So much for less writing…

The thing about being in the Malaysian media…it rarely gets boring.

Found time to write two “Side Views” pieces for TMI. “Side Views” is for viewpoints and opinion pieces outside TMI’s “Opinion” pages. The latter is usually reserved for TMI’s regular columnists.

Despite being one of the aforementioned regular columnists, there were some things that made more sense expressing on TMI than just, say, on the blog.

One was the embarrassing gaffe by the Ministry of Defence. What riled me was that some tried to defend the mistake. You do not “defend” something as laughable as the page was.

When you can’t defend the Ministry of Defence

Then the surprising Anwar Sodomy II acquittal happened. Wasn’t planning on writing about it but my super said, “Why not?” I concurred.

901: A day for cautious optimism

In other news, am amazed people still read my opinionated blather. I try.

Journos shouldn’t be tragic “heroes”

There is a lot of pointless political posturing around the death of BernamaTV cameraman Noramfaizul Mohd Nor. Opposition politicos going on about how charity begins at home, that Instead of helping Somalia we should be looking after our own.

By their reasoning, we should ignore all pleas from outside. No helping Japan, Palestine, Indonesia, no. Let us be honest here. It is not that Malaysians do not need aid but that Somalia is desperate in a way our countrymen aren’t. We can spare some aid. My only issue is with the means it was given.

Of all the people we could have sent, why send Putra 1Malaysia? Why couldn’t we instead channel funds directly to organisations already in Somalia instead of spending money to send our people there? We didn’t need to send our journos there – we have newswires to give us the updates on the state of the ground.

There are allegations the team was ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the mission. I wonder if the people going there realised just how dangerous and unstable Somalia is. Did the Bernama crew know just how much danger the trip posed? Did they understand there was a possibility they might not return?

If Putra 1Malaysia wanted to run a humanitarian mission, why couldn’t it get a member to document the proceedings instead of bringing a journalist along? Was it worth it, risking journalist lives to cover what they were doing?

I say they never should have gone. Or at least, not force media to come along. Did media even have a choice? If you want a means of documentation that does not bleed, then bring a camera. You can’t as easily replace a human being.

Many of the journalists who knew Noramfaizul are angry. They grieve a friend and compatriot. They know he deserved better. All journalists deserve better than to be collateral damage in a mission as flawed as this was.

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.

The case of the bitchy reporter and the missing press release

Maybe it’s old age. But I find myself increasingly impatient when I go to events that are poorly coordinated.

I recently hurt the feelings of the communications people for a company I shall not name lest they make me do a #defahmi.

See, said people decided to have a launch. For some reason, they decided also to mention they were giving away goodies at a lucky draw.

Oh God, I thought. I hate it when they announce/make a big deal about lucky draws. Because that’s when people like the lucky draw vultures show up.

I call them the lucky draw vultures because these people will go to any press event in the hope of snagging goodie bags or lucky draw prizes. They’re the hanger-ons, who just want a free meal or freebies. So instead of media company A sending one photographer and one reporter, they send one reporter, one photographer, and three freeloaders.

I arrive on time (I thought) at 11. In front of me in the media registration line, is some silly twit, who spends nearly 10 minutes asking lots of questions to the person in charge. HELLO, WAIT FOR THE PRESS CONFERENCE CAN?

Silly twit goes away. Then as I sign in, I’m told, sorry no release, haha, we only prepared 50 haha, you’re the 62nd person to arrive haha.

“We’ll send it to you later”. Then comms person goes directly to the next person in line, leaving me flummoxed. OK whatever. I go into the press conference room and it’s full to the brim with only the front seats unvacated.

Yeah, I was feeling like hell. No press release. Tired. Irritated. Slept at 5am as I was keeping up with the WWDC coverage. I just wanted the damn press release but had to stand around hoping I’d get something out of the event.

Blahtherblahterblahter WE’RE THE BEST blahtherblahterblahter REALLY, WE’RE THE BEST

This is why most product launches are a waste of time. Look, give me hard facts instead of self-praising yourself can? The irony of it was all the information that I really needed were all on promotional product flyers. I should have just taken one and gone into work.

But decided to hang out and talk shop with the other journos, get a sound bite or two from one of the spokespersons. Yeah, it’s much more interesting talking to spokespeople I find, when they’re not having to read prepared speeches or “approved marketing copy”.

The very next day, I get a call from communications person about my complaints. Well, that’s after he sends me this huffy Tweet:

(Twitter handle removed to prevent #defahmi)
@ernamh we appreciate your comment. would much appreciate if you could come direct to us rather than tweet and gossip around.


So I reply: “It’s not gossip but fact. You brought only 50 press releases to an event which would probably attract at least 100 people.”

I get a semi-apologetic phone call later, the gist of which was mostly excuses:

1. They’re a small company, understaffed, not enough people, only two people to man the booth. OK, why were there loads of people in (company name) t-shirts standing around looking bored to death?

2. I got the press release, right? Yeah, 3 hours after the damn thing was over.

3. Spokesperson tried to talk to me after event, saying to me “Jemput makan.” Err, yeah, dude, I heard you. So that’s what I did. Went to the buffet line and ate. Then said spokesperson got all huffy, saying I didn’t even look at him, didn’t strike up a conversation with him. Huh. You asked me to go eat, so I went to eat. How was I to know you were trying to initiate a conversation? Then you say I was looking at you as if you disgusted me.

