Of press prostitutes and cowed media

by Thomas Lee Seng Hock

Perhaps the most despicable matter that has come out of the great debate between DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and MCA president Chua Soi Lek on Saturday 18 February 2012 is the contemptible lie by a mercenary spin writer of a mainstream English daily that Guan Eng demanded another debate presumably to repair damaged over his scarred image for losing to Soi Lek.

The claim by such a contemptuous writer is certainly deliberately made to run down Guan Eng and present him in bad light among the general public, since it has been known, and even agreed to by Soi Lek a few days prior to the great debate, that Guan Eng wanted a second round to be held for the benefit of the non-Mandarin speaking public since the first debate was in Mandarin.

Furthermore, the paper this mercenary writer writes for has acknowledged and published a brief admission of its error in reporting a statement attributed to Guan Eng that claimed he said “We do not agree the prime minister must always be a Malay because we want the people to decide.” Yet, he repeated the erroneous statement in his comment, either deliberately to perpetually spread the lie, or is an ignorant fool who doesn’t know what is really happening.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has expressed indignation at DAP national election publicity bureau chief Hew Kuan Yau for likening journalists to prostitutes, and demanded that he apologise for the derogatory comment.

Although, I understand the NUJ feeling on the matter, I cannot help but have to agree with Hew’s statement that there are journalists who will sell their principles and souls for material gains. The above mercenary spin writer is a good example.

Many people will recall that back in the mid-1990s, two identical comments on the performance of a company were published in two English dailies under two different by-lines, i.e. names of different writers. It seemed that both established business editors were “selling” their bylines to the company who had assigned a professional ghost writer to churn out the comment, and paid the business editors for using their names in the comment to enhance its value and newsworthiness.

I believe such practices may still be common. If such cases are not press prostitution, what is?

A few years ago, I wrote a comment on the types of journalists we have, and I have updated it here as I think what I said then is still relevant and significant.

I have worked as a journalist and editor in the mainstream news media since 1975, in the now defunct National Echo, the New Straits Times, the Malay Mail, The Sun, and The Star, and had also served as the NUJ secretary-general in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Throughout the 35 years in the newspaper industry, I have worked with all sorts of editors and journalists, and have identified five types of journalists in the media fraternity.

First, there are the EEs — Editorial Eunuchs, who take orders from their political emperors, and write and spin stories to promote the emperor’s cause. These political appointees are usually in top and senior positions, not because they are good journalists or great writers, but because of their connection to powerful political godfathers. They are first-class cronies. Many are ghost writers for their political masters. Some are made Datuks or given various civil awards, even at relatively young age. Several have become millionaires.

Secondly, there are the PPs — Press Prostitutes, who have sold their souls and principles to gain favours and privileges from their political and/or business clients. They will write what pleases their political masters. The amount of hampers and gifts they receive during festive seasons is perhaps a good indication of their rising status in their media organization. (Perhaps the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission should consider looking at this practice of giving editors hampers, gifts and big fat ang pows during festive seasons).

Thirdly, there are the MMs — Media Marionettes, the puppets who have no brains but are used and abused by opportunists to advance their own political or business agenda. The manipulative opportunists usually feed such journalists with twisted information and deceive these gullible writers to propagate their schemes of things. Our education system has produced many such gullible, unthinking, uncritical, and dumb people; and not a few are found in the media organizations.

Fourth, there are the JJs — Junket Journalists, those who will write anything for the sponsors of their overseas trips. Let me illustrate how some big corporate companies use such overseas junkets to bribe editors and journalists to do their biding. Company A has a product which an NGO considers harmful to the people. The NGO keeps issuing press statements on its research on the harmful product and the newspapers keep publishing the statements. Company A wants to put a stop to such bad publicity of its product. So, it organized a week-long trip for senior editors to visit the product’s factory in Japan. Everything was paid for and provided for, including pocket money for shopping. The editors had a thoroughly good time. On their return, they repaid their wonderful host by stopping all negative reports on its product.

