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Malaysia: Is blogging a threat to the news?

Published 24th August 2010 - 24 comments - 5069 views -

“They are trying to confuse the minds of young students.” That’s us, bloggers, the ‘they’. I’m sitting on the plane waiting to roar off into the sky and head back to England after a very interesting Th!nk3 trip to Malaysia. I‘m idly flicking through the The Star newspaper, Malaysia‘s biggest selling daily, with a readership of about 1 million.

I start reading Stephen Then‘s article “Beware ‘political extremists‘” and it gets me thinking about the online journalism conference that I‘ve been participating in amid the luxury and opulence of Kuala Lumpur.

It was a new experience for me, listening to professionals from all over the world discuss their views on journalism, “new media“ as many kept referring to it and of course, blogging. I‘d been struck by how fearful many were about the digital spaces where news is being created, consumed and spread. Much discussion revolved around how the internet was bad for journalism; you can‘t make any money from it was one of the points raised, although tell that to Marianna Huffington or the team from Mashable.

There was also the view that blogging has lower standards then journalism - and this article that I was now reading, quoting Malaysian Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen, was saying very similar things to what the journalists and bosses from the main East Asian newspapers had been saying - what a coincidence!

Apparently bloggers and certain websites, who it’s difficult for any government to control, are trying to influence people to have ‘negative views about the government’ - according to journalist Stephen Then. The minister goes on to state, “Bloggers and writers on certain websites tell you 50% truth that is mixed with lies.” I’ve just listened to a conference of journos telling me how they  are more driven by presenting fact, reporting both sides and to higher standards and ethics than us bloggers. It’s strange then that in this article there are no examples offered of these lies, no websites or writers advanced as evidence of this online malignance and no individuals sued for libel.

For traditional journalists the internet presents a threat to their livelihoods unless they adapt to the world where the line between producers and consumers is now blurred. For governments with authoritarian tendencies this challenges their ability to control the news agenda.

The last thing that struck me about the article was that the minister, on her trip to Australia and New Zealand, told the students she was addressing to “always double-check with government leaders on the extreme views expressed on the Internet“. In much of Western society, and as someone who spends much of their time opposing government policies, the idea that government communications is where to find the truth is interesting and problematic. In the UK we’ve had years where government communications have been characterised by ‘spin’.

For me, the internet and blogging has to be a good thing for democracy and freedom of expression and thought. Readers can get their news from multiple sources from all over the world before coming to their own conclusions. Ordinary people can also express their views and get involved in debate in ways that were impossible ten years ago. 

Sure, there will be bad writers and people promoting certain view points. However, I can’t see how that’s different to what has happened for hundreds of years. The internet is new(ish) and it does present challenges to readers, producers, journalists, companies and governments but is that  fundamentally different to the challenges that have always been there - no matter what medium has been used to generate and communicate what is happening in the world?

Everyone can now have a voice, something that we should cherish. Although I do agree with the minister that this can often be confusing - but that is surely better than having a system where only certain people and groups can generate news and steer discussion.

Read more about the Th!nk3 trip to Malaysia



Comments

  • Kevin Rennie on 24th August 2010:

    We read the same article on takeoff. The Star is an interesting tabloid. Some in depth reporting for a daily that is part owned by a govt party and subject to the usual censorship and media restrictions in Malaysia.


  • Johan Knols on 24th August 2010:

    Ian,

    And it is exactly the possibility for the ‘ordinary man’ that will feel like a threat to powers. In the old days, massive means of communication where in the hands of the state. Now anybody with a simple laptop and an internet connection can make a difference. Exciting times are ahead of us.


  • Ian Sullivan on 24th August 2010:

    Seems we did - found it really interesting after everything we heard at the conference. As you think of yourself as a blogger more than a journo do you agree with the setiments of my article? Anything extra that you thought? Be good to get your thoughts about that (and I want to hear what you make of the Aus election!


