the-mark conclusion, Syed Nadzri is either a lousy observer of the public mood or he is more concerned with sucking up to his political superiors. In either case, he does not deserve to be the custodian of such a valuable and essential institution of modern society.

To me Syed Nadzri is both. That he is a poor judge of the public mood can be seen by the ever declining circulation and influence of his paper. Syed Nadzri is only the latest in a long series of those who, through their lack of professional integrity and journalistic skills, have destroyed this once-valued brand name. As one naughty wag put it, that paper should now be more correctly called, The New S**t Times.

It pains me to note (what is obvious to all) that since the paper was acquired by UMNO, nearly all its senior editors and journalists are Malays. I refuse to believe that a Just Allah had not bequeathed upon the Malay race our fair share of talent. I also refuse to believe that past luminaries like the now-ailing Samad Ismail was an accidental fluke and not the trademark of our culture. He should be an inspiration for the present generation of journalists, a measure of what we are capable of producing.

Instead we have the likes of Syed Nadzri, individuals more adept at sucking up to their superiors. Syed Nadzri has obviously learned little from the fate and experiences of his many predecessors who were similarly afflicted. While such a trait may have facilitated their ascent to the top, once there it is no guarantee of career longevity.

Syed Nadzri should have learned, or somebody should have taught him, that while political winds and personalities may change, your professional duties and ideals do not. Yours is to ensure that the public be well informed, the prerequisite of a healthy, functioning democracy.

The slow but sure decline of The New Straits Times was interrupted only briefly when Abdullah Ahmad, a former Ambassador to the UN and a Mahathir appointee, took the helm. He survived but only briefly under Abdullah Badawi. At least Abdullah Ahmad left in a blaze of glory, having had the courage to speak his mind publicly.

As I look at its roster of past Editors-in-Chief, I am struck at how quickly they, with few exceptions, have descended into oblivion once deprived of their perch at the editor’s desk. Kadir Jasin has his widely-read blog where he gives the occasional pungent comments now that he is freed from the tethers of officialdom. Again remarkable because of the rarity, Abdullah Ahmad is one of the few editors whose writings have been respectable enough to appear in reputable foreign publications.

The New Generation of Pseudo Journalists

My observations apply equally to those who helm Bernama, RTM and TV Tiga, as well as the other mainstream papers like The Star, Berita Harian, and Utusan Melayu. What we have today is a generation of pseudo or pretend editors and journalists. Ever wonder why the public ignores them? They have betrayed the public’s trust in them.

It is instructive that Ahiruddin Atan, Noraini Samad and Kadir Jasin now reach more readers through their blogs than when they were with the mainstream papers! It would not be long before they would effectively overcome the blemish in their resume that was the time they spent with the mainstream media.

I would be irresponsible if I were to stop here, pointing out only the problems and not offering solutions.

One thing is clear. The present “leaders” in journalism are very much part of the problem. Having brought up and flourish under the present system, we cannot expect them to change, or be part of the solution. Getting rid of them would be a necessary first step to solving the problem.

Replace them with competent and established editors from abroad if need be, and tie their compensation to the success of their papers. There are many measures of this (circulation figures, advertising revenues) but an important one would be how often articles and commentaries in their paper are being picked up by other publications.

Additionally, I would have as a regular event an annual week-long continuing education series for our reporters, journalists and commentators where they would hear from the leading practitioners in their respective fields. I would invite established journalists from abroad in various fields (political reporting, economic analyses, and investigative journalism) to lecture and share their experiences.

I would include as part of the program a basic writing course as well as courses on effective interviewing. Even more basic, I would gather all the editors, and guided by a competent teacher of English grammar and stylist, craft a uniform editorial format on such things how to handle long names and honorifics, as well such simple things as standardized spelling. Is it Kota Baru or Kota Bharu?

While we are discussing the basics, I would have someone competent in mathematics to teach our reporters and journalists on the meaning and significance of numbers. Then we would not have such silly statements as, “The price of food increased 5 percent last month.” Is that 5 percent over the previous month or over the same month of the previous year. Percentage is a ratio; you must therefore state the reference point.

Then as a concrete commitment to ensuring the future quality of the profession, I would groom at least half a dozen young journalists every year for entry into the leading journalism schools in America. With the promise of future infusions of fresh, bright and well-trained talents, rest assured the quality of local journalism and media would be enhanced considerably.

Only through such careful preparations and nurturing would our future journalists be able to differentiate between news and propaganda, between ministerial speeches and important policy announcements. Our society would then be well served. Journalists owe their readers and the public honest professional reporting, not propaganda to serve the needs of their political masters. This is what separates a free democratic society from an authoritarian state.