What. The. F…

Crossed signals, much?


1. You had enough money to book KL Hilton for venue. On the same floor as the Business Centre. You could have, oh, walked a few metres to said centre and printed/photocopied a few releases, right? No?

2. If (company name)’s staff overheard me bitching, they could have come over and said something right? No. Instead they bitched to communications person about the whiny reporter who bitched about not getting a release.

Ok. First up. I am a bitch. But I am not a demanding one. I have a reputation for showing up on time to events, except if I’m held back by work/another event. When I get to a launch, I just want the release so at least I have a gist of the proceedings and make it easier to see what’s left out so I can, oh, ask at the Q&A?

Because I get pissy when I hear reporters ask stuff that is, oh, in the damn release?

Yes, I know. The people who don’t know me/haven’t dealt with me can find me intimidating. And when I’m annoyed/angry, you can see my hackles rise from 20 metres away. But I don’t make scenes. I don’t yell. You know I’m really mad when I use my very quiet, very sinister sounding voice, dripping with lots and lots of sarcasm.

Like when I asked another company’s rep: “So, you’re telling me, that you changed the time by an hour and I’m supposed to just wait around for an hour until the event actually starts?” Instead of yelling at the rep, I took the release, left…then went nuclear on Twitter. Heh.

I am sorry if I am not nice. I’m not a nice person. No. I am impatient. I am blunt. I have no toleration for bullshit. But on the other side of the coin: I don’t give you bullshit either. I don’t pretend to like you when I don’t. I won’t suck up to you because I don’t expect you to suck up to me. You give me a story, I will write the story and most times, I write fairly decent. If I say something has merit in print, I mean it. If I praise you in an article, I believe you deserve that praise and not because I want your advertising moolahs. I don’t write what I don’t believe…which is probably why I’m not making the real money as a copywriter. Ha bloody ha.

I give a shit about my stories. I give a shit about my job and I take it damn seriously. So please, help me help you by making it easy to find that story. You give me a story, I write it, we’re good.

But if it takes you 3-4 hours to get me a release – which I like having to be absolutely sure I’m accurate – then pardon me if I get mad. I thought PR’s job is to make it easier for a journalist to get his/her story and if you get mad when I accuse you of not, oh, doing your job…well, let’s agree to disagree.

In the online world, we do not have the luxury to wait on a PR company for hours. There’s always a new story waiting around the corner so why the heck should I be waiting on yours?

Why I’m not missing journalism

Reynolds Journalism Institute Lobby

Image by moohappy via Flickr

My third month into PR, and I’ve already been asked if I missed journalism.

I miss the people I worked with – four years of sharing tough times and crazy times (like almost getting killed in a bus crash) does leave you feeling attached.

I miss having people around me; it gets lonely sometimes, just me and my computer.

But I don’t miss practicing journalism in Malaysia. If you look at it as a day job – churn copy, submit before deadline, collect your pay then maybe it’ll feel like a job like any other. If you care about what you write, if you have ideals about standards, truth, and telling a really good story then prepare to be constantly waging battles you’ll more often lose than win.

Unfortunately writing isn’t really respected in this country. The perception is that anyone can write.  Why hire professionals? Yes, maybe you can write but can you write well? That makes all the difference.

When I joined PR, my German friend, Rolf, laughed and congratulated me on joining the ranks of professional liars.

When you’re a tech reviewer in Malaysia, you get used to being called a liar. The perception was that we would write good reviews for our advertisers. Million dollar question: was that true? I can honestly say I never lied about a product, and never said I liked it if I didn’t.

But reviewers weren’t allowed to ever ‘slam’ a product. Still, if they had any reservations, they had to write their misgivings as opinion and not present it as fact. “In other words, hedging-lah,” my deputy said.  I answered, “No it’s being diplomatic.” And if we ever encountered a product of extreme sucktitude, we politely told clients, “We don’t think this measures up to the standards of your previous offerings so it really doesn’t do your brand justice.” And declined to review it. Oh yeah, I was getting lots of PR practice with The Mag.

In PR, the goal is to get the message across. Perception of said message, unfortunately, is not something we can always control. People have minds but what PR does is to ensure the message the client wants out is the message that actually does come out.

“This is who we are and this is what we’re saying.” Succinctly, that is what PR is communicating about and for clients.

Interestingly, Text 100’s put out a release on a study that claims PR is more powerful than advertising in building brands.

“The findings of the Media Prominence Study, which calculates brand value based on Interbrand’s 2008 Best Global Brands report, show that on average 27 percent of brand value is tied to how often the brand name appears in the press. In industries that involve more research before purchases are made, public relations can account for nearly half of brand value. For example, in the computing industry, media prominence accounted for 47 percent of brand value, or 16 times that of the personal care industry.

This study underscores the importance of managing and growing brand value through public relations efforts during a recession. The more complex a product is to a buyer, the more likely they are to research the product category and to look for information they can trust – from editorial content rather than advertisements.”

And here’s a note from’s Butch Ward on switching from journalism to PR:

“While I’m never happy to learn that people are leaving journalism — especially when the decision is made for them — I’m now able to reassure them that their abilities to write, to gather and to organize information, and to think analytically, will serve them well in the business world.

And, I can assure them one other thing: PR — like journalism — can be a very honorable way to spend one’s life.”

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to find that it’s true.


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