Pledge for press pariahs

By Dean Johns

Wow! Wah!! Alamak!!! Stop the presses, hold the front page, and stagger back in astonishment at the scoop of the century: Malaysia’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is thinking about getting its members to go straight.

Or so we’re apparently expected to believe, with NUJ general secretary V Anbalagan recently telling Malaysiakini that NUJ members may be asked to sign a “fair reporting pledge” to ensure balanced coverage of the forthcoming general election.

“Yes,” Anbalagan breathlessly announced, “the executive council has unanimously agreed on the matter as it is one of NUJ’s objectives – to practise ethical journalism.”

Amazing news, huh? Too amazing for words, as far as I’m concerned. Call me cynical if you will, but the moment anybody mentions the word “ethical” in connection with Malaysian mainstream journalism, I get extremely suspicious.

And not without good reason. Here, to jog both your memory and mine, is the Code of Ethics that the vast majority of Malaysian mainstream journalists, NUJ members or not, have routinely failed to practise:

     National Union of Journalists Malaysia

Code of Ethics

1. Respect for truth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.

2. In pursuance of this duty he will defend the twin principles: freedom in the honest collection and publication of news; and the right of fair comment and criticism.

3. The journalist reports only in accordance with the facts of which he knows the origin. He will not suppress essential information or falsify documents.

4. He will use only fair methods to obtain news, photographs and documents.

5. Any published information which is found to be harmfully inaccurate he will do his utmost to rectify.

6. He will observe professional secret (sic) regarding the source of information obtained in confidence.

7. He will regard as grave professional offences the following:

  • Plagiarism
  • Calumny, slander, libel and unfounded accusations
  • The acceptance of a bribe in any form in consideration of either publication or suppression.

8. He recognises in professional matters, the jurisdiction of his colleagues only; he excludes every kind of interference by governments or others.

Of course most of Malaysia’s offenders against the principles and ethics of journalism try and justify themselves by blaming the Umno/BN regime’s pernicious Printing, Presses and Publications Act.

And indeed they have a powerful point. The PPPA is the fundamental reason why Malaysia’s lamentable placing on the Press Freedom index so starkly gives the lie to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s assertion at the 2010 Press Club-Naza Awards that “I, for one, believe that the Malaysian media is something that we can all be proud of.”

But there are job opportunities for journalists outside the mainstream media, and indeed outside Malaysia. And to judge by the standard of work I’ve seen in some cases, many mainstream so-called ‘journalists’ would be far better employed in some other field altogether.

As would a great many mainstream ‘editors’ who, in flagrant contravention of the fundamental principle of the press, the public’s right to know, are nothing but pimps paid to prostitute journalism for the political and criminal purposes of the ruling regime.

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