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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.
In Asia, some journalists earn more by writing less
By MICHAEL BACKMAN
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.
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
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.
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.