19 July 2015
IN the course of a career spanning over four decades, this writer had the opportunity to meet gang leaders, thieves, drug addicts, rapists and even a murderer. The man who painted the now-demolished Pudu Prison wall – a man convicted for a drug offence – was a regular visitor to the office after his release.
There were also encounters with another “elitist” group including con-sultans, spin-doctors, lobbyists and even bag carriers and cowherds with bags of money masquerading as middlemen.
Like the undertaker who sees everyone as a potential client, the journalist views most people as a source of information. Thus, there is this need to associate with people from varying backgrounds. Information from these sources, which has to be verified, can sometimes lead to a big story.
From a legal standpoint, it is not an offence to meet anyone. Having a coffee or a beer with any of them is no less than having a tete-a-tete with a minister or a senior government official. The principle that “I have a right to choose whom I want to associate with” comes into play.
Therefore, there seems to be a witch-hunt of sorts for those who met former Petro-Saudi official Xavier Justo, now in custody in Thailand.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar has threatened to arrest opposition leaders who had met Justo unless they come forward to give a statement.
First, what offence has Justo committed in Malaysia, and second, is there any law which prevents Malaysians from meeting a foreigner?
To add to the drama in this gigantic battle of public perception, the journalistic fraternity seems to have been sucked into this quagmire called 1MDB.
Never mind the missing billions and the reports by the Public Accounts Committee and the auditor-general. We have been side-tracked deliberately or otherwise into a side-show with reports from our northern neighbours. A Swiss national has suddenly become the focus of the subject of contention instead of addressing the real issue.
From fake and doctored emails to confessions and pay-outs, the profession is coming under scrutiny. Seasoned journalists can sense sinister motives and “paid-for” work with their years-long experience and spot any shortcomings.
That is why the statement by BN strategic communications director Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is housing and wellbeing minister, has to be put under the microscope.
He had suggested that the “confession” of Lester Melanyi should be given prominence over the so-called editor’s credibility.
I know little about Lester except that he lost his job at the Sarawak Tribune in 2006 after he allowed the publication of caricatures that offended Islam. Therefore, I would not attempt to say anything about him and his integrity or credibility.
All that can be concluded are from statements from his previous “employer” and his interview with Malay Mail Online where he admitted being paid to make the confession. Every journalist worth his salt thinks about his own credibility before he puts pen to paper. At the back of their minds there is this unwritten obligation – to provide accurate and unfettered information and express his or her valid opinion – however unacceptable they are to their readers.
The government, on the other hand, must recognise the role of an independent and vibrant media which provides valuable feedback from the people.
Against such a background, this government and some its leaders have uttered words which have resulted in the public suffering from “trust deficiency” syndrome.
This stems from the dissemination of truthful information not only on the 1MDB issue but also in various other categories of governance including corruption and the procurement system. The credibility of some of our leaders is at stake.
The government can continue shouting itself hoarse by asking us not to believe what appears in cyber space. But as the prime minister himself admitted, the days of “the government knows best” are over.
No one will pay heed to the spinning and the propaganda and no one will believe what comes from official sources. Nothing will change unless the government comes clean on the various issues and challenges facing the nation.
For a start, the cards should be put on the table, starting with not just 1MDB but other areas of governance where transparency and accountability are severely lacking.The leaks, the over-pricing of contracts and the involvement of cronies have all been well documented and are in the public domain.
The people, having digested them, have formed their own opinions and thoughts. Nothing will change that except the truth.
This is perhaps the first step in getting the public to trust and put their faith in the government and its leaders. If this cannot be done, let us forget about developed nation status and a better quality of life for all Malaysians.