Commentary by Terence Fernandez
From Sun2Surf of October 17, 2008
IT IS uncommon for newspapers, media organisations as well as their journalists to criticise one another’s editorial policies or reports. Call it journalistic etiquette if you want.
However, there are the few but significant times when this decorum is disregarded. And this usually occurs when a member of the Fourth Estate breaches the norms and values of responsible journalism and risks bringing acceptable standards of reporting down to the recesses of gutter journalism. Thus when this happens, it is incumbent upon the press fraternity to speak up.
If we don’t do our house-cleaning, we are seen as condoning and even supporting the words and writings of those who use "freedom of the press" and their media tag as a façade to incite, provoke and inflame.
It does not take a heart surgeon to draw parallels between the main character in Chamil Wariya’s short story in Mingguan Malaysia on Sunday* to a very real and sitting Member of Parliament. He wrote about a fictional controversial Member of Parliament who meets her end at the hand of an assassin. The events leading to her murder is eyebrow-raising similar to those experienced by the real MP. The similarities are too uncanny not to be deliberate. If anyone denies this, it is just a pitiable and cowardly attempt to hide from the truth.
The story depicts one YB J (Josephine), second term MP for the fictional constituency of Alam Maya and her push for non-race based politics which makes her out to be a chauvinist and racist who is against a certain community.
While being driven to a function where she is to meet 500 fellow young countrymen who had studied abroad, she has a monologue on the perception that she is a racist and seeks clarification from her driver Ahmad. He tells her that she "may or may not" be one, leaving her even more confused. Ahmad has his own monologue, which are imbued with images of suicide bombers and angels.
At the function, YB J is approached by a participant who assassinates her and takes his own life. On the assassin’s body is a note that reads it is better to end YB J’s life to ensure that this multiracial country continues to experience the peace and harmony it has enjoyed for so long.
Drawing parallels again, the story mentions the ruling coalition losing its two-thirds majority, ISA detentions, Molotov cocktail attacks and changing of street signs. Sheer coincidence? You’ve got to be kidding!
While we are all allowed (and in some cases guilty of using) creative licence, there are boundaries to observe – what with sedition laws, defamation suits and show-cause letters. Even so, I have yet to come across a journalist who in all sense of the word incites murder! This is definitely deliberate and deserves the highest condemnation from all members of the press and decent Malaysians who strive for peace and harmony.
And to think that this comes from someone with more than 35 years in the media business, having held key positions in media organisations and press groups is a stain on the journalistic community.
If Chamil Wariya wants to use his position to curry favour with certain individuals or groups or to push a certain agenda, that is his business. But when one uses his pen to even suggest taking a life, this brings us to a whole new level of sewer journalism – the likes which we have not yet seen in this country.
The biggest tragedy of all is that he is the CEO of the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) – an organisation which among others preaches responsible journalism as an integral component of press freedom.
Apart from awarding the nation’s highest annual journalism honours, it also conducts courses for journalists young and old. So is this the kind of journalism espoused by the MPI to cadet reporters other media organisations entrust it to train and develop?
The MPI has often been accused of being partisan and a retirement home for out-of-work editors.
It is thus incumbent on the institute to ensure the reputation it has built (and salvaged) is not further tarnished by one of its highest office-bearers. What it should do now is to deliberate on Chamil Wariya’s association with the MPI. Turning a deaf ear or blind eye is merely sending the message that the country’s highest media establishment condones incitement to murder.
Terence, who has just taken down his MPI award from the mantlepiece, hopes he will once again be able to display it proudly.