I have been a journalist for about twenty years and have been teaching journalism for about 16 years. Over all these years, I have always thought of journalism and the media as the Fourth Estate when it comes to democracy. Apparently, it serves as a watchdog, observing and exposing what the authorities do so that the people who elected them will be informed.
I say “apparently” because the things that have been happening recently in Malaysia are casting doubt over what the roles of the media and journalism are. This is especially so when we see what has been developing with the issue of the Al Jazeera documentary that highlights the alleged mistreatment of undocumented migrants by the Malaysian authorities.
The producers and journalists (specifically the director, editor, journalist and videographer) who were involved in the documentary have been called up (photo above) by the police to be investigated. The Malaysian government has accused Al Jazeera of misinformation and that no minors were handcuffed and no mistreatment occurred.
Al Jazeera is standing by their report and has revealed that they gave the Malaysian authorities many chances to refute the claims in the documentary. Apparently, the production team had made several requests for interviews with senior ministers and officials but the requests were all declined.
In journalism, this is known as giving the right of reply. When a party is accused of something, the accused is given the right to reply and justify themselves. Basically, this ensures that all sides of the story are presented without bias. Once the public is presented with all sides, then they can make an informed decision, hence the democratic process.
Instead of taking up the right of reply that was apparently given to them, the Malaysian authorities decided instead to decline it, and when the report came out without their side told, they called it “misinformation” and launched an investigation against the journalists and production team.
What the authorities should have done was to launch an investigation to find out if the Al Jazeera allegations were true or false. This would stay true to the media being the Fourth Estate of democracy. And if the findings were not true, then the authorities can provide the evidence so that the public who elected them can be assured that no mistreatment took place.
Now, action is being taken against the media and journalists just because they were doing their jobs. This would be unfair, not just to the journalists involved, but also to the public who are depending on the media to act as watchdogs to keep them informed of what goes on in government.
Another disappointment is when fellow journalists attack their peers for doing their jobs as in the case of a television anchor on national news agency Bernama who called Al Jazeera “Al Jahiliyah” (ignorant) and told them to “shut up” on air. The anchor then tweeted that she did so because she was being patriotic.
As a member of the news media that is supposed to serve the public by keeping them informed, I don’t think that what she did was being patriotic at all. As a Malaysian, I think what happened was more of a disservice to me, the nation and the Malaysian people rather than being patriotic. I guess the anchor doesn’t understand what patriotism is.
Well, at least our communications minister Saifuddin Abdullah has assured the public that Bernama chairperson Suhaimi Sulaiman had informed him that action has been taken against the anchor for what she did on air. Let’s hope the action taken was commensurate with such a shameful act.
It’s worrying for me to see how the media and journalism are being treated by the authorities in these last few months. I really believed that we were making fairly decent progress in the year or so after the May 2018 general election. But now, all that progress is rapidly going down the drain. Something needs to be done.
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