Laman Webantu (M)   KM2: 5402 File Size: 6.9 Kb

| KM2 Index |

Focus: In Asia, some journalists earn more by writing less [Sarawak]
By Michael Backman

8/9/2001 1:10 am Sat

[Kita terbitkan semula rencana ini kerana ia menyentuh sedikit perihal media Malaysia, khususnya di negeri Sarawak. Wartawan di Asia sebenarnya mendapat lebih banyak wang dengan tidak menulis daripada menulis. Kepentingan politik dan bisnes telah mengotori dunia kewartawanan. Wartawan sengaja tidak dibayar gaji yang memadai supaya mereka tidak menonjol kebolehan. - Editor] A25894-2000Apr26.html

In Asia, some journalists earn more by writing less

Thursday 27 April 2000

The media and, more particularly, business journalism, is critical for exposing the frauds and the rip-offs that can occur in business. Often, the mere presence of an independent, inquisitive and well-resourced media is enough to keep potentially errant business in line for fear of being exposed.

Just as the media generally needs to be independent of government to act as a constraint on the executive, the business media must be independent of non-media business interests. The problem in Asia is that it rarely is.

Banks and property companies usually are part of some conglomerate. So, too, are Asia's local newspapers, magazines and private television stations.

In Asia, all too often, media outlets are not the core business activity of their major shareholder but are there to serve the interests of the rest of the business empire. And if they are not part of a conglomerate, they are invariably controlled by a single shareholder, which also puts at risk editorial independence.

Take Malaysia for example. Its leading English newspapers, the New Straits Times, the Business Times and the Malay Mail, and the country's most prominent private television channel, TV3, are ultimately controlled by the Malaysian Resources Group, which also encompasses infrastructure development, engineering, power and property.

In the timber-rich Malaysian state of Sarawak, Ting Pek Khiing, one of the biggest loggers in Sarawak, owns the local Borneo Post, the See Hua Daily News and the Sinhua Evening News. Abdul Rahman Yaacob, a politician with logging interests, owns the Sarawak Tribune. And James Wong, another politician with big logging concessions, owns the local People's Mirror. No prizes for guessing the editorial stance these newspapers take on logging and environmental issues.

Hong Kong's biggest-selling English-language daily is the South China Morning Post. It is controlled by Robert Kuok, who has hotel, shipping, trading, real estate and other interests in Hong Kong, China and throughout Asia. No one should hold their breath waiting for the Post to publish an article that is, say, critical of Kuok Group's treatment of minority shareholders in its listed Shangri-La Hotel chain.

But proprietors' non-media interests are not the only problem.

In many parts of Asia, and particularly South-East Asia, journalists are lowly paid. Many in Indonesia, for example, receive less than $US300 ($A505) a month. The consequence of this is precisely the same as with civil servants: they are susceptible to bribes.

In Indonesia and Thailand, journalists routinely are paid by the organisers to attend press conferences. At the end of the conference, envelopes that contain money ("song khao nangsue phim" or newsmen's white envelopes, as they are called in Thailand) are handed to journalists, ostensibly for transport to get to and from the conference venue or for meals.

Attendance money has become such an ingrained part of journalistic culture in both countries, that it is now scarcely possible to conduct a media conference without the promise to journalists of money or gifts, unless what is to be discussed at the conference is so newsworthy that journalists will attend anyway.

Journalists are not the only ones to benefit. Press photographers also get a cut, and sometimes allocate a share of their bounty to sub-editors to ensure that a particular photograph makes it into print. Niceties such as alerting the reader that they are about to wade into an advertorial normally are dispensed with.

The practice creates a problem for organisations connected with foreign governments that wish to hold a media briefing. In 1996, the Australian embassy in Jakarta held a function to publicise the launch of the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The embassy was not in a position to pay journalists to turn up. So the promotions agency that managed the event organised for an Australian airline to donate a return ticket to Sydney for a competition that only journalists who showed up on the night were allowed to enter. When the winner was announced, it turned out to be an Australian journalist. Fully aware of what the competition was all about, he refused the prize and had it redrawn. An Indonesian photographer for a local newspaper duly won the prize and was soon off to Sydney.

Appearance money paid to journalists is one thing but larger and more insidious payments are commonplace as well. It is remarkable how quickly big corporate fraud stories can be killed off in the local media in some Asian countries. In Western countries, when a big story breaks, follow-up stories appear for days, but all too often in Asia, when the story appears, journalists are paid not to do follow-ups, and the story dies. Assuming, of course, that the story makes it into print in the first place.

It is said that in some parts of Asia, journalists make more money by not writing than from actually writing.

Paying off journalists is not restricted to Asia's poorer economies. Media outlets in Japan readily accept gifts such as free telephone calls, temporary broadcasting facilities and so on from the very companies and organisations they are supposed to cover. The practice has become so ingrained that many large Japanese companies have developed patron-client relationships with particular media outlets.

Asia's media holds some lessons for Australia. One is the importance of the media's independence, not just from politics but from business. The fact that Australia's media is dominated by just two proprietors who increasingly have non-media interests does not augur well for the future. The very existence of media proprietors does not sit well with a mature and dynamic economy. Their existence, and the consequent need for media policy to be determined within the Prime Minister's office and for all major government decisions to be weighed in terms of what it will mean for this or that proprietor belongs in another era.

KM2 Main Index