By Henry Yew:
When I was still a little kid, my parents had always encouraged me to read newspapers. They kept saying that newspapers will enhance my general knowledge, as well as taking the chance to improve my proficiency in Mandarin. Back then, newspaper reports were seen to be entirely factual and they are reliable sources of information. To some extent, they still are today. However, the alternative media has now started to make us question the reliability and authenticity of the information that is reported in the mainstream media. With some newspapers owned by certain political powers, it is difficult to judge whether they will maintain any form of impartiality. We start to doubt.
To make things worse, the Malaysian society delights in sensationalism and conspiracy theories. Short text messages about certain scandals spread like a pandemic, and if they are what a typical Malaysian suspects they are, then the suspicions have to be true; if they contradict what a typical Malaysian fights for, then they have to be false. The society seems to be enjoying themselves very much in playing guessing games – somehow they feel obliged to make statements like, “My instinct tells me that…” or “I think this was how it happened” and they hope that they are right. If they happen to be right, their ego is further boosted: “Look, I am right after all! My instinct isn’t that bad, right?”
However, little do they realize that such a phenomenon is destructive for a knowledgeable society. When a conspiracy theory crops up, it is not uncommon that the element of backbiting exists, very much at the expense of the victim’s dignity. The saddest part is that the person who backbites others is most likely unaware that they are just as imperfect as the person whom they were slandering about.
After all this ranting, what am I trying to get to anyway? Have you ever given a thought about how the Malaysian society can easily be attributed to a tabloid? Tabloids do not thrive for no apparent reason. They can survive simply because there is a demand for yellow journalism.
And our newspapers today seem to have less interest in reporting news that matters to us. When Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim shot a salvo at a reporter who asked questions about the sex video in which he was alleged to have been involved, the reporter retorted that she was merely doing her job. While it may be true, the reporter was not being tactful, nor was she doing any act of service to the people. Anwar was fielding questions about the recent Sarawak elections, but the reporter insisted on asking questions related to the sex video. As a member of the public, I am more interested in issues that will affect the society and how I live. I am interested to know about what has been debated in Parliament. I want to know what the government has (and has not) done for its people. I want to know about the level of unemployment in this country. I am not interested in reports that bear slanderous elements.
However, obviously this was not the case. We have the mainstream media that are more interested in reporting about another person’s misfortunes and scandals, and then they claim that they are merely keeping the public informed. When the reporter asked a question related to the sex video, it was clear that she was not interested to know about Anwar’s opinion on the recent Sarawak elections. She went to the right place for the wrong reasons, but she was probably doing it knowing well that this was the kind of “scoop” that will get a high readership.
Perhaps it is time that we take a step back and evaluate ourselves and our media for a moment. Have the media got their roles terribly wrong now? Are we the reason that the media are responding in this manner? How would you explain about “anal penetration”, “bocor” and the like to children who happen to read newspapers? Is it time that we rate our newspapers 18-SX?
It is really high time that no more backbiting should come from our mouths, and that more facts should come if we are serious about becoming a knowledge society and not a tabloid society. Conspiracy theories bring us no benefit, and they merely keep us guessing for things that remain unknown to us. Time could be better spent on productive things such as reading a good book, gardening, sports, etc. rather than talking about people behind their backs.
I know that all this is easier said than done; I admit freely that I am guilty of such sinful acts, but I am constantly making a conscious effort of knowing falling into temptations that bring me no honour. The mind controls what you want to say, and you always have the choice on whether to give in to such temptations or not.
Newspapers are powerful tools that have the capacity of manipulating our beliefs and mentality. We should not give them reason to fuel our desire for scandal updates or on issues that are not factual to begin with. To do that, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge and insist on knowing the facts of an issue, rather than conspiracy theories. We can always put pressure on the media to ensure that proper journalism ethics are followed.
Henry Yew reads the BBC.
Image taken from here.