Monday, July 4, 2011

Wikileaks and journalism

In a previous post on Wikileaks about Thailand, the following sentence in the FP article undermines the credibility of the author

… Malaysia, is an apartheid state in which access to education and jobs depends on race.

Yes, it’s true access to education and some jobs depends on race, but apartheid? I’ve lived in Malaysia, I went to school in Malaysia, and I have even worked briefly in Malaysia and I have many Chinese friends who have done all three of these for all of their lives (unlike myself), and never in our minds would we classify our situation as similar to that of South Africa.

Unfortunately, it is this kind of rabble-rousing statement that journalists seem to thrive on that give them and their profession a bad name.
  1. It gives the impression that they don’t really know a situation.
  2. It allows governments of foreign countries to claim that foreigners are trying to stir up trouble (and yes, there is no doubt that some segments of the Malaysian government can be radicalized by Western journalists to make inflammatory claims that (mis)use words like “apartheid”.
  3. It reinforces the impressions of many Asians that freedom of the press really is a freedom to insult.
What most likely happened is this: As a foreigner in a foreign land one views the country and its peoples through different lens. And when the outcome is not quite what it should be the foreigner is outraged. Outraged enough to call for action by using words, perhaps words that inflame. Should he be faulted for this? No if it is made clear that he is only expressing an opinion. But if he has an apparatus behind him that can force his words into the eyes of of the world and if this apparatus gives him credibility as an expert then he has relinquished his responsibility as a observer and has become a participant.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century opinions hide behind the veneer of “journalism” and reporting is not as glamorous as being part of the news and in the age of reality TV, if one isn’t part of something then one is nothing.

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