To ‘heal, unite and hope’ in journalism

Donald Trump’s rocky relationship with the US media, which he calls “the enemy of the American people”, reminds me of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s stance on press freedom. Addressing the 1985 World Press Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Mahathir asked: “Is freedom of the press often no more than the right of one man, the editor, and several men, the sub-editors and journalists, to express his or their views and prejudices?”

Alluding to the media’s potential to falter and become an ‘enemy of the people’ if left to run free, Mahathir said in part: “The press is made up of and run by men who are moved, like other men, not only by high ideals, but also by base needs and feelings. The ability of the journalist to influence the course of events is out of all proportion to his individual right as a citizen of a democratic society.

“He is neither especially chosen for his moral superiority nor elected to his post. A free press is as prone to corruption as are the other institutions of democracy. Is this then to be the only institution of democracy to be completely unfettered?”

Two years later (1987) Mahathir launched Operasi Lalang to purge anti-government voices from the public sphere. Sin Chew Jit Poh, The Star and Watan had their annual publishing licence revoked. Civil activists and dissidents were arrested.

Today, we may be freer and bolder to speak up online – many anonymously. However, Malaysian journalists’ capacity to probe, investigate and expose what is shaping up to be a classic form of ‘kakistocracy’ (a government run by the least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens) in the country is hamstrung by draconian media laws.

Meanwhile, a free and independent media yearns to regenerate itself as the true voice of the people. What can our journalists – and independent writers – do when the kakistocrats clamp down on enterprising investigative reporting?

‘Stay steady’ regardless. We can take this cue from veteran American journalist, Dan Rather. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon on NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’, Rather said journalists have got to “stay steady” against Trump’s deprecation of the US press as “the enemy of the American people”.

“But also be relentless and remain aggressive. That’s the proper role of the press… to be part of the system of checks and balances, to ask questions, keep on asking the tough questions, do deep investigative reporting. I think the public (including the people who voted for Trump) understand that that’s a vital role, that it doesn’t help when the president is so negative about the press.”

On the need for the people (and media) to be relentless and tenacious in holding governments in check, Rather said, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared (although it’s a natural inclination). Also, organise, and get to the polls. The eventual leverage is at the polls, and you can’t win at the polls unless you have a sustained effort to be organised and get yourself (and others) to the polls.

‘Important to reach out to others’

“It’s also very important to reach out to other people and say ‘what can I do?’, especially people of different political persuasions, different races. Talk to them, reason with them, try to reach common ground. That’s the way that we come together.”

In synthesising his thoughts, Rather proposed a set of values that Americans need to return to a healthy democracy – Healing, Unity, Hope – a ‘HUH’ antidote to Trump’s divisive tweet-laden presidency.

These values apply well to Malaysians, where as concerned citizens we can work with the media and organise to curb the establishment of an Islamic-infiltrated ‘kakistocracy’ where on one extreme, billions of ringgits of public money are still missing while the main suspects are left untouched; and on the other extreme, the authorities would spend time and resources to crack down on shops selling paint brushes made from pig bristles, and censoring ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for the film’s gay undertone, even as a Christian church leader, Pastor Raymond Koh, known for his charity work with single mothers, drug addicts and HIV/AIDS victims, is still missing at this time of writing.


ERIC LOO worked as a journalist and taught journalism in Malaysia from the late 1970s to 1986. He is now Honorary Senior Fellow in Journalism at University of Wollongong in Australia.

 

Artikel disiar pada March 20, 2017 - 2:39 pm oleh Susan Loo

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