January 24, 2016
The Journalism Conundrum
by Jahabar Sadiq
Mr Rajah Nadeswaran, known to friends as Nades and fans as Citizen Nades, launched his second book Curi Curi Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur this past week.
The acerbic if not combative journalist– and there are more adjectives out there for him– is no stranger to anyone in Malaysia. He is an investigative reporter, a consumer rights crusader, a no-nonsense editor and for a while, a sharp and hardworking part-time subeditor.
At his launch, a few of us who worked with him or trained under or supervised him were asked about the future of journalism and whether we would see any future Nadeswarans in our industry now blighted by fake news, propaganda, listicles, web-clips and such.
Or rather, the digital age where newspapers are dying and revenue is shrinking.
There is no easy answer. Media survives in any form, as does good journalism. But is there a market for the reportage that Nadeswaran excelled in? Is there a market for political reporting or analysis at a time when governments and politicians just want their narratives to be the prime directive?
Is post-truth the standard now? That the ones who wield power decide what is true and those who think otherwise cannot share their thoughts and face the wrath for even thinking out aloud?
So can a future Nadeswaran exist? And how did this Nadeswaran prosper and grow from the time he began as a sports stringer in 1969 and turn into this famed journalist who made people in power accountable?
Although he has lamented that not much action was ever taken despite the copious amounts of copy written about the scandals that only grow in the amount of money lost or stolen or wasted.
The simple fact is this. Nades came up at a time when Malaysian newspapers invested in journalism and journalists. Getting the best, letting and giving them time and money to pursue issues of the day, scandals and any kind of mischief that would make the news.
The government and the powers-that-be were held accountable. These people saw the media as the fourth estate and respected it as much. Those days are sadly gone.
The media today is a tool, and news is just a job of cut-and-paste and whatever that is kosher in the eyes of the powers-that-be. There is not much investment in getting the real stories out, the scoop, the analysis and the follow-up.
Simply put, if we don’t invest in journalism, we won’t get anymore reporters in the style of Nadeswaran. And what he writes might seem small potatoes but it starts there, the little Napoleons who get away with the petty stuff but go on to make their millions later.
The gigantic scandals of today began a long time ago with the smaller cases that Nadeswaran has written in his book. Those cases reveal how Malaysians have been slowly inured to the growing scale of kleptocracy and power abuse over the years.
And even if Nadeswaran has not touched some of those huge scandals known by their acronyms, he has investigated the few that show how easily this “road to hell” is paved with good intentions.
But he is one of a select few able to do it, thanks to his superiors who invested and encouraged him to pursue such scandals. Would we have more of such editors or publishers?
And would anyone pay for such journalism? Or do we just want it for free as fodder for Facebook posts and twitter outrage?
Perhaps we think Malaysian journalism is nowhere near global standards and refuse to invest in it, considering we can get bits and bobs from the global media, which is ironically paid by others.
Funny, our parents and some of us used to pay for local newspapers but balk at the idea of paying for something online. And if we continue refusing to pay and demand that kind of journalism rather than the insipid and patronising stuff that passes as news, then the new Nadeswarans won’t ever appear.
I noted this at a Paris media forum weeks after The Malaysian Insider was shut down and it is something to note for those still wondering what the future of Malaysian journalism is. “You pay to be informed or get it free to be influenced.”
So if you want the kind of news and columns that Nadeswaran wrote before he formally retired from print journalism last December, you have to pay. Or just pick up the licensed newspapers, read the free news portals, watch regulated broadcasters and be happy with what they offer as news.
And there’s always Facebook and other social media that shares all kind of articles. Like this.