November 13, 2017
The State of Mainstream Journalism and Integrity of Malaysian Ministers
by R. Nadeswaran
COMMENT | It will not be the first time a minister has put his foot in the mouth without even realising it. It will not be the last either. The quality of people who are addressed as “YB Menteri” has certainly deteriorated.
Whenever this comes about, many will rush to the cause – to defend the faux pas or in most cases, words, phrases and views uttered that had caused more damage to reputation and status.
Usually, the common cry is “I have been misquoted” or “my words have been taken out of context”. They never admit that they uttered those offending statements and explain their reasons or justify the stand they had taken.
But when the Almighty is dragged into the defence and punishment in the after-life is offered as a threat, the whole issue takes a different dimension.
Suddenly, the journalist and media outlets are told that they have to answer to God – not the laws of the land or the Home Ministry, which has the power to revoke licences, suspend licences and block websites.
Speaking at a press conference after attending a public transport ceremony in Putrajaya yesterday, Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor entered the fray and said journalists have to be responsible for their reporting.
“I believe, after this, I will be (at fault), just like what Hamzah (Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Hamzah Zainudin) faced when he mentioned (the government’s) effort to reduce the cost of living in his speech, which was later spun to mean something else.
“I don’t know what will happen to this world, especially (to) all of you journalists. You are all responsible, what you are doing is… Remember, you all are going to see God and we will accuse you of lying and slandering towards the community, just to help some people gain success,” Malaysiakini quoted him as saying.
A Fake Hadith ?–Economics is Adam Smith’s and Adam Smith is a Man. The Prophet pbuh was a merchant who understood Islamic Economics.
Hamzah (photo) had said the rise in living costs is God’s will, and quoted a saying, or hadith, attributed to Prophet Muhammad which states: “Verily, it is God who sets prices, who makes things hard, easy and gives out blessings”.)
Having read what Hamzah said and what was reported, why is Tengku Adnan taking umbrage? In the first place, what is the co-relation between God and food prices? What mortal sin have the journalists committed to face the wrath of God?
These are not problems but self-inflicted damage because most politicians open their mouths without engaging their brains in gear. When their words sometimes border on the ridiculous and ludicrous, they think they have found the escape hatch – blame the journalist and the media.
No journalist worth his salt wants to be labelled as a purveyor of fake or false news. Neither does he want to be accused of “manufacturing”, “creating” or attributing quotes which have been picked from thin air.
Editors who re-write to slant news
In some sections of the mainstream media, journalists have complained that their copy had been re-written by editors and seniors to slant towards certain parties and individuals. The editor has the final say and when he exercises his power, the only recourse the journalist has is: “I don’t want a byline as I don’t want to be associated with this article.”
There are few who take such courageous steps while many remain silent as they too become tools of the editor, usually a political appointee.
At a World Press Freedom day seminar a few years ago, I remarked that journalists first need “freedom from their editors” before even talking about anything else. The in-house censorship, the re-write desk and those politically connected have and will continue to change the course of events.
When was the last time you came across “1MDB” in the mainstream newspapers? Last week, US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions described 1MDB as “kleptocracy at its worst” in practice. That is how our country was described. It was not fake news. It was from a man in authority speaking of an organisation which was set up with taxpayers’ funds and has incurred billions of ringgit in borrowings. Aren’t we, as Malaysians, entitled to know about a Malaysian-owned government company?
Did you read about it in your daily newspaper or did you hear it on our news channels? Was it not news worthy to be shared with fellow Malaysians? Herein are the problem and a big difference. Some editors are professional and decide what is good for the country while there are those who decide what is not good for the government and its leaders.
Many believe that the “government censors news” but it is far from the truth. No government official is present when the newspaper is put to bed. It is the editor who decides what you should read.
Having said that, editors have a role to play in ensuring journalists don’t get carried away by taking all and sundry presented to them as gifts. Attempts will be made to feed information by one party which is detrimental to another. They have to ensure that the organisation and individuals do not become tools of certain people.
But to harass journalists for reporting what was said is certainly unacceptable. Having suddenly realised what had been said sounded idiotic, don’t blame the journalists.
They should not be allowed to be bullied by the likes of Tengku Adnan. If this minister and his colleague are aggrieved by what has been written, there are proper channels. Journalists, who now have recording equipment, cameras and mobile phones as tools of their trade, will be able to substantiate what they had written. Therefore, the likelihood of journalists misquoting anyone has been minimised.
It is rather surprising that no one has come to the defence of the journalists. Editors should not succumb to threats. They must be able to draw a thick line between the citizen’s right to know and officialdom’s attempt to cover wrongdoings.
So, let journalists do their jobs without outbursts, threats or invoking the name of the Almighty at the drop of a hat. We are doing them a service in educating, entertaining and informing our fellow citizens on issues that affect all of us. If that cannot be done, then the government will have to replicate the Pravda, a relic of what used to be the Soviet Union. Surely, we can’t come down so low.
R NADESWARAN is passionate about journalism and says freedom of expression and free speech must be encouraged and practised for democracy to thrive. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org