COMMENT | It is counter-intuitive – giving the low-down on the side effects of Covid-19 vaccines will bound to give ammunition to anti-vaxxers.
But we do it anyway not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it would be far worse should it be discovered that there was a cover-up. Anti-vaxxers would have a field day. We should not yield to the short-term incentive of withholding information. Maintaining public trust is critical if the world is to emerge victorious over the virus.
While we appear to be seeing the light at the end of the long Covid tunnel, the same cannot be said about our battle against disinformation. Fighting disinformation proves to be much more difficult than fighting Covid.
It is easy for conspiracy peddlers to spread disinformation. They don’t have to show they are right. All they need to do is to sow doubt. The disinformation doesn’t have to be persuasive. It just has to be out there so that everyone finds it hard to distinguish between good and bad, reality and fantasy, real and fake.
Save 22% during our 22nd anniversary here.
Thanks to social media, such campaigns have been wildly successful. To maximise users’ time on their platform – and boost their profits – technology giants tweak their algorithm to serve contents that increasingly take many of us down the rabbit hole.
Malaysiakini, too, faces such disinformation. Time and again, detractors raise the issue of Malaysiakini funding and paint us as foreign agents – here to serve either the CIA or George Soros, or both.
And the transparency we provide about the money we received from funding agencies is at times craftily used against us. This is despite that such funding go to support side projects such as training citizen journalists in Malaysia and helping other online media start-ups in Southeast Asia. Or that these funds represent not more than 10 percent of Malaysiakini budget and do not go to financing the operational expenses of the organisation.
These attacks emerged every now and then in the two decades of our existence, culminating in the threat to destroy the Malaysiakini building by pro-Umno protesters a few years ago.
A recent funder of our side projects is Judith Neilson Institute (JNI), set up by one of the richest women in Australia. Judith Neilson, who is often compared to Jeff Bezos' ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, gave A$100 million (US$73 million) to JNI to support quality journalism.
This year JNI helped fund a regional project called "Asia’s coal dilemma" involving journalists from six countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and Australia. Malaysiakini was part of that project and produced a three-part special report on the issue last month.
Here’s a three-minute video about the journalism that JNI supports featuring Malaysiakini special reports editor Aidila Razak. No doubt, there will be conspiracy theorists who would claim that JNI is serving the interest of Asio – Australia’s version of CIA. And that Malaysiakini is the tip of the JNI spear in its mission to destabilise Asia.
Seeds of mistrust
Autocratic movements are on the rise everywhere - both in the East and the West. They are planting seeds of doubt, cynicism, mistrust and suspicion. They are fomenting hatred and violence, but at the same time, promising law and order. These tactics were used by fascists in the past. Now, these same tactics are being used by right-wing populists everywhere.
Democracy cannot work if lies are given equal treatment as truth, where facts stand on par with falsehoods, and where fantasy is dressed up as reality. Thus, in this age of disinformation, our job as journalists is more important than ever.
Malaysiakini turns 22 this week. Over the past two decades, we have undergone some dark times. There were some bright spots too. Most outstanding was the remarkable feat of Malaysians changing the government for the first time in our history. Now that we have done it once, we can do it again, and again.
In the process, we have also trained a new crop of journalists who are just as driven and determined to continue to hold power to account and tell truth to power. They may be a little wet behind the ears when they came on board, but their zeal to perfect the art of holding our leaders’ feet to the fire is admirable.
Some have even picked up skills that eluded older journalists like me. In the coming decades, these men and women will be the ones taking Malaysiakini to the next level.
Your Malaysiakini subscription will champion this new generation of journalists. They deserve your support. Indeed, you help pay for our journalism, not Uncle Sam.
For our 22nd anniversary this week, we are offering a 22 percent discount on our subscription.
For those of you who have subscribed, thank you. You may want to take advantage of the discount and extend your subscription. You can also "gift" a Malaysiakini subscription to your loved ones, friends or someone whom you think could benefit from the news and views we provide. For those, who have yet to subscribe, please do.
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STEVEN GAN is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Malaysiakini.