  1. #1 by AsalUsuLMalaysiaHacked on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 6:08 am

    A great proposal there M. Bakri Musa,

    Talk abt transparency my foot! NST heh! i never catch a glimpse on them. Thx to internet, now i have wide angle and even 3D dimension views to make sure the flipflop from this goons can no longer works for meh lol!…

    BN purposely marginalise their cronies particularly the media in our country, so they can do as they wish, lying and abusing their authority in broad daylight!.

  2. #2 by homeblogger on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 6:27 am

    “It pains me to note (what is obvious to all) that since the paper was acquired by UMNO, nearly all its senior editors and journalists are Malays.”

    I did not know that. Occurs to me that your suggestions would not be possible given the quote above. Obviously the primary intention of NST isn’t about journalistic integrity but on racial considerations.

  3. #3 by digard on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 7:44 am

    Hi, Bakri Musa,

    “Then as a concrete commitment to ensuring the future quality of the profession, I would groom at least half a dozen young journalists every year for entry into the leading journalism schools in America.”

    We send 100.000 overseas yearly for tertiary education, to not much avail in general. Now you offer a cheap excuse to also send journalists on extended vacations? ;)

  4. #4 by ctc537 on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 8:04 am

    Yes, it’s truly sad to note that so many things is run along racial lines in Malaysia. NST just don’t want to learn from how some of the successful newspapers are run. By right, NST should be the most popular newspaper but today it trails far behind The Star in circulation and readership.
    If things remain as they are, how is it possible for mass media such as the press to rationalise the mindset of multi-racial Malaysians to what go wrong in the country and offer right solutions to them? Newspapers should feel the pulse of the nation and inform their readers of what is actually happening in Malaysia and in the wider world.

    When readers are not informed the truth, many of them might acquire a false sense of pride. But I wonder if our leaders do not adopt liberal policies and multi-racial approaches in every area of administration, how can we see changes in the country as a whole?

    So, it is fair to say that one should blame the people at the top first before we blame the psychophantic press.

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 8:20 am

    I used to be a NST fan. Today I don’t touch it anymore. Instead, I opt for Chinese newspapers, such as China Press and Nanyang Siang Pau, which gives more NEUTRAL reporting on political events.

  6. #6 by KennyGan on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 8:32 am

    The establishment can control the mainstream press but the problem is that a controlled sycophantic press does not give valuable feedback on the real sentiments on the ground. That’s why the 2008 elections was such a shock to them.

  7. #7 by yhsiew on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 8:38 am

    Although some of the Chinese press are controlled by MCA, surprisingly their political reportings appear to be neutral.

  8. #8 by Mr Smith on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 8:51 am

    When my children were growing up I gave them one advice on choosing a carrier. “Don’t ever be a teacher or a journalist”.
    As a teacher you can only contribute to the declining standard of our education and sometimes distort history. You have to condone racism among young minds.
    As a journalist, you descent to the level of a prostitute and forced to defend the evil government for your monthly pay check. You sell your soul as you can never follow the dictates of your conscience.

  9. #9 by cina on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 9:07 am

    Whether NST, The Star, China Press, Sin Chew or Nayang, all are the same, to mislead the rakyat and defend the evil government….

    Previously our press is not that bad….
    It started to turn bad during the administration of the Mamaktahir…….

  10. #10 by swipenter on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 9:23 am

    If political parties are forbidden to have investment in the local MSM then the journalists and editors can do their jobs without fear or favour and stick to their integrity as news reporters and not bow to their political masters’ wishes. A free press does not necessarily mean irresponsible or sensational reporting.

    The local media is” failing in its solemn duty as one of the most important institutions of a democractic and civilised society. Rather, the local media appears to be merely a pliable propagandistic instrument of the political power that be” – Rustam A. Sani. That sum up very well the present state of our local media.

  11. #11 by Jimm on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 9:30 am

    We all were brought under special influence by BN government since 51 years ago. We were taught about being loyal, respect and follow what the government plan.
    Somehow, we did and the government done more than what they would have bargain for. They just took us all for a grand ride of our lives …….

  12. #12 by son of perpaduan on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 9:31 am

    Gardeiner and High Five bread is more value for money than NST.

  13. #13 by ktteokt on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 9:36 am

    I used to be reading Malayan Thung Pau those days before it went bust, and I reverted to China Press thereafter. However, the day MCA took over Nanyang Publications, I stopped reading it and instead bought Guang Ming Daily. I believe that any newspaper controlled by political parties tends to be biased in its reportings.

    I only started buying China Press again after MCA sold off majority of their shares. But to be truthful, my source of information does not come from China Press but through the web!