Finally, there are the WWs — Wise Writers, the rare breed who know how to survive through the controlled press situation and get their honest views into print without rousing the suspicion of their media bosses, who are usually political cronies. There are very few such honest writers with integrity and principles, and they are usually not in positions of power. Many of them, like yours truly, retire poor.

It was the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton who coined the famous metonymic adage “The pen is mightier than the sword” in 1839 for his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy.

And it was the 18th Century French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who confirmed the truth of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s figure of speech with this profound statement: “I fear the newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets.”

We can now understand why the ruling Barisan Nasional federal government is getting jittery, fidgety and paranoid over the increasingly popular news portals in cyberspace published by the various independent-minded journalists and bloggers, and also the component parties of the alternative coalition Pakatan Rakyat.

The massive swing of votes to the alternation alliance during the political tsunami of March 2008 is due in no small measure to the power of the cyber media.

The NUJ plans to hold an EGM on its so-called Code of Ethics for Journalists. I suggest that it should consider asking all its members to pledge not to accept any gifts, money or hampers from any politicians or businessmen, but surrender them to their companies for distribution to the poor and needy in the community.

The NUJ immediate past president Hatta Wahari is a good example of a true committed journalist who made a bold and brave stand in defence of press freedom, and lost his job in the process. It has been a long time since any leader of the NUJ has stuck his or her neck out to speak out against the abuse and exploitation of the media, especially in the mainstream newspapers.

Hatta certainly deserves our accolade and support for speaking out, without fear or favour, on the very fundamental matter of press freedom, despite the very real risk of jeopardizing his career.

An outspoken and crusading journalist is usually a marked person, and a file will be opened to record every little mistake he makes, to build a case against him. There will be trumped-up charges like sexual harassment, etc to get rid of any journalist who dares to stand up and speak out against abuses in his newspaper company.

So, are there press prostitutes among our journalists?

NOTE: Thomas is currently the media consultant to the Penang state government, but will soon be unemployed as his short-term contract expires in min-March and will not be renewed. He was the NUJ general secretary end-1970s and early 1980s. He can be contacted at [email protected].

  1. #1 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 12:44 pm

    Hoi cintanegara, come I hv one nambikei to sell. Tell jib. Yes tell jib that I would sell the nambikei to him for nothing less than well 10million ringgit. OK? Deal? And oh yes. And you would get 10% kickback. So you collect 10million, keep 1million and bank into my foreign account the balance 9million. Clear? Good boy! Wooof woooof now go.

  2. #2 by Godfather on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 12:52 pm

    Do they even question BN scandals ? Nah, these are not important. Harmony is important and only the continuation of the incestous relationship with UMNO can bring about harmony.

    Today, there is the admission that an UMNO lawyer, the former CJ, and a Semi Vellu proxy has been awarded a RM 2.2 billion tollroad. You think these MSM prostitutes will question this ?

  3. #3 by SENGLANG on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 1:43 pm

    Law is lousy so you can shift to road building. Even when a judge retire also find road building rewarding.. that is life in Malaysia……….

  4. #4 by cemerlang on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 1:43 pm

    Sensationalism sells like hot cakes ! At the end of the day, it is money that matters. The more newspaper you sell, the more money you earn. The more money you earn, the more comfortable is your life. It is the bitterness of the truth that we have to swallow. Whoring is the oldest profession since the creation of the world. You would do anything and everything just to get those profits. Can we believe the whole truth and nothing but the truth in mainstream media ? That is why people are turning to the alternative media. SMS. Social websites. Even Perdana Menteri has joined in the bandwagon. If mainstream media works so well, there is no need for 1Malaysia website.

  5. #5 by SENGLANG on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 2:31 pm

    I have given out reading Star paper for year after being one of its readers for many years. Last Sunday spin reporting prove my decision was right. For those who did not read online news it will be to their best interest no to read the mainstream newspaper as most of the news reports are bias and certain like last Sunday Star report was totally false and with malicious intent.

