Reading without knowing the facts is dangerous


Reading without knowing the facts is dangerous
By Zan Azlee

Several days ago, I was riding in a Grab to my first appointment of the day. Most of the time, I usually have pleasant conversations with the Grab drivers that drive me around. But this morning, it was a little bit different. I wouldn’t call the conversation a bad one, but it did cause me to feel extremely irritated.

It started out quite normal. She, a slightly elderly woman who I assume to be in her 50s, started asking me about my work. I’m usually honest in my small talk and so I said I produced news and documentary content for a living. She seemed excited and immediately asked me for my opinion about the alleged sex video involving Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali.

She said it was disgusting that a veteran politician and cabinet minister could do such an act and that she hopes he would get sacked. She continued with her rant, saying that Malaysian politicians all love to have sex scandals and that they are all a bunch of sick and disgusting lot of people. Okay, aunty!

My opinion is that the credibility of Haziq Abdullah Abdul Aziz, the accuser, is suspect. I mentioned that the accusation that Azmin received a huge sum of money from UEM via a Maybank account has been proven to be false because the bank had come out to say that the bank statement being circulated is forged. UEM also stated it does not have a Maybank account at that branch.

Before I could even go on to the video and how I felt that the credibility of it is also suspect because of the forged bank statement (and that’s not even touching about how surprisingly low quality the video is in this day and age when even the cheapest smartphone can shoot in high definition), the driver expressed shock to hear that there was also a corruption allegation.

“What? Got corruption also, ah? I don’t know worr! All I know is the sex video!” she exclaimed.

“Oh yes. How come you didn’t know about it if you knew about the video?” I asked.

“I don’t know, lah. I hear and read about the sex video so I thought that was it, lorr.”

“But it’s in all of the news reports everywhere. Unless you only read the headlines, lah, aunty!”

Then she laughed and admitted that she only read all of the headlines that she saw appearing on her Facebook timeline and never read a single news article about it. And, of course, due to sensationalism, the headlines would definitely focus on the sex video rather than anything else when it comes to this issue.

So, I went on a rant about how a majority of Malaysians always react to headlines without ever reading the articles carefully. They make all their judgements on just a phrase that contains four to eight words on their social media feeds. Then they criticise as if they were experts on the issue and that they know every single fact about it. That’s very ignorant and unfair.

Everyone has a right to comment and criticise issues that relate to society and the nation. But commenting and criticising, and even worse, if they actually took some form of action that goes beyond just commenting, without knowing the proper facts, is dangerous. The wrong decisions would be made and that could even be more detrimental.

I think that the Malaysian public needs to buck up. They need to learn how to consume and process information and news better and smarter. We all know that the media will always pick the most attention-grabbing issues to be highlighted. We can’t be naive and not think that that is what the media does.

Of course, this isn’t supposed to be absolving the media from what they do. The media need to buck up as well and be more responsible in their reporting. But even if the media are responsible, having a Malaysian public that doesn’t read and interpret news reports properly is still very dangerous for the country.

In fact, I think that many politicians in the country also know of this and manipulate it to their advantage. They make outrageous statements that don’t have to be proven or corroborated in the hopes of a certain reaction, and when it is reported, the public will just react accordingly without reading the details of whether it is true or not. Hence, their objective is achieved.

For example, the issue regarding Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching (photo) and the Islamic Studies Special Task Force (PPKPI). The allegation that she was sticking her nose in the issue of Islamic studies was made by a PAS MP Khairuddin Aman Razali and, at that time, it was reported as a direct allegation quoted by all the news organisations.

But, of course, the public didn’t read properly and thought that it was all true. Unfair criticisms and hate speeches were made. Although Teo came out and denied it (even Education Minister Maszlee Malik defended her), the damage had already been done. News articles about the allegations were already virally spread while the denial after that is now being ignored.

We always teach our children to be smart and not be easily persuaded or even cheated by conmen. We always teach them to be vigilant and careful with their dealings, especially when it comes to money because we don’t want them to be conned. But why don’t we teach our children to also be smart when consuming news and information that is important?

We can criticise and demand that the media be more transparent and that politicians need to be more ethical. And, of course, they should be. But a big fault also lies in the public for being a little too naive and not being more on their toes about everything that is being said and reported.

There are all kinds of awareness programmes to educate people about things like not falling for online financial scams, investment cons and even health issues like smoking and taking drugs. Maybe, it is also time we spread awareness of how important it is for members of the public to pay more attention to the news that they consume and decide to act on.

At the end of the ride, the Grab driver and I laughed our conversation off even though it was quite heated. We bid each other goodbye and to have a nice day. As I stepped out of the car, she yelled at me, “Give me five-star rating, ahh boy!” I nodded and laughed.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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