World Press Freedom Day – a reflection

World Press Freedom Day – a reflection

K. Pragalath and Hema Subramaniam

Today is World Press Freedom Day – a day when members of the press, be it print, online, broadcast or radio reflect on the work they do in educating the public and spreading information to the masses.

It is time to reflect on the journey taken by every news person, the hardship faced and personal battles one face as we go out there to do our calling in providing news. Behind every media personnel, there is a father, mother, son, daughter, patient.

One of the biggest tragedy that befell Malaysia was the MH370 that took place five years ago. The authorities withheld vital information as media personnel spent days and weeks often overnight being a bridge between families of the victims and the authorities.

We are blamed by the families for not giving them enough information, while being heavily criticized by the government for asking the tough questions. Truth seems simple but it is not as easy it seems to deliver.

At often times, media personnel were accused of not giving enough information even as the information that they received only came trickling like dewdrops at dawn.

Most of the time, we sacrificed sleepless nights, holidays and family time to deliver the news. This is also why journalists have the highest divorce rates when compared to other professions.

Last year Malaysia saw the fall of the BN regime. This was recently attributed as a factor in the rise of Malaysia’s ranking in terms of press freedom.

The reality under the Pakatan Harapan government is that the laws that curtailed the press are still there. Sedition Act, Publishing Presses and Printing Act, Communication and Multimedia Act and a slew of defamation suits are still Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.

The late MGG Pillai, a veteran newsman, for instance, is the best example of a newsman who became bankrupt after being slapped by defamation suits by one of the richest man in Malaysia – Vincent Tan.

Business and political ownership of the media is another hurdle faced by us, the media personnel. Owners often put their hands down on the editorial, forcing them to take a certain slant or an angle that does not reflect the truth that we, journalists pursue.

It suffocates us, the media practitioner and blocks our flow of thoughts in writing news creatively as that is vital in keeping our audience, the public, engaged.

Grabbed from Committee to Protect Journalist

There is no doubt whatsoever that the news industry is a business but where is the freedom to pursue truth and justice?

In my experience as a journalist, I have witnessed interference into the editorial by other parties such as the media owners who hold the key to funds. While I do not doubt their management skills, I do wonder and have questions that remain unanswered:

Do they have any knowledge about the newsroom? Do they know the difference between a print article and an article written by online journalists? Do they understand the concept of time between print media and online media? There are also differences in the approach taken by a television broadcast journalist and radio journalists.

How important is a sub-editor, news editor and editor in chief in publishing a news article? It is no simple matter as to how a citizen journalist covers a subject matter.

The news industry itself is facing challenges as the latest technology developments make them obsolete which raises the question of media survival.

Previously, it was easy for media personnel like us to survive as the newspapers can rely on its circulation. These days it is all digitised and not every portal can switch to being a subscription-based news site like Malaysiakini or The Malaysian Insight.

This has resulted in the editorial content getting choked because the news sites do not have their own financial freedom.

These days, the target is to write catering to search engine optimisation. Certain quarters feed on toxic news and media personnel are forced to cater to toxic content in order to meet a certain number of hits, likes, and followers to their news channels.

Where is the freedom? Our passion and desire have thus far sustained us to continue moving forward. How long more would it fuel us? Only time will tell.

We wait patiently for a new dawn to break when we do not succumb to the pressures of the external hands or sell our souls to the devil.

Happy World Press Freedom Day!- The Leaders Online