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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Our readers come first | theSundaily

R. Nadeswaran

"THE only thing truthful in newspapers these days are the obituaries because publishers demand to see the death certificate and keep records of the advertiser. "There're two more which are also truthful – the four digit lottery results and the prayer times."

THESE were the remarks made by professionals we met in Penang last week on assignment to provide a comprehensive report on hillside development on the island. They no longer believe the newspapers and rely on news portals for what they termed as "accurate information". There was little to counter what they said but we steadfastly maintained that this newspaper lives by its credo – telling it as it is. For a good measure, it was categorically said that we are one of the few newspapers which practise a policy of right of reply.

I have reiterated in this column that I do not expect everyone to agree with what I have to say. The right to disagree is unquestionable. There are a variety of reasons why individuals have their own perceptions. Some have their own principles or conscience; there are those who have a disdain for the writer, publisher or owner; there are those whose livelihood and incomes are affected; some find it unacceptable when difficult questions are put forward and there are a host of other reasons.

There are many in the fraternity who see it as their calling to educate, inform and entertain the public on matters affecting them. Sticking to their beliefs, some have walked out when they are forced to do something to the contrary. There are far too many examples to illustrate this point.

Journalists and their profession have come under severe attack in the recent past. And it could be justifiable depending on who is saying it and the evidence that can be produced to back such claims. With documents in our possession showing journalists being paid for writing "positive" reports and having seen editors and journalists in action, sometimes, you have to agree with the critics.

In the 70s, I met George Devan at KL Hilton's Tin Mine. He snapped a picture of me and delivered it to the office. He was an insurance agent but never made any sales pitch and before festivals, he published advertisements with his photograph which said: If you think of George Devan, don't think about insurance, but if you think of insurance think of George Devan."

I have not seen him for years as I am told that he shuttles between his homes in California and Bangsar but when Parliament had its first sitting in 2008, memories of George Devan came back.

An editor turned up in Parliament House with two photographers in tow and they were snapping pictures of their boss posing with MPs and ministers. I do not mind if it was for his private collection or if he had wanted to do a "George Devan" or they were to be used if any MP, in the future, climbed up the ladder. That's because in the past, there have been pictures of editors and journalists with VIPs on private yachts and dinners – a way of telling readers that he or she is on first-name basis with the high and mighty.

Under these circumstances, when you put your name to an article which is perceived as propaganda, the conclusion that readers come to are inevitable. And when editors roll in glee at the misfortune of their counterparts and use it to elevate themselves, the reading public passes its own judgment.

Journalists like other human beings are not infallible. We have our strengths and weaknesses; we have our ups and downs; we have great days and bad days. Not all of us go out to spin or doctor stories to suit our paymasters. But when we put pen to paper, our thoughts are always on our readers.

We treat our readers as intelligent, knowledgeable and well-informed people who can make educated decisions based on the information before them. The downfall comes when journalists (and editors) think they can shape opinions by feeding endless fluff and taking their readers to be having less than average intelligence.

The generalisation of the profession in which all are painted with the same brush is unfair to many practicing journalists who ply their trade in an honest, fair and acceptable manner. There are many among us who stand up to partisan editors who have their own agendas and ambitions.

And finally, journalists are merely conveying the message. Columnists like me want to convey the message and sometimes take a personal stand on issues. You have the right to disagree and no one can take that right away from you.

R. Nadeswaran is editor (special and investigative reporting) at theSun and can be reached at:

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