Down2Earth - Truth under siege

IT would not be out of place to say that journalism in Malaysia is under threat. With the enforcement of laws and enactment of new ones perceived as meant to muzzle the media, the blocking of certain sites by the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission, the suspension of a daily, and the arrests of several newsmen, one would be hard-pressed to say otherwise as the evidence is as clear as daylight.

Meanwhile, news organisations are feeling the pinch as rising operational costs and sluggish advertisement revenues have seen extreme belt tightening measures including the shutting down of titles and editorial divisions at The Edge; the shutting down of Asia Broadcasting Network (ABN)'s news division last year and the temporary cessation of The Rakyat Post last week.

In the last two organisations, salaries have not been paid for months. Rakyat Post staff have also been without salaries for the last two and a half months. Perhaps these media owners genuinely feel their staff can get by nibbling on their pencils.

Yes, depending on how one looks at it, it is either the worst time to be a reporter in this country or this could be a watershed moment for the Malaysian press.

The much maligned mainstream media had to step up its game during the rise of news portals and blogs. With dropping readership, it was not enough for the blue-tag boys and girls to just regurgitate what a minister or government-friendly politician says at a press conference.

There was a need for more balanced views and critical journalism, which was mostly confined to the back pages.

Newspapers like The Malay Mail continued to make a niche for itself in investigative journalism focusing on bread and butter issues, leaving the politics to its then big sister the New Straits Times.

The opposition and those with alternative views suddenly also had air-time.

Right here at theSun, its ability in pushing the envelope furthest through its brand of investigative journalism and balanced views continue to make it the first read of the day for many.

Yet, the other media were generally seen as the bringers of the gospel truth. And this is where the danger lies.

While mainstream media reports are usually read with a pinch of salt by the more discerning readers, the alternative ones are not held by the same standards demanded of the mainstream press.

Hence you have half-truths such as the reason the two Australian journalists were detained on Saturday (breaching a security cordon; not asking questions on corruption in Malaysia).

The non-mainstream press must remember and be reminded of its heavy responsibility in being able to push the envelope further than their mainstream cousins.

It is an ability that is envied but not easily emulated due to ownership, partisan and legal constraints.

So if they too decide to cherry pick the facts and present half-truths, they are no better than those accused of being aligned or currying favour with certain individuals or parties.

For example, it is appalling that while environmental issues and hill-cutting in BN-led Selangor were the flavour of the day, similar destruction in Penang is overlooked or given scant attention.

Sadly also, the very ones who used to champion a free press are today the ones trying to shackle it through legal suits and the law.

But at the end of the day, the onus is on the fraternity to report without fear or fear. To tell the whole truth and nothing but – even if the truth is not sexy and will not increase page views or higher readership – or worse, fulfil a higher agenda.

One can take the opportunity to take on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi's assurance that there is no restriction on journalists; that they just be ethical and respect the law.

At the end of the day it is not so much the press but the truth that is under siege; and as we have seen this is a commodity that is most sought after by everyone – each with his or her own motivation.

Although he is pursuing other interests, Terence still dabbles in journalism. Feedback: letters@thesundaily.com