‘Another endangered species’ | Borneo Post Online

Journalists undergo temperature checks upon arrival at Wisma Bapa Malaysia in Kuching before going to a press conference, in this file photo taken several days after the Movement Control Order (MCO) was announced and enforced in March last year. — Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

IN many parts of the world, the crocodiles have the law on their side. In Sarawak, they are protected under the Wild Life Ordinance 1998.

There is, however, no special legislation to protect another endangered species — the journalists.

Many of them are on the eve of extinction if their newspapers are folding up.

During the current war against Covid-19, the doctors, nurses and other health workers are indispensable.

Their job involves close proximity between humans who have health problems. That’s their mission in life – to save lives in accordance with the ‘Hippocratic Oath’.

If any of these frontliners gets infected by the virus, he or she is deemed to be a transmitter of that virus to their family members and neighbours.

If there are many doctors or nurses so infected, who else can fight the virus for the general population anymore? The whole country would have hospitals without doctors and nurses – only beds full of patients without anyone treating them.

We don’t want our country to be in such a situation, do we?

So, it is the duty and the responsibility of the other members of the public, you and me, to save the frontliners in order to save ourselves.

The next group of frontliners consists of the policemen and women. Those who are on duty stop every passing vehicle, check at close range whether or not the driver and his passengers are complying with the standard operating procedures (SOP) – wearing face-masks, observing physical or social distancing.

The Police Act does not protect them from the coronavirus.

Other frontliners are the teachers, the shopkeepers and those who man the counters at the government and company offices.

Journalists on night shift

According to the researchers at the James Cook University, Queensland in Australia, the night shift workers are facing higher risk of Covid-19 (refer Bernama report on The Borneo Post – April 21, 2021).

The reporters work at night too. I hope they would be categorised as frontliners too so that they could get the right vaccine.

You don’t want empty radio and TV studios, closure of news stations, or press conferences without representatives of the mass media, do you?

Of what use are the subspecies – the desk-bound editors and columnists, without the foot soldiers?

Journalism is not a crime

The news gatherers regard a large crowd of people as a possible source of information of human and public interest. Through the medium of his paper, he shares with the public (the readers) the information that he has got. For this act of sharing, in some countries, he is treated as a bane in society. Many powerful politicians in many countries regard journalism as a major crime.

Any moment of the day and night, journalists are working in a hostile environment at several fronts. During a war, they get embedded among the troops. They don’t carry arms; even if they are given the guns or the grenades, they wouldn’t know what to do with them. Their profession does not allow them to kill people, but many of them get killed for being journalists. Many of them have got killed with the pen, notepads, camera in their hands.

The news of their deaths is not worth a headline in their own papers the next day.

Yet there is another source of danger – the law of libel and sedition. Politicians call for press conferences in order to advertise their policies. The journalists assigned to cover press conferences are trained to ask questions about issues, no matter how sensitive they may be.

He scribbles notes, rushes off to the office, types a fair copy of his report, delivers it to his editor and leaves for the evening meal at midnight, nay, his breakfast.

When they report about scandals involving important people, they get threatened with suits for libel or sedition.

Between being killed in war, and being sued for libel, the alternative is no better.

A number of newspaper owners have been sued for defamation and have closed down for their inability to pay the damages.

They reporters lose their jobs.

Who cares!

Pressure of work can also kill a journalist. This includes the other sub-species such as the ‘fussy bad night editor’ and the ‘edgy printer’. Anyone who cannot withstand the pressure of the deadline is well advised to get another job such as in the oil palm plantation, not in the ‘Fourth Estate’.

Dreaming of a scoop

Yet there is another killer – disappointment.

It is every reporter’s dream to stumble upon a scoop upon which his name, reputation and ego rest.

How would he react if one day, he suddenly finds that his story has been viciously mauled by an editor because his report, if published in toto, would be libellous or seditious?

Editors, desk journalists, with human frailties, sometimes miss spotting the offending words or phrases, but ignorance of the law of libel or sedition is no excuse.

In a number of cases during the time when I had been associated with the printed word, some newspapers had been sued for libel and had paid hundreds of thousands of ringgit in damages to someone who could convince the court that he had lost his reputation.

A dangerous profession to be in, a reporter faces not only the danger of the coronavirus, but also from the politicians.

Once he was the only source of news – nowadays, he has many competitors. Anybody with a hand-phone can be a reporter and a photo-journalist.

Nowadays, the reporter is being wise. He carries a tape recorder and a camera with him.

In the past, there was no such thing in his arsenal. He often got into trouble with denials by the ministers who had called for press conferences. The common denials were: ‘I didn’t say that’, “The reporter was wrong – he put words into my mouth’, or ‘I was quoted out of context’. Thanks to the invention of tape recorders and cameras, the reporter of today has an easier job. He turns on his machine to record everything that is being said by the man calling for the press conference. Any denial can be verified by the machine; any denial ‘I didn’t do it’ can be verified as to its truth by the video tape.

That is about his only weapon against the accusations of slander and libel or sedition.

What about that jab?

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