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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sycophantic Editors Ruin Trust

SEEING IT MY WAY
Malaysiakini.com September 4, 2008
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)
Sycophantic Editors Ruin Trust

The result of the recent Permatang Pauh by-election was a surprise only to those who depended on the mainstream media and the government’s massive propaganda machinery for their source of news and information.

A measure of how far detached from reality those who sit in the editorial suites of our mainstream papers can be gauged by the pre-election editorial of The New Straits Times where its Editor-in-Chief Syed Nadzri boldly predicted that Anwar would be defeated. Obviously Syed Nadzri was beginning to believe his own spin.

In coming to such a wildly off-the-mark conclusion, Syed Nadzri is either a lousy observer of the public mood or he is more concerned with sucking up to his political superiors. In either case, he does not deserve to be the custodian of such a valuable and essential institution of modern society.

To me Syed Nadzri is both. That he is a poor judge of the public mood can be seen by the ever declining circulation and influence of his paper. Syed Nadzri is only the latest in a long series of those who, through their lack of professional integrity and journalistic skills, have destroyed this once-valued brand name. As one naughty wag put it, that paper should now be more correctly called, The New S**t Times.

It pains me to note (what is obvious to all) that since the paper was acquired by UMNO, nearly all its senior editors and journalists are Malays. I refuse to believe that a Just Allah had not bequeathed upon the Malay race our fair share of talent. I also refuse to believe that past luminaries like the now-ailing Samad Ismail was an accidental fluke and not the trademark of our culture. He should be an inspiration for the present generation of journalists, a measure of what we are capable of producing.

Instead we have the likes of Syed Nadzri, individuals more adept at sucking up to their superiors. Syed Nadzri has obviously learned little from the fate and experiences of his many predecessors who were similarly afflicted. While such a trait may have facilitated their ascent to the top, once there it is no guarantee of career longevity.

Syed Nadzri should have learned, or somebody should have taught him, that while political winds and personalities may change, your professional duties and ideals do not. Yours is to ensure that the public be well informed, the prerequisite of a healthy, functioning democracy.
The slow but sure decline of The New Straits Times was interrupted only briefly when Abdullah Ahmad, a former Ambassador to the UN and a Mahathir appointee, took the helm. He survived but only briefly under Abdullah Badawi. At least Abdullah Ahmad left in a blaze of glory, having had the courage to speak his mind publicly.

As I look at its roster of past Editors-in-Chief, I am struck at how quickly they, with few exceptions, have descended into oblivion once deprived of their perch at the editor’s desk. Kadir Jasin has his widely-read blog where he gives the occasional pungent comments now that he is freed from the tethers of officialdom. Again remarkable because of the rarity, Abdullah Ahmad is one of the few editors whose writings have been respectable enough to appear in reputable foreign publications.

The New Generation of Pseudo Journalists

My observations apply equally to those who helm Bernama, RTM and TV Tiga, as well as the other mainstream papers like The Star, Berita Harian, and Utusan Melayu. What we have today is a generation of pseudo or pretend editors and journalists. Ever wonder why the public ignores them? They have betrayed the public’s trust in them.

It is instructive that Ahiruddin Atan, Noraini Samad and Kadir Jasin now reach more readers through their blogs than when they were with the mainstream papers! It would not be long before they would effectively overcome the blemish in their resume that was the time they spent with the mainstream media.

I would be irresponsible if I were to stop here, pointing out only the problems and not offering solutions.

One thing is clear. The present “leaders” in journalism are very much part of the problem. Having brought up and flourish under the present system, we cannot expect them to change, or be part of the solution. Getting rid of them would be a necessary first step to solving the problem.

Replace them with competent and established editors from abroad if need be, and tie their compensation to the success of their papers. There are many measures of this (circulation figures, advertising revenues) but an important one would be how often articles and commentaries in their paper are being picked up by other publications.

Additionally, I would have as a regular event an annual week-long continuing education series for our reporters, journalists and commentators where they would hear from the leading practitioners in their respective fields. I would invite established journalists from abroad in various fields (political reporting, economic analyses, and investigative journalism) to lecture and share their experiences.

I would include as part of the program a basic writing course as well as courses on effective interviewing. Even more basic, I would gather all the editors, and guided by a competent teacher of English grammar and stylist, craft a uniform editorial format on such things how to handle long names and honorifics, as well such simple things as standardized spelling. Is it Kota Baru or Kota Bharu?

While we are discussing the basics, I would have someone competent in mathematics to teach our reporters and journalists on the meaning and significance of numbers. Then we would not have such silly statements as, “The price of food increased 5 percent last month.” Is that 5 percent over the previous month or over the same month of the previous year. Percentage is a ratio; you must therefore state the reference point.

Then as a concrete commitment to ensuring the future quality of the profession, I would groom at least half a dozen young journalists every year for entry into the leading journalism schools in America. With the promise of future infusions of fresh, bright and well-trained talents, rest assured the quality of local journalism and media would be enhanced considerably.

Only through such careful preparations and nurturing would our future journalists be able to differentiate between news and propaganda, between ministerial speeches and important policy announcements. Our society would then be well served. Journalists owe their readers and the public honest professional reporting, not propaganda to serve the needs of their political masters. This is what separates a free democratic society from an authoritarian state.

2 Comments:

Blogger maria said...

Dear sir, the great Tan Sri Samad Ismail passed away on Sept 4, at 5.58pm. Innalillah

1:15 PM  
Blogger Economist Kampong said...

When doctors and scholars present their R&D discoveries and findings, the event sometimes were covered by reporters and journalists. Or shall i say there were present at the event.

When companies present their annual reports reporters and journalists usually were also present.

BUT when these event were reported (most were not) the newspaper or magazine usually oly cover about the event rather than the substance and the intellectual weight and significance of the scientific findings or the cpmpanies's business strategies.

So - i guess the problems is not only at the top -- it is with the entire crop.

10:21 PM  

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