  • Ian Sullivan on 24th August 2010:

    @Johan - completely agree - breaking that idea of producers and consumers (which this platform is all about) is what is exciting about it! - and if the traditional media can’t adapt then they’ll be sidelined.


  • Kevin Rennie on 24th August 2010:

    Ian

    Can’t contemplate the election without pain. The Vandals are inside the gates. Best to see my Labor View from Bayside blog.

    I will respond to the issues raised at length later. Basically you’re on the money. Conference was so inspiring I’m paying good money to attend a 2 day event at the Melbourne Writers Festival: New News 2010 next week.

    I was asked today to talk to a small group of Health & Human Development teachers about their Year 12 course, in particular a unit about the MDGs: Global health and human development. Homework to do. Amongst other things students are asked to evaluate the progress towards the MDGs.

    One suggested assessment task is ‘a blog’.


  • Ian Sullivan on 24th August 2010:

    @kevin - definitely get them blogging!!! I know it’s a big plug but Oxfam GB have some great resources for dev ed - have a look on our site - you could nick some of it. I followed the election when I got home - couldn’t help think of you crying into your beer.

    @Hieke - we didn’t meet Malaysian bloggers but we did meet lots of journalists from all over Asia. Some of the jounalists were really cool, had loads to say and I learned a lot from them.


  • Larisa Rankovic on 24th August 2010:

    I conclude that bloggers and certain websites must be really influential there if they concern that journalist and government. Which is good news


  • Tiziana Cauli on 24th August 2010:

    Ian,
    if anybody could craft and sell medicines would you buy drugs you need from the street or you’d rather go to a pharmacy? I’d go to the pharmacy. I’m sure there are some great researchers out there who could come up with a vaccination against cancer or a cure for AIDS, but still, it would be too risky. Same for information.

    I don’t think journalists are driven by higher standards and ethics than bloggers and I don’t think any of us journos at the conference tried to express such a concept. I am a journalist and I am a blogger. I do both things at my best but they are not the same, and I have to keep that in mind if I want to be a good journalist and a reliable blogger.

    Journalism and blogging are just two different things, although both use the internet and both involve writing. Yes, it’s great and exciting that “anybody with a laptop can make a difference.” I am very interested in everything anybody with a laptop has to say, but that doesn’t mean what they write is news. Not necessarily at least.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 24th August 2010:

    Great post, Ian!I see you chose The Star over The New Straits Times smile I like the latter a bit more.

    I think one of the problems with this issue is the competition between journalists and bloggers, which arises from the assumption that both are doing the same thing. Which they kind of are, but just kind of. Bloggers have so much more freedom, they are not restricted by the inverted pyramid or house style or proprietor’s agenda or whatever.

    It would be useful for everyone to just accept their new roles and drop the competition - after all, we’re using each other’s material anyways. Bloggers need media and media uses bloggers - that’s a collaboration which should only be encouraged. Continuing Tiziana’s metaphor, it’s like heart surgeons and pharmacists - both work with medicine, but from different angles. And both are needed - at different times, by different people.


  • Kevin Rennie on 24th August 2010:

    Ian

    I agree with much of what Tiziana says. We will always want quality, verifiable journalism. It happens online and it can involve citizen bloggers and CitJs (as distinct from professional journalists who blog).

    Blogging is a medium, a platform. Journalism is a process and and a product. Modern journalism has a very broad brief: news, features, opinion, reviews, previews and predictions. It covers all aspects of the human condition including lifestyle, sport, travel, food, science, technology, to name just a few.

    We have photojournalists and video journalists. Radio and television journos have been with us for a long time. ‘News’ collection will evolve as technology does. Just as dissemination will. Just heard a fascinating interview on radio about the future of newspapers. Will we have giveaway digital readers? soft electronic formats?

    More later.

    Keep up the discussion. It’s great.


