On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Journalists caught in the political crossfire

Interestingly, while Anwar and  his supporters have all questioned  the fairness of the local media, the  other side has hit out at the foreign  media for their sensational reporting and for
jumping to conclusions  and inaccurate

Objectivity, unfortunately, has  become a
thin line. It depends on  which side you
are on as sentiments become more polarised. For 
some, fair reporting means whether these stories are favourable to  them.

It also depends on their political 
orientation. On one hand, those who 
are anti-establishment say the police over-reacted when dealing  with the protestors.

On the other, the conservatives  think
the protestors have organised  far too
many illegal gatherings and  criticise
the police for being too  slow in
enforcing the law.

According to their arguments,  those who
talk about upholding the  principles of
the law are not qualified to talk about it if they break  the law.

Then, there are those who are angry at commentaries they do not  agree with.

They include those who preach  the
freedom of expression but  seem to put
aside such a liberal  stance when it does
not suit them.

It's toughest on the political writers, including foreign ones  they 
risk losing their contacts, friendships and, in some cases, even
their  jobs, should they offend
certain  powerful figures.

Political writers, who don't aspire to be spin doctors, will tell  their listeners that many things are  not what they seem on the surface.

Rightly or wrongly, to this cynical lot, politics is about power and  patronage. To them, what politicians preach
is mere sales talk.

Some even liken politics to selling hopes and nothing more than  that. There is no guarantee it will  be delivered.

It's a difficult job because the political writer needs to have a wide  grasp of political, social and economic
events, past and present, and  strong
contacts with politicians and  analysts
to allow him to draw the  distinction
between facts and half truths.

More than that, he has to be careful of the danger of being swayed  by over-friendly politicians and being used.
There is also this constant  vigil
against being naive  the  worst sin of all, says a veteran political

There is a certain resentment by  members
of the local media against  their foreign
counterparts because  they believe that
the foreigners,  who have just arrived,
may not understand the twists and turns of local politics.

To justify their stay here, some  foreign
reporters have resorted to  highly
dramatic reporting.

After all, Malaysia is unlikely to  be a
top news item unless the story  is
attention grabbing enough.

As a political battle is being  fought, a
responsible media will  have to reduce
the drama, check  out the facts, cut out
mere allegations and spot exaggerations.

This sober approach that takes  into
account the laws of libel and  slander,
however, can result in reports which are often 
scorned at  for being too overly
cautious or  docile.

Any experienced reporter will  know that
when one covers a riot,  you stand behind
the police line.

For greater drama in their stories, some may decide to join the  demonstrators, running the risk of  getting hit by tear gas.

Perhaps that's what they hope for 
because then they can say they suffered for their craft and are able
to  write a gripping reporting-from
the-scene-of-mayhem-and-mace account, like that “eye-witness'' report in
Singapore's New Paper. It  must all seem
very heroic.

In a similar vein, the foreign media glamorised the Indonesian uprising,
describing the mob as “the 
dispossessed''. To the victims 
though, the mob was made up of 
looters, rapists and thieves.

They also described the Tiannamen Square incident as a massacre.  But to many people, including  those in China, it was necessary action taken
by the government to  stop the unrest in
the interest of  the majority of the one
billion people.

Russia's former president Mikhail Gorbachev was a hero to the  West but a pariah at home. He  brought democracy to Russia but  turned it into a beggar state.

What the “truth'' is depends on  which
side you are on and what you  choose to

For the foreign media, events are  looked
at from their perspective.  What is right
to them may not necessarily be right to us.

Therein lies the challenge to and 
concern of real journalists, whatever their origin  balancing things  out for their readers and viewers.

The task gets more difficult as 
political temperatures rise but, as 
they say, somebody has to do it.