In the quest for ratings, news organisations go all out to find the most sensational and dramatic stories.
In view of all the political controversies and scandals happening left, right and center of late, even local news organisations have gotten caught up in the moment, reporting on anything that smells even just a little bit fishy.
Of course, the audience will bite it hook, line and sinker. The way we as news consumers today just love to share and comment on all kinds of news stories, is testament to that.
The general public can’t be blamed for falling for sensational stories, as they are supposed to trust the media.
But when news organisations become just as gullible, that’s when we all need to sit up.
What is the role of the media if not to be the eyes and ears of the public? They hold the responsibility of keeping the people informed via verified and accurate news reporting.
The professional training that journalists receive equips them with the code of conduct that holds them up to the gold standard.
I should know.
I’ve been a practicing journalist for 15 years now. I pride myself in what I do and always try to conduct myself properly when I’m on the job.
So what does it say about the standard of journalism in Malaysia when a whole bunch of local news organisations were duped by an individual (or group) conducting a social experiment?
Not familiar with the story? Well, here’s a little bit of a backgrounder.
Last weekend, the Citizens for Accountable Governance Malaysia (CAGM) claimed it had legal documents proving an AmBank employee had been sacked for questioning the transfer of millions of ringgit into Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s account.
They released a copy of the statutory declaration (SD) and news organisations all around clamoured to report this story and it was quite a trending topic (Astro AWANI reported it a day before they released the SD).
Then yesterday evening, the CAGM posted on their blog that it is all a hoax. They wrote that they have no documents and that everything they claimed have been fictitious (the group has been releasing press statements since May).
“There are no 2,000 over members in CAGM and we don’t have millions in our account to give to whistleblowers.
“And no, we don’t have a SD that implicates the PM in any financial misdeeds. CAGM was just an experiment in social media in Malaysia.”
Of course, whoever orchestrated the hoax can be said to be wrong for spreading false information and probably could be assumed as being defamatory.
But that so many news organisations reported the stories so blatantly thinking it was the truth makes it quite obvious that very lax fact-checking and verification took place.
As a journalist, I feel embarrassed that something like this happened. But probably a jolt of this significance is needed to wake us up.
Journalists need to constantly remind ourselves the purpose of our existence. We need to conduct ourselves with integrity and responsibility or else we risk becoming tools for the spin doctors.