Monday, August 10, 2009

The Malaysian Insider: spinning and editorialising the news again?

(Screenshot from The Malaysian Insider)

Some time ago, I posted an entry on media spin by The Malaysian Insider. Well, they seem to have done it again. "Najib wants Selangor back in BN’s clutches" reads the headline of this story in MI today. It reports how Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated his wish that BN win back the state of Selangor, and how he believes they have a bright chance of doing so.

Using the word "clutches" in the headline casts a certain light over the entire article. Clutch means "a hand, claw, talon, or paw in the act of grasping", "a tight grasp", and "control or power". When used to mean "control or power", it is often used in the plural: as in "caught in the clutches of sin". It's interesting to note that in this sense it is almost never used to refer to something good or wholesome; one would rarely, if ever, say "the clutches of good" (a google search unearths all of 14 instances). It is, however, a word that is commonly used when the thing doing the clutching is not so benign (34,200 instances of "the clutches of evil" from google). It is an example of a word with pejorative connotations, one that is used to imply disapproval or contempt and is meant to be insulting, impolite, or unkind. Using such loaded language is, in turn, one of the dishonest tricks used in arguments. In this headline, the "target" being "attacked" is none other than the BN, and DS Najib himself.

As I have written about before, advocacy journalism certainly has its place amongst journalism's different genres. However, this article purports to report the news; news articles must report only the facts and must be free from spin and editorialising. Readers must be able to make up their own minds without having to contend with reporters and editors trying to push their own opinions down our throats. Journalists and editors already have every opportunity, without having to provide evidence, of opining, hinting, insinuating, alluding, implying, surmising, suggesting, exhorting, preaching and haranguing to their hearts content, on their respective editorial or op-ed pages; we readers know to read those pages with the appropriate critical incredulity. They must never co-opt news pages as their soap-box too.

This is the minimum that is required of any media organisation that claims to support civilised public discourse in a democracy; even advocacy journalists need to uphold certain minimum standards if they want to be regarded as anything other than mere shills and propagandists.

Was there any other way for The Malaysian Insider to introduce their article? What's wrong with a headline like "Najib wants BN to win Selangor back"? Less catchy and exciting? Less likely to attract "clicks"? Perhaps so, but in my opinion, at least it would have been honest, unbiased and worthy of a news article.

Malaysian Heart

(I am a member of Hartal MSM, a mediawatch group which seeks to promote a free and fair media as an impetus to Malaysia's stalled nation-building process. The views expressed here are solely my own.)

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