COMMENT | The media cannot parade a holier-than-thou attitude in uncovering corruption in high office. From my personal experience, corruption is both tolerated and practised in the newsroom although many pretend not to see the elephant in this room.
Allow me to call a spade a spade. Here are some specific instances I have encountered:
Junkets - These are free travel trips offered to journalists. Some are work- related, some are not. The difference between them is one whole big grey area. A senior editor, a very good friend of mine related this incident to me.
He was invited to go on a junket to Hong Kong for “business” coverage. According to him, this was purely a PR exercise. However, upon arriving at the function, he was handed an envelope containing RM3,000. He returned the money upon coming back to Malaysia to the secretary of the company director who had invited him to that junket.
That was, apparently, the end of the matter until he met the same director again on another occasion and thanked him for the envelope and informed him that he had returned the money to his secretary. That would have been the end of the matter except that the secretary pocketed the RM3,000 for herself without telling her boss.
I myself have been invited on some junkets. The last before I left journalism full-time was an invitation in 2013 by the People’s Daily, the newspaper founded by Chairman Mao Zedong and official organ of the Communist Party of China. This was to cover President Xi Jinping grand overture to unveil his “Chinese Dream” which became China’s new Silk Road or the Belt and Road Initiative.
It was a six-star junket all the way and boy, the communists can be very lavish. We were, of course, expected to write about his dream. My colleague from the Times of India blogged daily some hard-hitting pieces. I did five pieces upon my return for the Chinese newspaper I worked for and all five were what we call “WYSIWYG” – What You See Is What You Get. No embellishments. I never heard from the People’s Daily again.
Of course, some are purely PR trips which to the purist should never be accepted. I went on one offered by Petronas to the Suzuka F1 Formula track in Japan for the launch of their superbike.
Then a former high commissioner of India offered me a trip to promote Indian tourism. I was asked for my preference. I replied, Indian railways, from the cheapest class to the Maharajah one. He said that could be arranged. Since I am a rail buff, that was my dream trip but on second thoughts, I knew it was asking for one favour too much. Thus my rail dream went up like a Puffing Billy.
Vouchers for women
Pushing the envelope - This is a recent phenomenon in Malaysia copied from the brotherhood in Indonesia. I learned from my Indonesian colleagues in the then Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia that envelope journalism has become a systemic plague where journalists covering assignments are pushed envelopes containing cash.
There was never a need to ask. Envelopes are given as part of the press kit. According to another colleague, he said sometimes you find vouchers for women in your envelopes! Of course, these are for senior editors only.
I was away from journalism after Ops Lalang in 1987 and returned to the newsroom in 2000 as an assistant business editor for an English daily. A reporter upon returning from an assignment said she was surprised to find RM300 in an envelope. I told her to take it to the editor. I was asked for my opinion on what was to be done.
I said we should return it to the giver and if he or she refused, we could donate it to a charity. I don’t know what had happened to that suggestion.
Once, my nephew asked for a write-up as a favour for one of his clients which I duly obliged as it was a mundane PR piece. What shocked me was when he asked how much his client should pay me thinking that this was the standard practice. I told him that was my first and last favour for his client.
Needless to say, just as there are those who give, there are also those who ask or demand. I won’t bore you with the gory details.
Free gifts and product launches - There is one editor who prides himself in showing off his roomful of entertainment theatre equipment from widescreen TVs to expensive sound systems all of which were obtained free from product launches. The disease is so prevalent that journalists clamour to cover product launches.
The solution? The media cannot be expected to seriously discuss corruption in high office unless they first purge the scourge from their newsrooms. One way to do this is for each news organisation to undertake internal reform at the workplace.
To begin with, they can set forth principles for best practices and call a spade a spade where corruption within the newsroom is concerned. Any money or gift received on assignment can be surrendered to the newsdesk to be returned to the giver or to be disposed of in an appropriate manner and the giver duly informed of such action.
Any infringement should be dealt with summary dismissal where there is sufficient evidence. The alleged offender, if unhappy with the dismissal, can take the case up with the industrial court or civil court for breach of contract of employment. The fact is that there should be a benchmark set to deter corruption in the newsroom.
BOB TEOH is a media analyst.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.