Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Malaysiakini grovels like a teenager in trouble


It will be difficult but Malaysiakini's sloppy gaffe in publishing a report expounding a putrid manifesto by a "support group" purportedly attributed to the Deputy Prime Minister in preparation for his ascension to the Prime Ministership must be regarded as simply that: a gaffe that the highly political web portal editors were unable to detect or prevent, given the high confidence it confers to its copy editors to take the initiative.

 

It must have been galling then for the Malaysiakini senior editors that a seemingly trusted copy editor published the report while ignoring its highly explosive nature and without having to check its source and veracity, or, if she had an iota of scepticism, referred it to her more senior and experienced editors for careful deliberation.

She didn't and when she pressed the OK button on the publishing software, it was not so much a case of publish and be damned as it was a routine that was all in a day's work. That copy editor practically lit a literary bomb that blew embarrassingly in her face and her outfit. It could easily have been circumvented had she abided by certain basic journalistic tenets.

While it's all nice and well now that the said copy editor took it upon herself to assume blame for her journalistic sins and immediately put in her walking papers, the affair affirms a measure of zealotry that Malaysiakini has assumed as its journalistic credo – to err towards gung-ho recklessness that only a young media outfit, like teenagers without a care in the world, can only flaunt.

However, Malaysiakini was, metaphorically, still a teenager lacking in the social graces and still short in maturity, while trying to live in an adult world where responsibility, sobriety and caution are bored principles. The entry to a night spot and drinking age is 21 and cigarettes cannot be sold to teenagers below 18. Balderdash! Malaysiakini would dismiss these rules as superfluous to their growing process, until their shit hit the fan.

Whether they deserve it or not, Malaysiakini has built a brutal reputation as a web news portal whose raison d'être is to gleefully criticise, lambast and condemn the Barisan Nasional Government, its machinery and its machinations, its systems, its policies, its weaknesses, its credibility to the point that it can't report in any other way or it will lose the legion of supplicants it calls its base audience. Its all politics all the time and mostly from the view of the firing seat.

To be sure, Malaysiakini can do just that because it does not have to temper an annual Government licence like its print rivals and being on the web, weighed in on the Government's pledge of non-cyber censorship, cheaper overheads and non-existent logistical woes.

Just as the mainstream newspapers been perceived as being pro-Government, Malaysiakini is trenchantly looked as pro-Opposition, whether it likes it or not, but its behaviour, mannerism and attitude strongly suggest that it lives and dies by that anti-Establishment moniker.

That is why the so-called Najib manifesto was published all too casually, on the account that the copy editor was living up to the Malaysiakini's doctrine. It's too soon to tell if they will have to pay the price in terms of punitive action or something worse but given that its presence is much needed in the pursuit of a free Press, Malaysiakini must learn to get away from its belligerent adolescence.

Nevertheless, Najib could have sued the socks off Malaysiakini for false reporting, which among others quoted the DPM as "eager to defend till the last drop of his blood the supremacy of the Malay race", or at the very least demand a police probe into the portal's ill-advised transgression. But he didn't, perhaps out of magnanimity or perhaps out of the fact that he cannot afford the distraction, seeing that he will soon inherit the management of a country roiling in the perfect political storm and need to muster all his energy and effort.

In a media conference outside the House, Najib accepted Malaysiakini's apology. "The reporter showed a high level of professionalism and took responsibility for the untrue story," he told the media at the Parliament lobby today. However, Najib rightly pointed out that the culprits who released the fake manifesto was still in hiding.

Najib is leaving it to the relevant authorities to unmask the perpetrators of the fake manifesto, agreeing that he may have to face all this until March, when Umno holds its general assembly and its delayed but high-octane party elections.

Cub reporters were taught from small to respect facts and triple check them when they conclude their reports, just before they submit their masterpieces to their copy editor for editing or tasting. It's a time-honoured concept practiced by most media outfits, whether they are of left or right leaning persuasions or whether they newspapers, magazines or the electronic media. Some old school journalism editors would also insist that their underlings their parents say they love you, check their claims too.

No conscientious editor or reporter would knowingly publish or write reports that are factually dodgy or just plain wrong but if the unimaginable happens, the blame is always an oversight or simple human error. Already, Wong's action has been spun as a "rare day when a Malaysian journalist resigns to take responsibility for an erroneous report."

That said, Malaysiakini is truly fortunate that Wong was conscientious enough to take the rap and save further grief for the portal. It could have been ugly.


 

By Azmi Anshar, NST

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