    It was also very unfortunate that the paper did not offer its sincere apology but instead take another opportunity to repeat what it has reported earlier.

    The standard of journalism has come to its lowest point with each mainstream paper try to report and commentaries that are total misleading with only ultimate goal of pleasing its boss for political advantage.

    Sin Chew also has the tendency of bias reporting but one of its editors has politely admitted thier mistake by apology to its readers through its one of its commentary. It seem that editor is sincere.

    The readers are smarter more so those who read Star paper are those who have been reading this paper for decades and comprised of those mainly urbanites. This group of readers are also internet savvy and most of them have easy access to online news portals. If the intention of fooling its readers by such a misleading and malicious reporting it only end up slapping their own faces, and like spiting to the sky. It will back fire and most of readers can form their own judgements.

  6. #6 by Winston on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 2:38 pm

    Lying, deceit, duplicity and worse are the bread and butter of
    some journalists.
    Perhaps these traits are inherent?
    Frequent awards of titles also make the job very rewarding.
    Perhaps, at the end of the day, when the PR takes over
    Putrajaya, they can be tried for subversion?

  7. #7 by yhsiew on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 3:08 pm

    Pakatan can consider setting up a watchdog committee to gauge and publish online the degree of truthful reporting by the various mainstream media.

  8. #8 by waterfrontcoolie on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 3:16 pm

    When I first read about it, I thought Hew was not being fair though it was distorted by the Union for not mentioning that he did qualify his statement. This morning, when I happen to glance at the front page of STAR on the sacking of a staff by the Selangor State Government over incompetency, I was indeed surprised to see the insinuation propagated by this low-class newspaper. Political mileage has indeed turn even this paper to create all headlines at the expense of its respectability if it still has any left. It still has a grip on the local advertising sector but just wait when the internet can penetrate it much more than currently, by then it will worth less than the paper it is printed on. While waiting for that to happen, it is the duty of all Malaysians to send STAR to where it belongs! The Trash-bin!

  9. #9 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 5:53 pm

    The ideal is of course journalistic principles of truthfulness accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability in reporting and dissemination of information to public in service of its interest. But can one expect these to be upheld and not inclined to political partisanship if mainstream newspapers were ultimately owned or linked one way or another to political parties in power, not to mention their regulation by the draconian Printing Press Publication Act?

  10. #10 by jus legitimum on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 - 10:07 pm

    DAP’s Hew Kuan Yau should now retract his apology over his comment regarding the existence of press prostitutes.The whole nation can see very clearly these ‘souless creatures’ rearing their ugly heads in the two dailies immediately after the Guan Eng-Soi Lek debate.Hew Kuan Yau should continue to bombard these spineless b,,,,..ds and b….es who sell their journalistic principles for personal benefit and glory.

  11. #11 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 - 2:14 am

    If Thomas wants to use the word “prostitute” ( as such a term is intended to mean a prioritization of self, monetary and personal interest over higher principles of ethics) then it is better used on politicians, and then again not all but sufficient number of these who are responsible and entrusted by citizenry to organize and govern public affairs but who organize society (by manacling the press, judiciary and just about any other institutions) to stay in power. These politicians are responsible for the societal system and ethical politicians will do their part to devise and maintain a system of check and balance to encourage the expression of the better not the worse part of human nature. They however manipulate and exploit the human vulnerability to take care of one self interest than be concerned with ethical aspects. This does not concern only unethical ‘presstitudes’ to borrow the WrathofGrape’s expression: we have “prostitutes” fairly represented in all professions and occupations in Malaysia thanks to the system that the political prostitutes have devised to bring out the whoring part rather than nobler part of us!

  12. #12 by rockdaboat on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 - 8:24 am

    Indeed there are many press prostitutes around. These are worst than those who sold themselves in the brothel!

  13. #13 by boh-liao on Thursday, 23 February 2012 - 4:16 am

    Prostitutes hv MORE HONOR than our msm kakis, they don’t INTENTIONALLY twist facts 2 por lam pa of corrupt n racist politicians n 2 mislead rakyat

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