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Newfound Press Freedom A Gateway to Dishonest Reporting?

In April 2019, it is reported that Malaysia has improved 22 places to 123rd in the latest World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Norazmi Alimat. SNT Pix

There are expectations of professional journalism which may be written or customary. It may include but not limited to references to honesty, avoiding journalistic bias and demonstrating responsibility reporting. It can be summed up in the words of James Sarda in as follows:

“Our best weapon is in putting out fair, objective, reliable and credible news that are based on facts and which can be defended, including in a court of law. http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/news.cfm?NewsID=96848

James Sarda is a veteran newsman based in Sabah. Any Tom, Dick, and Harry will not expect him to commit any low-level mistake such as publishing misleading, biased or downright inaccurate stories that was purely based on assumption and not facts.

However, in a Daily Express news article dated 17 August 2019, James chose to mislead the public by adding words to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad response.

Tun was misrepresented in saying Sabah
leaders at the Federal level hasn’t raised major issues in Cabinet about departure levy tax, the introduction of Jawi and the appointment of the UMS vice-chancellor.

Datuk Liew Vui Keong, Minister at the Prime Minister was quick to point out the mistake James committed by providing a footage of the original interview. Nowhere in the response did the Prime Minister say that the Sabah ministers were not vocal about these issues.

Despite the evidence, James Sarda refused to offer any apology or retract the article.

In another article published on August 18 2019, James attempts to justify that there is no misreporting based on his unfounded assumptions which I have summarized as follows:

Assumption 1 – He had assumed Tun said the Sabah government did not say anything when nowhere in Tun response suggested so.

Assumption 2 – James claims that there is no misreporting because he assumes “Sabah government leaders” means “Sabah Ministers at the federal level.”

As a seasoned and an editor in chief of award-winning Sabah based news agency, it goes beyond all doubt that James Sarda understands the difference between “Sabah government leader “and “Sabahan Cabinet Minister at the federal level.”

Assumption 3 – James is free to assume and write what he understands because James failed to make Tun elaborate his response.

Tun has no duty to explain the difference between “Sabah government leader” and “Sabahan Cabinet Minister at the federal level” to James so that the editor in chief will not be confused. It is journalism 101 for journalist to seek clarification if they do not understand the response given.

Assumption 4 – James absurdly believe that his story is an opportunity for Sabah Ministers at the federal level to also ask the PM on what he had in mind when saying so that day.

Federal Ministers from Sabah are not psychics who automatically pick up whatever confusion James has. James has a duty to write news articles based on facts and not assumptions or confusions .

Surely James knows very well about the use of verbatim quotations in reporting. However, He chose to insert additional word not said by Tun and reported it as if the premier had said it in verbatim.

James’ article clearly contained disinformation with the goal to mislead others that is far more dangerous and damaging than typical fake news.

James Sarda is a Chevening scholar that has a Master’s degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. It is regrettable that he has failed to live up what he has been preaching.

Unlike certain Barisan Nasional politicians,
“Malaysia Baharu” believes in freedom of press and professional journalism.

Be that as it may, in the current social media setting that’s already filled with faked news and misinformation, should the established Sabah daily allows itself to participate in the malice competition to create social unrest and tension?

That is a question Daily Express should answer.

Norazmi Bin Alimat
Exco Wira Warisan Pusat, Parti Warisan Sabah