Blogs versus mainstream media, Malaysian style by ktak
Friday, January 19, 2007
Should the paper have contacted Ooi, to begin with? Well, why not? What transpired involved him, any way you slice it and after all, Screenshots is his blog.
Folks at the BH might not care for Ooi, but it is another thing to let that get the better of what they do as professional journalists.
The problem with BH here is, unfortunately, not uncommon among the mainstream media. For example, when they reported on the Barisan Nasional politicians’ accusations against the opposition parties, they would often not get the opposition's response to be included in the same report. As a result, what the public get is a one-sided view of things. This long-standing flagrant violation of a cardinal principle of journalism undermines the mainstream journalists' professionalism and suggests, rightly or wrongly, their bias.
BH thus came across as not interested in providing the facts of the story – a basic requirement of journalism. It appeared more interested in hitting out at Ooi; it even demanded an apology from him. By then, Ooi refused. He slammed the paper for its lack of professionalism and unfair accusations about him. Ooi, indeed, played up the irony of how, even though he is no professional journalist, he had to remind BH about the principles of a professional journalist.
Ooi’s point about how blogs work is not without merit. Blogs do allow the public to post their views unfiltered. Ooi’s Screenshots, like other blogs, count on public postings. Pre-screening such postings - especially if there are many postings like Screenshots has received – requires too much effort and resources from bloggers, who are often just individuals operating in their spare time. Even if it were possible, would that not take away from the very nature of blogs?
Did the BH not know that about blogs? Or did it choose to ignore it? Either way, it is appalling especially because it is a news organization.
Kalimullah has his say
On 3 October, NST editor-in-chief Kalimullah Hassan also weighed in with his “The Sunday Column”. He began his piece by expounding on the virtues of PM’s Islam Hadhari. Towards the end, he indicated that Islam Hadhari had been thrashed and disrespected by, among others, “a somewhat unknown blogger” - in an obvious reference to Ooi.
Kalimullah even suggested that the likes of Ooi were bigots, and racists should not be allowed to destroy Malaysia’s principles of peaceful co-existence.
But he sounded contradictory. He felt that the “likes of Ooi” were unknown small fries “who repeatedly post lies and untruths and expectantly wait for their minute of fame, hoping that they will be singled out and named in public and then, perversely, become the toast of their peers in the small world they live in and the limited followings they are.”
Well, if so, how could the small world and limited followings of the likes of Ooi’s be able to destroy Malaysia’s principles of peaceful co-existence?
Kalimullah also stated that this was not the first time that "this Jeff Ooi has allowed postings that hurt the feelings of others” as he has “maliciously slandered many people, hurt many innocents, all in the name of a free media.” Kalimullah included himself as one of the “many people”. But he did not give a single example of such “postings” or malicious slander to back his claim.
How is that going to help Malaysians who are not aware of the likes of Ooi (and apparently there are very many of them) see his point?
Malaysians who have followed Ooi’s Screenshots would agree that Ooi had mocked or slammed Kalimullah. Still, how was all that “malicious slander”?
In the final analysis, Kalimullah appeared personally upset with Ooi for some time now because of Ooi’s criticism of him, along with postings in Screenshots. Thus, when this 'Anwar' remark surfaced in Screenshots, it appeared to have given Kalimullah the opportunity to hit back at Ooi, finally.
To be sure, Kalimullah has every right to hit back at Ooi in his column. It is his freedom of speech. But did he need to make his case by resorting to the unsubstantiated claim about people using “free media” to make malicious slander? For someone who is editor-in-chief of a major mainstream paper – and someone, by his own implication, having a far larger following than Ooi– to be this quick with this line of argument does not augur well for the future of freedom of speech in Malaysia. It would only give additional ammunition to those ever ready to restrict that freedom.
Fed up with the corporate media
The rise of the Internet offering outlets for a freer flow of information is a global phenomenon. The mushrooming of so-called alternative or non-mainstream outlets of information like blogs has come about mainly because of the problems people have had with their mainstream media. This occurs even in places that bragged of having more freedom of speech than Malaysia.
In the US, for example, many are fed up with their mainstream media because they are often seen as tainted by the corporate view in the light of huge corporations owning major media that are ever more beholden to major political interests. Bloggers are increasingly keeping mainstream journalists on their toes one way or another.
A good example was how Dan Rather of CBS TV network got burned by the exclusive story about how George W. Bush was given favourable treatment while serving in the National Guard to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War. And it got started when US bloggers jumped at the story when they smelled something fishy. Still, throughout it all, did Rather or CBS respond by invoking legislation against the bloggers?
Rational thinking missing
Bloggers in Malaysia are still small fries, comparatively speaking. But that is not to say they do not have a reason to be around. Indeed, as long as the perception of the mainstream press as essentially Barisan Nasional mouthpieces persists, Malaysian bloggers will find ways to surface. Instead of seeing this as an encouraging sign for the flowering of diversity hence empowering Malaysians to think critically, we have the likes of Kalimullah and the BH. In trying to get rid of the likes of Ooi, one invoked a tightening of freedom of speech and the other ignored the facts and a basic principle of journalism.
It may be argued that all this might, in a perverse way, encourage more blogs with alternative views to surface. Perhaps. But one would have to be truly naive to think that this is what Kalimullah and the folks at BH had in mind when they took on Ooi. Rather, their line of action appears to be a tightening of the freedom of speech when they get the first chance to hit back at those whose speech they did not like. And thanks to such strong establishment reaction, many web-surfers are already wary now of expressing themselves freely on the Net.
Unlike newspapers, which are essentially a one-sender-many receivers mode of communication, blogs are more a many-senders-many-receivers mode of communication as they rely heavily on postings. But blogs are not without their drawbacks, and one of them is how unfiltered postings can get out of hand.
But because of the huffing and puffing from BH and Kalimullah, the honest concern about postings getting out of hand is lost. Along with that, careful considerations of a closer, more practical supervision of the postings, short of taking away the nature of blogs, are not getting a constructive airing.
And that is the most regrettable part of this episode of blogs versus mainstream media, Malaysian style. Jeff Ooi's blog.