The state of journalism in Malaysia

I know many Malaysians, especially those who attended the Bersih rally, are angry the events were badly misreported in the mainstream media.

Yes, it irks me too. But I also feel sorry for the reporters forced to take the fall and bear the brunt of public vilification.

News reporters are mere foot soldiers in what I like to call the big Mainstream Media Propaganda machine. What happens is this – a reporter goes to a scene and later files the story. But what the reporter wrote might not be what gets to the written page. Facts are distorted, opinions are injected and a reporter finds that the end result is not something he would want his byline on.

For a long time, the government kept a firm rein on what would come out in the media with help from draconic laws like the PPPA. And then the Internet happened.

It is easy for the idealistic to vilify the mainstream media. The truth is that the MSM is not independent in this country and functions for the most part as unofficial wings of the information ministry. “So you lie for a living,” someone said to me when I told him my job.

Journalism’s first obligation should be the truth, its first loyalty is to citizens. But in Malaysia, MSM’s obligation is to stay alive and its first loyalty is to the government. Otherwise, the only news organisation left practicing would be Bernama.

The government is learning the hard way that no, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. But it will keep trying.

You can’t expect the mainstream media to change overnight, not until it can free itself from government shackles. What can be done now? Perhaps it is time MSM at least attempts neutrality instead of preemptive self-censorship or unabashedly trumpeting propaganda (I’m looking at you, Utusan).

And you, dear reader, have a choice. The choice to cancel your newspaper subscriptions or at the very least, get your news from various sources before you make up your mind about something. Question what you read, heck, question me if you doubt the veracity of my claims.

The Internet isn’t killing MSM. It might just help it win back the dignity it has done without for so long, by proving that credibility is currency in this day and age. So let us pray that our media organisations start their march out of credibility bankruptcy.

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