How important is journalism in a working democracy?
Very important apparently, seeing that it is known as the fourth estate – after the executive, judiciary and legislative.
Journalism ensures transparency in the affairs of the first three estates; essentially, it’s the check and balance to ensure no one’s powers become absolute.
But as we are constantly told by the powers that be, the democracy practiced in Malaysia is a democracy that suits us. Hence, it is different than the rest of the world.
Maybe that is why journalism is treated the way it is today in Malaysia. And that is something very disheartening and sad, especially for someone like me, who believes in it so much.
The Malaysian Insider (TMI), one of the top news sites in the country, was shut down on Monday. The reason given was that the company could not monetise their journalistic efforts.
So, are businesses in the country choosing to stay clear of advertising with news organisations, or is it just TMI in particular?
TMI had last month been banned by the MCMC (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission) and the owners of the site, The Edge Media Group (TEMG), last year, had their publications The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily suspended for three months.
The reason: for running in depth stories on the 1MDB controversy. And although the High Court quashed the order by the Home Ministry, the damage had been done.
TEMG eventually had to resize operations, shutting down different elements of their publications and letting staff go. This was all prior to their decision to pull the plug on TMI.
The company had tried to find a buyer for TMI but unfortunately, after all the negotiations, no deals materialised.
Police action has been taken against journalists in Malaysia. The time, effort and hassle involved in attending to these distractions keep them away from the real job of reporting.
More recently, even international journalists have tasted this style of control on the media.
Linton Besser and Louis Eroglu of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation would hardly have much empathy with the `polite’ style of approach and questioning practiced by local media – a lesson they learnt to their cost with detention and swift deportation.
The reality is, political developments dictate how Malaysian media carry on reporting news.
Those that opt to work within the strictures determined by their owners to ensure continued survival will no doubt still be published and read out there.
Those that don’t have the fate of the Insider to consider.