On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

It’s not easy being a journalist

It is normal for anyone to look at an issue, especially one
relating to race and religion, from one's own perspective. Sometimes, we fail
to take into account the perspectives of other people. All of us are guilty of

Often, we forget that many Malaysians are not as tolerant or
as open-minded as we are. The job of a newsman is to report, but in a
multi-religious and multi-cultural Malaysia,
he also has to make sure that he is reporting for all Malaysians, not just one

In the past, the Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese or Tamil
newspapers were only read by their respective communities. While this is
generally still the case, readers are now able to read in more than one

Furthermore, some of these newspapers also translate their
news onto websites and bloggers are able to draw on certain issues for widespread
discussion on the Internet.

No one should tolerate emotional debate on issues,
especially when the emotions are clouded by racial and religious sentiments,
even if claimed to be done in the name of nationalism.

The same rules governing newspapers should be applied.

But while many laws affecting the Malaysian press, such as
the Printing Presses and Publications Act, remain, the rules of journalism have
changed because of the Internet.

Reporting news is no longer the monopoly of journalists.
Bloggers have provided a forum for citizens to express their views and,
sometimes, they even beat the journalists at their own game.

Participatory journalism and citizen journalists have
emerged in recent times even as mainstream newspapers continue to adopt a cautious
approach in their reporting.

Civic journalism has emerged in Malaysia
because as people become more educated and well-travelled, they want to be
engaged in issues and current events affecting them. They want to be part of
the decision-making process. They want to tell the politicians what to do while
the newspapers may simply report what the politicians said.

Whether it is a political or constitutional matter, they
want to exercise their rights and responsibilities in a democracy. In short,
they do not want politicians and newspapers to tell them what to think and how
to act.

The new generation of Malaysians, who are more exposed to
the Internet, has grown accustomed to such a free flow of information and would
simply find newspapers less than relevant. It will be self-defeating for the
Government if existing laws affecting the media continue to be retained.

As the Internet becomes more interactive, allowing readers
to respond immediately, the print media, too, have adapted to the changes by
asking readers to e-mail their views and even submit photographs and news.

So, what we have in the print media are constraints, legal
or political, but out in cyberspace, it is a free-for-all situation. Many
politicians and bureaucrats are still living in their own world while many have
already moved into the New World.

Be that as it may, in any society, there are laws,
regulations and codes of behaviour. And there should be no exception for the

Nevertheless, journalists still see themselves correcting the
wrongs of society with public interest as their battle cry. But often, the
state feels that the rights of the press must come with responsibilities. While
the press calls for transparency and accountability, the press, too, must be
subjected to such scrutiny.

But as French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville said some
170 years ago: "You can't have real newspapers without democracy and you can't
have democracy without newspapers."

In a developed nation, or a country aspiring to be one,
democracy is surely essential and the free flow of information is critical.
What may not be reported in a newspaper is simply available, in a bigger way,
on the Internet.

Governments must simply trust their people and for
newspapers to be trusted by the people, the press must be allowed its degrees
of freedom.

Journalism is not just about reporting statements made by
politicians and serving the elite but serving the people as well. Newspapers
are an important channel of feedback of ground sentiment for the government of
the day.

A government that is out of touch with the rakyat because
the media have not reported well is doing a great disservice to the nation and
the leadership.

When Malaysians read the newspapers and watch the news on
television, it is imperative that they believe what they are watching or

It is important to put on record that the Malaysian press
has been much freer over the past two years under the leadership of Datuk Seri
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

It has not been easy for him because there are many powerful
politicians who do not agree with his liberal style and they have conveyed
their uneasiness to him.

But as the media take advantage of the more open atmosphere,
they must appreciate the fact that there is no absolute freedom. Not in the United
States or anywhere.

Still, the journalist must be reminded that his job is not
just to report what he witnessed. He has a higher calling to touch lives; just
as the doctor saves lives, the lawyer defends lives and the soldier protects