The challenges of journalism in Malaysia
By Zan Azlee
Happy belated World Press Freedom Day, media practitioners!
Not too late in wishing this? It’s only been two days. And my weekly column appears every Thursdays.
Often, I’m asked by my non-journalist friends what it’s like to practice journalism in Malaysia. Well, I’d usually say it is great and that it isn’t different than any other place.
The reason they ask me this question is because they are of the perception that journalism can’t be practiced freely in this country.
But many times, I catch myself thinking if I’m just kidding them with my answer, or am I just kidding myself! Maybe, I’m just in denial.
Obviously, I’m aware of the perception of the press here. How can I not? I have been practicing for nearly 16 years now. I would be blind if didn’t realise it.
Let’s just take a look at the recent past and how it has been for journalism. In the past months, we have seen newspapers being suspended and major online news sites shutting down.
In the past years, we have seen many reporters and editors being detained, interrogated, intimidated and whatnot just for doing their jobs.
Personally, I have had my fair share of run-ins too. I’ve been threatened and warned by people while reporting during the 13th General Election.
I’ve been prevented from shooting videos, manhandled and detained by police while reporting on demonstrations and protests.
I received a lot of hate mails that pray for my demise in many ‘creative’ and ‘violent’ ways.
Even my family members have not been spared when it comes to online comments regarding my stories.
It can be pretty easy to be disillusioned and cynical with such a situation.
I know many a reporter who self-censor themselves when they produce stories.
I also know many a middle-aged editor who are resigned to the fact that there is nothing we can do and that when the powers that be say jump, we are just supposed to ask how high.
Of course, there are also those who have bills to pay and need to toe the line so they will have a job and be able to support themselves and their loved ones.
But, I promise you when I say that I know way more reporters who will constantly fight for their rights as well as the public’s with their questions and what they can and should report.
I also know way more editors who aren’t afraid and they encourage and support reporters to challenge the status quo and to constantly surge forward.
And I definitely know plenty who have found the balance of staying in the system but still trying their best in their own way to push the boundaries and make sure journalism still survives.
There are many members of the public who also realise the importance of a free press and they are very vocal and loud in wanting to have fair and balanced information.
So, at the end of the day, I look back at all that is happening in the world of journalism in Malaysia and I can’t say that I’m disillusioned or skeptical.
There are too many journalists who have their heads screwed on right in their pursuit to fight for freedom of speech. Even in these trying times, the number of news outlets is more than there ever was.
I’m just excited to be able to play a role and be a part of of things at this moment in time when freedom of speech and the media is needed more than ever.