JULY 31 ― When I applied for a job as a journalist, my boss told me that journalism was about reporting the “facts”, not the “truth.”
I didn’t really understand him then. Wasn’t it the same?
But I’ve come to realise that “truth” has its own shade of meaning, a play on passion and emotions, while “facts” are unemotional, leaning neither right nor left. You, the reader, are free to make your own judgment. But with the “truth”, it sometimes comes with the writer’s own judgments.
When we journalists uncover facts ― whether it’s about how the boom in tudung brands shows the trend of conservative Islam in Malaysia, or how public funds are diverted into the pockets of powerful people ― it’s so that people can decide what to do now that they’re better informed.
If Malaysians aren’t comfortable with how religion is encroaching into governance and public policies in a secular country, they can speak up. If they’re perfectly fine with even a seven-month-old baby wearing a headscarf, that’s up to the people.
It’s difficult, too, to care about “boring” things like Parliamentary Select Committees (people's eyes glaze over after the first five syllables), or to realise the enormous wrong in allowing government institutions to be used so frequently by political parties until the Prime Minister’s Office brazenly equates itself to Umno.
We've become so inured to the institutional wrongs committed in Malaysia that we don't call it out anymore. And hearing about a few million ringgit being stolen here or misappropriated there in the many everyday acts of corruption fails to shock us into action. Such sums are too "small" to be concerned about; we only care about that RM42 billion.
Journalists can’t force people to act. We merely inform. You can choose to ignore such information and say it doesn’t affect you, without realising that giving in to inertia, to the system, can affect your personal life ― the way you dress, who you marry or have sex with, or even the price of a flat white at your favourite hipster café.
Or you keep fighting.
But you can only keep fighting for your rights as Malaysian citizens if you are empowered with knowledge.
When the government suspended the printing permits of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily, it wasn't just an attack on one media organisation, or even on the media industry as a whole ― it was an attack on the people.
It was an attack on Malaysians' right to obtain information about the government they elected.
It was an attack on people's ability to make informed decisions about public policies concerning their hard-earned tax ringgit.
What infuriates me more than anything else is the government's audacious act in suppressing information that Malaysians need in order to decide what kind of governance they want.
How dare they presume to do that, when it is the people who put them in power and entrusted them with the huge responsibility of using our tax monies efficiently to run the country?
A journalist's job is a thankless one ― no one likes to talk to us and it requires tenacity to get the information we want.
But I do it anyway because it's my duty to inform my readers about what's going on in Malaysia, so that they can demand better policies or speak out against what is not right.
The government should learn to embrace the age of information and realise that they cannot keep the people cooped up in a dark cave anymore. People are hungry for knowledge.
If we truly want to become a developed country in just less than five years, Malaysia must allow press freedom to flourish. We must have a Freedom of Information Act and repeal the Official Secrets Act.
With transparency comes accountability. And it is accountability that will cut corruption and force the government to implement the best policies for the people.
If this article (and countless other pieces) can't convince the government that we journalists are serious about our freedom, then perhaps we need the public, whose interest is the very reason for our existence, to back us in a physical show of support.
Come and join us in a show of solidarity at The Edge's office this afternoon. And also at the #AtTheEdge rally in Kuala Lumpur on August 8 #808. I hope to see all of you there.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.