You must forgive me if I think that Zakiah Koya's [#1]The duty of journalists[/#] (Dec 7) was a rather naked attempt at promoting malaysiakini as the place for credible, honest and professional journalism.
What great advertisement for your news website and your journalist when we are told by Zakiah that the "few and rare" journalists who are "willing to bare the facts" have "either left the industry or prefer to write for (sic) foreign media".
The article also reminds journalists, quite subtly, that if one has been "pushed aside" from having tried to make a difference, that there are other "doors" to enter. After all, "there is not only one media today." Yes, indeed, there is after all malaysiakini , we are left to continue the sentence in our minds.
Zakiah is also quick to point out that: "Journalists, who have always written the truth and take (sic) the effort to be responsible to the public in their reports, will come to a stage when they will (sic) to leave the media institution if the institution is no more credible in reporting the truth.''
We can only imagine, from Zakiah's anecdotes of having refused bribery, being yelled at by a minister for asking the right questions, and of having her reports edited before print, that she was speaking from personal experience, especially since she chose to remind readers that she herself worked in two so-called mainstream newspapers before joining malaysiakini .
We all feel relieved that malaysiakini has such fine journalists of such high integrity, especially since it has been promoting itself as the alternative media, printing only the "news that matters".
But just as Zakiah espouses truth and responsibility in journalism, may I just point out that she herself, and by extension, malaysiakini , since its editors saw fit to run the article, have not really lived up to those principles in her incisive piece on the state of Malaysian journalism.
Zakiah's piece is full of unfounded claims, untruths and assertions. On top of that, it makes sweeping generalisations, does not try to portray other facets of the issue, and smacks of self-congratulations.
The very first paragraph of Zakiah's article is already an unfounded claim. While I agree that many journalists are cowed, easily intimidated and often times do not make an effort at the job, it is unfair to assert that these attitudes are independent of the restrictions on press freedom in this country and the "hidden agenda of those who own the media".
Attitudes are shaped. Professional ethics are learnt. It is not a pre-given that "local media journalists" on their own are to blame for some of these prevailing attitudes in the profession, and for the "mess" that the press is in.
Subsequent paragraphs in the article then proceed to contradict Zakiah's initial premise by acknowledging that "the authorities (who) have the last say what goes to print and what does not". As thinking writers, we should at least be consistent in our arguments so as to be responsible to our readers.
Zakiah then declares that one fine example of how little professionalism exists in the local press is evidenced by the fact, as she would claim it, that environmental problems in this country have not been solved because "the way it was written by journalists failed to drive the truth home hard enough".
I do think that Zakiah and malaysiakini owe an apology to the exemplary environmental journalists in this country, including Pang Hin Yue (formerly from New Straits Times ) and Tan Cheng Li ( The Star ), who have done much to promote environmental conservation, not just through their hard-hitting exposes but also through their lobby of various government agencies.
If malaysiakini or Zakiah had at least done some homework before she started criticising her colleagues in the profession, perhaps she would have found that issues from the Highland Highway project to the Bakun Dam to the plight of the Orang Asli have been incisively documented by mainstream journalists, despite some of the odds we face.
And there are other journalists in the mainstream press who have upheld the principles of investigative journalism and exposed issues which made a difference in other areas from women's issues to human rights and government accountability.
Perhaps Zakiah, who has been in the profession only five years, has too short a memory, but surely others in malaysiakini would do well to remember the good work that the mainstream press and journalists have produced. Just as there are bad journalists in the profession, let us also not forget that there are good ones, too.
There is no need for me to name these other good journalists, because really, many of us don't feel the need to openly declare the good work we have done.
Interestingly enough, some of these journalists have, in fact, been publicly and privately commended by, among others, NGOs, communities and opposition party leaders - but perhaps Zakiah was loath to find out because it would have run contrary to her main thesis and her sweeping generalisations.
I would like to ask of those who have taken on the role of bastions of press freedom and professionalism, how accurate or truthful are such blanket generalisations.
I am also curious to know how the mainstream press has been designated as the agency solely responsible for any kind of social change or righting of wrong in society. Zakiah's assertion that environmental problems are unsolved because mainstream journalists are not hard-hitting enough assumes that only the media have a role to play.
Again, such sweeping generalisations do little to lend credibility to your news website. While I agree the media has an important role, why is it that other agents - communities, NGOs, citizen's groups, political parties, unions, and local councils have been absolved from their respective responsibilities in the process?
May I suggest that those who so easily criticise the press first understand the mechanics of social change before they venture to make any incisive comments about the role of the Malaysian media and its inability to bring about change.
I agree with Zakiah that responsibility is an important principle in journalism but perhaps that tenet should be broadcast to those in the alternative media as well.
Just because the Internet media has more freedom and no political masters, it does not mean that the so-called alternative media has always been responsible, accurate or factual. Malaysiakini itself should be aware of the instances when it was found to have sensationalised issues, displayed professional immaturity and naivete, and published inaccurate reports.
Zakiah's suggestion that all professional journalists of integrity have left the press or joined the foreign media is amazingly uninformed and biased. Has malaysiakini become so blinded by its own success that it cannot recognise the existence of hard working, honest and professional journalists who choose to continue to struggle for a better press within the mainstream?
And while malaysiakini 's role in democratising media space in the country is an important one, perhaps it is time for some of us to ponder which would be harder: to push the restricted boundaries from within and make a difference, or to have a free-for-all and write just about anything one wants to.
I would like to add that while Zakiah has only had five years of struggle within the mainstream press, many others have continued the tedious struggle far longer than she has within the parameters of the mainstream press, and have not found the need to broadcast it at the expense of other colleagues in the profession.
My response to your article is very much in line with your call for professionalism, truth and responsibility. I appreciate the fact that the niche malaysiakini is trying to carve out as an independent media is an important and commendable one.
But I think it is time for malaysiakini to acknowledge that by running Zakiah's article, it has not lived up to the standards of responsible journalism, accurate reporting or fair comment.