By Ahmad Mustapha Hassan | TMI
At one time Malaysia enjoyed a free press. The printed media then competed to let readers know the truth of what was happening in the country.
None was directly or indirectly aligned to any political interests or groups. The reports were not biased or tilted to favour any one group. It was a real pleasure and joy to read the newspapers then. The news was never manipulated to please anyone.
The owners of the papers did not interfere in the editorial policies of their papers as the editors running the editorial departments were all professionals in their approach towards news writing. They reported what happened without fear or favour.
The venerable Straits Times of course, during the colonial era was very much pro-British but it was done in a very subtle manner. Readers would know that certain stories were written as being pro-British but not done in such a crude manner as to create animosity towards any quarter.
The editors were well experienced and even though the writings were slanted towards protecting British interests, they still maintained some decorum in the style and manner of writing.
And as for the vernacular papers, Utusan Melayu was one of the oldest that came into being. It was established in the late 1930′s by highly motivated personalities who wanted to nurture nationalist feelings among the Malays. And it was established in Singapore, a British colonial settlement or the Straits Settlement as these Malayan British colonies were known.
Its first editor-in-chief was Yusoff Ishak who later became the first President of independent Singapore. Journalists of great calibre helmed the paper, including the likes of Rahim Kajai, Ishak Haji Mohammad and Samad Ismail. The paper played its role very well and backed all Malay groups towards establishing a major political party.
The culmination of the role played by Utusan was the establishment of Umno in 1946. There was one well known Malay daily in Kuala Lumpur known as Majlis. It was established in the 1930′s but was not a daily. It was more leftist in nature as most of the editors had leftist tendencies like Ibrahim Yaacob and Osman Kalam. They did not mince their words in condemning the British. They supported the Malay Nationalist Party, the first Malay political party which was banned by the British.
The paper did not survive and thus only Utusan remained as the main news provider. Eminent journalists like Said Zahari, Melan Abdullah, Osman Abadi and Mazlan Nordin were at one time editors-in-chief of the paper. They set very high standards of professionalism.
Said Zahari, in fact, opposed the paper from being the tool of Umno but finally Umno came to own Utusan. But still the journalists at that time were not influenced by partisan politics and the paper never showed outwardly that it was pro-Umno or that it was the mouthpiece of the party.
A newspaper needs to be credible in its reports so that truth stands out. Readers need to know what actually happened so that they would be able to reach their own conclusions as to the state of the matter.
Journalism in it itself has its own code of ethics. In a nutshell, this code involves truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability. Only when these principles are practiced, would the paper enjoy the confidence of the readers.
Papers can support certain groups or parties but they must balance their reports by incorporating these rules to ensure fairness and objectivity.
British papers are known to support either Labour or the Conservatives but their reports are not crude as to cast shame on their journalistic ethics.
Utusan, after having been bought by Umno, had in the beginning performed with much credibility as the journalists helming the paper at that time still observed the journalistic ethics.
But when new editorial teams took over they started going overboard by trying to prove to Umno that they were in full support of the party. They thus discarded all the noble values of objective reporting that was required to make the reports newsworthy and trustworthy. They had become completely an “HMV”, his master’s voice.
Thus, they no longer practiced good and proper journalism. By twisting the news like their recent report on the reduction in the price of cars it has cast untold damage to the paper.
This is not the only case. Utusan had also been summoned on numerous occasions by those who felt that there had been misreporting about them. And Utusan had lost quite a number of suits against them.
The original Umno had died in 1986 and the present party is Umno Baru. The way the current editorials and news reports are put out by Utusan will not do any good at all to the party. It will simply backfire and the more Utusan twists and creates news to favour Umno, the more harm it will do to Umno Baru.
If Utusan still wants to practise this kind of journalism, it only means it is helping to dig Umno Baru’s grave. Utusan helped in the birth of the original Umno but the current Utusan, from the looks of it, is helping to bury Umno Baru.