On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Sacrificing journalistic ethics to embarrass Mahathir

That was not all. As Dr Mahathir  spoke, a foreign TV reporter appeared before his camera, using  the on-going summit as a backdrop,  to say that the G-15 had little substance to work on.

It was the first day of the summit  but that did not stop the western  reporter, based in Singapore, from  passing off a prejudicial comment  as fact.

Completely ignored was the huge  amount of intra G-15 trade that had  been generated as a result of the  grouping.

The western press, which loves  to lecture the rest of the world on  objectivity, impartiality, fairness  and freedom of speech, seems to  have forgotten such ethics, preparing to sacrifice all these values to  suit its prejudices.

Accuracy is no longer of paramount importance, in the case of  many western reporters based in  the region, with opinions and comments passed off as news and analysis.

The hardest cut for these news  agencies over the past week has  been the chorus of support from  many countries for Dr Mahathir's  call to regulate currency trading.

Dr Mahathir has again become  the subject of their tirade simply  because he has been proven right.

The Fortune financial magazine,  in its Nov 24 issue, spared no  punches against Dr Mahathir, criticising Malaysia for not adopting  sufficient reforms in its economy.

But the saddest blow comes from  Bangkok's Nation, which has a sizeable number of expatriate journalists, including many former backpackers, who found themselves  stranded in Thailand and in need of  a job after running out of money.

Their only talent is their ability  to string a sentence correctly in a  country where it is difficult to find  reporters who can write proper English.

Last month, the newspaper said  in an editorial that it was time for  Dr Mahathir to go because he had  outlived his usefulness.

The same newspaper wrote another editorial on Nov 8 running  down the Malaysian media, saying  it was “long known for their selective publication of news  distort  views'' as it continued paddling the  same tired arguments against the  Malaysian economy.

It is incredulous that this paper,  which is said  to have ordered a pay  cut for its staff because of deep  financial problem, has seen it fit to  lecture the Malaysian media and  how Malaysia should run its economy.

The newspaper has also ignored  the fact that it was Thailand's economic crisis that sparked off the  region's economic woes.

It might be a good idea that this  newspaper should make sure that  its reports are written and edited  by locals. It is sad that the Nation,  which has earned a reputation for  good journalism, is prepared to  forego its respectability to try to be  a pseudo-western news outfit.

For the employers of many western agencies, their correspondents  are incapable of writing misleading  news reports because “native reporters'' are supposed to be sycophantic, apologetic and fearful.

In the tradition of Tarzan and  George of the Jungle, white is right  and might. They are supposed to  know better than the locals. After  all, they can even decide when the  Malaysian Prime Minister should  resign.

In all fairness, there are many  credible western journalists, who  sometimes have better access to  contacts than their local counterparts, but unfortunately they are  dictated by their employers who  have their own agenda and motives.

The current diplomatic tiff with  the 34 US Congressmen has given  these western agency reporters  plenty to write about.

Last week, Reuters sent out an  incredulous report about an unknown group called the Malaysian  Moslem (the agency's spelling for  Muslim) Martyrs' Movement and  had claimed responsibility for a  threat to kill four Americans in Malaysia.

Quoting an unnamed diplomat,  the report added: “This may not be  a serious threat but we have to take  it seriously.''

If it's not a serious threat, why  take it seriously?

Earlier, there was another report  on the alleged death threats to  Americans living in Malaysia. The  damaging part was that Malaysia  was lumped together with Karachi  in the news report.

The purported gag on the media  by Malaysian authorities has not  stopped the flow of foreign correspondents, many with little reporting experience, to Kuala Lumpur.

The blue skies which Malaysians  have enjoyed for the past weeks  doesn't seem to be newsworthy.

Foreign journalists, instead, continuously make long-distance calls  to Malaysian editors seeking their  views on the “worsening haze problem.''

When told that the haze is gone  and is probably in Australia now,  one could detect disbelief on the  part of these foreigners.

Dr Mahathir is said to be anti Semitic but the western media does  not seem to be interested to report  the fact that it was Dr Mahathir  who risked his political career by  bringing in the Israeli cricket  team.

Admittedly, Malaysian leaders  and opinion makers realise that  they need the foreign press to put  their views across to the international audience, but they need to be  cautious.

Malaysian leaders have become  front-cover material, at least for  the Asian editions, because these  international magazines realise the  importance of the Asian market.

But it's time to be tough. The Malaysian Government should take  the western media to court for distortion of facts, let them pay a  heavy price for their misinformation, insist on clarifications and  corrections and even restrict the  sales of their publications here   they should learn to respect the  hand that feeds them.