  14. #14 by PSM on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 9:39 am

    Bakri Musa,

    What you say is true. As long as the BN (read: UMNO) is controlling everything (i.e. MSM, ACA, Police, Judiciary, etc, etc), what do you expect?
    However, it’s pretty easy to rectify! When UMNO is finally kicked-out…then we will begin to see “real” change. Not only in the MSM but almost in every aspect of Malaysians’ lives!

  15. #15 by Truth Seeker on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 9:58 am

    Umno’s tentacles has been all pervasive, all this while.
    You can smell its hand in undermining every sphere of Malaysian life.

    Time to give it a rest.

  16. #16 by greenwald on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 11:07 am

    Shuffle the letters of


    and – presto! – you get


  17. #17 by jeremiah on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 11:13 am

    Rather than focus on the editorial ineptitudes of NST, I think there is a need for a change in the current structure of the mainstream newspaper industry where The Star and NST dominate the English papers.

    Either change their top editorial management or endorse a third alternative that is politically neutral. There is too much to critisice in current government policies that any neutral paper will be deemed pro-opposition. But the Oppposition themselves have so many loopholes and weak spots in their economic policy proposals that a credible neutral newspaper can actually succeed.

    Apart from acquiring greater journalistic skills, the trick is to link economic policies to the man-in-the-street’s wallet and well-being. More newspapers or a paper version of a more neutral Mkini will encourage greater competition and raise the standard of truth-based reporting.

  18. #18 by Samuel Goh Kim Eng on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 11:18 am

    The kind of output expected is linked to the kind put in as input
    When it’s ‘Rubbish in, Rubbish out’ then we’re sure to ‘kaput'(fail)
    With quality being glaringly sacrificed for the sake of quantity
    There’s a heavy price to pay just to make the covers look pretty

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng – 080908
    Mon. 8th Sept. 2008.

  19. #19 by zak_hammaad on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 12:08 pm

    Someone should discuss the “Kalimullah factor”.

  20. #20 by AsalUsuLMalaysiaHacked on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 1:52 pm

    A paper can never wrap the fire within. Waste of energy time and money save your strenght and upright performance that matters.

  21. #21 by boh-liao on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 4:45 pm

    Please lah, MSM editors and kakitangan nak cari makan too. Got to see the face colors of bosses (all political ones) and government. No permit, no MSM. What to do? Otherwise families go hungry and no money to pay back loans. People cakap easy only. Want MSM to change, change government and rules lah!

  22. #22 by tan chi nam on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 6:55 pm

    “It pains me to note (what is obvious to all) that since the paper was acquired by UMNO, nearly all its senior editors and journalists are Malays.”

    uncle lim~why come out this remark….
    what wake you not a racist/loser with this note..

  23. #23 by lhslhv on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 7:25 pm

    There is always suspicious when there are too many taboo subjects. With OSA, ISA and other opaque policies, the polpulace should be beware that there must be a lot of wrong-doings, prejudice and unfair treatments brewing inside the den.

    When MSMs are being controlled by political parties, they don’t have a neutral reportings in any sense. It serves only the master.

    I remember working with a big organisation years back, some bosses dare not take leave that are due. Why? This is because the bosses want to protect something that cannot be exposed or make-known.

    Similarly when a government doesn’t want to expose their affairs, there must be something very fishy going on. That is why they have this OSA. If they are sincere, what is there to hide from the “rakyat”?

    So by controlling the media, they can be assured that the voters do not come to know about the dubious deal.

  24. #24 by mohrafael on Monday, 8 September 2008 - 11:14 pm

    Well said by Bakri, so factual. NST’s a lousy paper..,

  25. #25 by kerajaan.rakyat on Tuesday, 9 September 2008 - 12:10 am



  26. #26 by katdog on Tuesday, 9 September 2008 - 12:44 am

    tan chi nam Says:
    “uncle lim~why come out this remark….
    what wake you not a racist/loser with this note..”

    Hello friend. This article written by Bakri Musa who is a Malay. When a Malay makes a comment about Malays, it does not constitute racism.

  27. #27 by AsalUsuLMalaysiaHacked on Tuesday, 9 September 2008 - 2:27 am

    “blur chi nam” dont shout without observing first okay.


  28. #28 by FY Lim on Tuesday, 9 September 2008 - 11:05 am

    Well, it is not NST alone.

    The Star is now getting worse and if you scrutinise their reporting weeks before the PRU12, they are a load of rubbish and thought that they can get away with a bunch of kids without brains. The results showed that people are now not that gullible.

    Wong Chun Wai’s series by inviting a lob-sided panel of members just showed the MCA’s strategy of trying to mould the rakyat’s mind into seeing govt’s excesses and failures in a positive light is no exception. Some panel members even had the audacity to pour their supposedly intimate knowledge of certain opposition leaders had been given prominence by the Star.

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