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LETTER | Journalists and politicians can be the best of friends or the worst of enemies, depending on how they manoeuvre in the battle for truth.

Both share a common mission: to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. But in the course of their striving for their shared gaol, their paths often diverge.

Politicians see truth mostly through the narrow lens of vested self-interest. They burnish their image with narratives that largely centre around their ego as they climb up the totem pole to reach the top of their political career. But they cannot operate in a vacuum. They need a boost to “etch their mark in history”.

Enter the journalists. One of the effective ways to get a message across to the public is through the channels of the media and this is the platform where names are made, polished or sullied.

When the press gives a good write-up on a politician, an instant camaradie is forged between the reporter and the man in the news. Both will become buddies.

But this “honeymoon” will not last long because journalism and politics do not mix well. Reporters will soon discover that politicians are quite a devious lot whose ultimate, ulterior motive is to acquire prestige, status and, more importantly, power.

Then the battle begins in earnest when the press is pitted against the power of the political establishment. When politicians form the government, they will defend their establishment to the last drop of their “blood”.

The spirit of camaradie between the now-sworn foes will soon dissolve into pitched battles for the truth as the press exposes the dark side of those who are supposed to work for the public good.

The press had discovered that these guardians of the nation had abused their position, instead of repaying the trust the people had placed in them.

From then on, things will turn ugly. The politicians, now transformed into an elite, ruling class, will issue strong denials and put up stout defence. Then they will swing into attack mode in an all-out attempt to discredit the journalists who dare write the truth.

What is truth? To politicians, truth is mostly to keep on telling lies to hide their misdeeds. To the brotherhood of the press, truth is stripping away all the lies to reveal the kernel of the true story.

Besides, politicians have a different take on what journalism is all about. To them, it is not about reporting the truth but slanting your views to suit the official version. Moreover, in their black book of rules, they want the Fourth Estate to:

  • Ignore the dirt you see in the corridors of power (spread only good news about the country);

  • Write what I say and not what you think is factual (what I tell you is gospel truth);

  • Treat all foreign news report about corruption in the highest level of government as subversive (though the whole world knows it is true);

  • Be transparent, meaning reveal your sources so that we can arrest them (and keep our cushy job intact);

  • Use only information that comes out of the mouths of ministers (never mind how tainted they are).

And the list goes on and on with no signs the press will toe the line. As the confrontation heats up, both sides will dig their heels in - one fighting to keep their political career afloat and the other to keep the flag of press freedom flying high.

The contest can take a turn for the worse when journalists are dragged to court to face spurious charges cooked up by politicians who feel cornered and threatened under the glare of truth. In some countries, reporters pay for their lives for doing their job without fear or favour.

In this long-drawn-out battle, journalists are often fighting on an uneven playing field. They are a small force (David) putting up against the mighty army of politicians (Goliath).

When under siege, politicians will use every advantage and ruse they can find to muzzle the press including launching a “missile” called “code of conduct” into the battlefield in a futile bid to dress down the press.

In extreme cases, when the tide of public opinion is against the political class as a result of the exposé, drastic but cowardly measure is adopted - revoking the licence of the printed media or blocking the online newspapers.

Will the press surrender under withering fire? Unlikely. History is replete with stories of how puny David, with just a slingshot of his pen, can bring down towering Goliath with his brittle armour of deceit.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.