Malaysia experienced an unexpected political shift in late February, with the former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed’s resignation from the position, marking the end of the previous country’s ruling alliance. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong later accepted his resignation and made him the interim Prime Minister, later conducting one-to-one interview with all 222 parliamentary members in attempt to solve the nation’s political uncertainty. Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was then sworn in as the eighth Prime Minister.
Telum Media spoke to Radzi Razak, Sarah Abdullah, Zan Azlee and Aminah Farid about the challenges they faced during reporting the turmoil, their unforgettable experience throughout the journey and some insights about the role the media plays in setting the modern news agenda.
Challenges throughout reporting: of fake news and being on standby
Fake news has been a frequent topic discussed in journalistic sphere, and it remains a challenge to be overcome. Sarah, who reports for Media Prima Berhad’s News and Current Affairs from the Putrajaya bureau gives a nod to the challenge, “The majority of Malaysians have smartphones and they tend to trust circulating messages that they read on those social platforms.” She stresses that the journalists’ obligation is to verify news with responsible authorities, which validates them as the ideal messenger of information. Radzi Razak, a Journalist from Malay Mail also agreed about the obligation to filter through the noise of fake news and dubious information throughout the event.
Zan Azlee on the other hand, perceives the matter of constantly being prepared as one of his biggest challenges. He runs Fat Bidin Media, a small, boutique non-fiction / news media company, said: “Some of our clients are international news organisations. So when breaking news like this happens, we have to be on constant standby to provide write-ups, video packages and live correspondent crosses.” Aminah Farid from The Malaysian Insight, shared the same battle ground with Zan, who describes the feeling of being on stand-by as “being on the edge.” The uncertainty of the event to some extent, has its own effects on media practitioners. Aminah adds: “When your editor tells you to be on standby, you would just sit there, wondering what’s the next occasion and where’s the next location.”
An experience to remember: same boat, different cabins
Most of the journalists share a similar experience; constantly being on the moves and verifying a plethora of news within a short span of time. The event regardless has a unique moment for everyone, signifying a distinctive mark on their career memory.
The process of live reporting itself is an unforgettable experience for Zan. “As soon as you report, new developments would already make it obsolete. We had to go by sporadic official statements by politicians, which usually would very quickly be nullified by other politicians.”
“We are paid to wait,” says Sarah, sharing an inside joke among media practitioners, which later happened to be true. Sarah was stationed at the Prime Minister Office (PMO), and she had to wait for more than 10 hours on daily basis under the scorching sun. “I was there to monitor any movements in PMO, as in who entered the building to meet the interim Prime Minister, how long their meeting was etc., and try getting some quotes from them about the meeting (by literally telling the VIPs to roll down the car window), which on most cases, it was a tough luck and we even were pushed away by their security personnel.” Things escalated for Radzi when he suffered from heat stroke as he was being stationed to Istana Negara. “I too had to screen myself from Covid-19 after a former minister and deputy minister were known as being in a close contact with a confirmed patient.”
As for Aminah, she will forever remember the moment where Parti Keadilan Rakyat announced Anwar Ibrahim as their Prime Minister’s candidate and the media were shoving each other to get to him after the press conference.
Significance of media: to triumph or not to triumph?
Their roles are undeniably significant, but as rhetorical as the question might sound, it is worth pondering upon.
In Aminah’s opinion, people depend a lot on media when it comes to moments as crucial as the recent political shift. “Readers and viewers were constantly hungry for information and wanted to be fed every hour. This only proves that in moments like these, the media has a very powerful grip on information that goes out.” Most media organisations have ventured to social media, and Sarah has had plenty of experience recognising its power in today’s journalism, “It is a part of our efforts to convey verified news to the public. We can report via our own Twitter account or broadcast any press conferences being held via Facebook Live. Any development on the crisis are part of history, so it’s our job to convey it to the public, as it is.”
Zan however, has a different perspective. “Personally, I don’t think it did. Most news media could only report one statement after another without much opportunity to check and research because everything was happening too quickly.” However, consider the journalists’ commitment to deliver their best reporting as a manifestation of the media’s triumph on its own. “It is a triumph in a way that media workers on the field and at desk doing their best to present the news as it is through all the challenges.”
Radzi, who is also an activist with Gerakan Media Merdeka (GERAMM), gives a gentle reminder for both the current administration and fellow media practitioners: “We hope the new government will commit to ensuring media freedom in the country and for all media practitioners to adhere to journalism ethics if we are going to enjoy true media triumph of any significant sort.” The same point of view is shared by Aminah: “I personally feel this is also the time when media ethics really needs to be held accountable and used at its highest.”
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