  • Johan Knols on 25th August 2010:

    @Ian,

    You mention in your reply to me that if ‘the traditional media can’t adapt they will get sidelined’.
    When I spoke about powers, I did not mean traditional journalists, but people in governments.
    What I do mean is that in the old situation it were the traditional journalists that would hold a government responsible (with all the pressures that came with it for journalists). Nowadays we have an extra source of pressure in the form of those having access to electricity and a computer: the masses can now speak as well, instead of only journalists.


  • Ian Sullivan on 25th August 2010:

    @johan - I knew you meant governments but I was extending it out - agree with your points.

    @Tiziana - I don’t think you expressed that, but I do think that some of the participants from Asia did express that. And the article in The Star also implies that. As we discussed at the time - I think there are differences of role and that’s a good thing - Giedre expresses it in her comment. I was arguing with my dad earlier telling him that I was a campaigner not a journalist but that I write….I get what you say about news but everything you read in the papers isn’t necessarily news, or truth. So the minister is right about 1 thing, it’s confusing!


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 26th August 2010:

    Very comprehensive post Ian…Brought me back to the panel…There are just too many challenges. I still believe that we always have to be honest and careful with what we write. And always identify ourselves as journalist, campaigner or simply a bored person with Internet connection.

    Cheers!


  • Ian Sullivan on 26th August 2010:

    @Iris - I agree, it is about being honet in what you write and about your purpose. So, if my aim is to highlight an issue that I feel it’s important to campaign on, then as long as my reader knows that then there isn’t an issue. It’s when you are purporting to write “the truth” when you some kind of vested interest that there’s an issue…


  • Kevin Rennie on 26th August 2010:

    Writers with a hidden agendas usually don’t fool their audiences for long. Your purpose should be clear and open. News should not be opinion. Nor should it be selective. Objectivity means stepping back to see the full story. It does not mean being without a point from which you view things. If you only see what you believe you are wasting everyone’s time.

    Ethics is a bit like common sense - very hard to teach.


  • Ian Sullivan on 26th August 2010:

    @kevin - I like the last comment. I agree with the ‘news should not be opinion’ comment but often (in fact 99% of the time) the facts are presented an couched by opinion, or a view, so that’s were I struggle with the idea of the news being seen as something that is above the frey…


  • Kevin Rennie on 26th August 2010:

    Ian

    Never above the frey. It’s a bit like democracy. The ‘facts’ should be vigorously contested on the streets and on the web. Choosing what to report is often as important as how it is done. Or what not to report. Freedom of the press used to owning one. Not any more.


  • Tiziana Cauli on 26th August 2010:

    @Ian: I agree, what you read in newspapers is not always news and it’s not always the truth. There are some very bad journalists and many bad media practices out there. But that happens in every professional sector. Just as there are many brilliant bloggers, campaigners and so on who use the written word to communicate their messages. When these messages come from journalists, though, they should not respond to any agenda, that’s what makes them different. Having said that, thanks for your post. I find this debate really interesting and long overdue on this platform!


  • Ian Sullivan on 27th August 2010:

    @kevin - In what I do, that seems to be the key - how people choose what to report!

    @tiziana - I enjoyed debating this with you in Malaysia and now on this platform. I agree that on this platform people haven’t considered these issues as much as I expected. One example of this is how many people have just transferred what they’d do in print onto the web - which doesn’t explore the potential of the net and blogosphere. So, it seems to me that authenticity and quality are the two keys to any piece of content?


  • Ian Sullivan on 29th August 2010:

    @radka - Totally agree. I think blogging is a bit like the comment sections - and columnists. They merge news, facts and opinion - which for me is usually more interesting!


  • Tiziana Cauli on 02nd September 2010:

    Apparently people were already debating this six years ago…
    And I mean academics!
    This is a nice article:

    http://www.ojr.org/ojr/workplace/1100245630.php


  • Ian Sullivan on 03rd September 2010:

    And there was me thinking we were leading the whole debate in a new direction smile

    You might like this, Brian Solis did a series of lectures and this one is relevant for this debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLcQLvHe1xs


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