Information in times of conflict
|Zan Azlee is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, writer, New Media practitioner and lecturer. He runs Fat Bidin Media www.fatbidin.com|
MARCH 8 — When conflict happens anywhere around the world, notice that conspiracy theories start coming alive. Allegations of propaganda and spin also start to emerge.
For example, when 9/11 happened, many people believed (and some still do!) that President Bush Jr planned the attacks so he could continue to hold on to power.
This isn’t much different in Malaysia with the case of the invasion of Sabah by armed terrorists from the southern Philippines.
A conspiracy theory speculating that the government of the day is actually creating this whole incident to create panic before the elections is one.
Another conspiracy theory that is making the rounds in the media is that the opposition had planned the invasion all along together with the terrorists.
Then there are the dozens or so accusations of fabrication and manipulation of information released to the public.
Remember the first police deaths? First, the news said that they were killed by a mortar. Then, it was said that they were shot by snipers.
A few days ago, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi released pictures of the dead terrorists killed in an operation.
It took them a long time to release the photos and, of course, more conspiracy theories cropped up regarding the photos.
Why did it take so long to release it to the public? Are those real terrorists? Was it a staged photograph? It’s quite funny actually.
The point being here is that the public will always be the public. They will be scared, curious, angry, emotional, and much more.
You can’t blame them because, to be honest, the invasion of Sabah is a very terrifying thing to happen. No one wants to feel insecure in his or her own country.
So what do we do with all this rumour mongering? Well, for one, the authorities will have to be prompt and honest when it comes to releasing information.
And the media has a very important task too. It needs to disseminate information truthfully, promptly and efficiently.
But, most importantly, the media (i.e. journalists) needs to verify and countercheck the information to make sure what they are reporting is accurate.
It is not enough just to cover a press conference, get several quotes or soundbites from a government official and make it into a report. That’s not journalism.
Verify it. Go on the ground and meet eyewitnesses and local villagers to see if the information given during the press conference is consistent with reality.
That is the difference between being a journalist and a government mouthpiece. That is the difference that will make the media more credible.
But do remember that the Malaysian media is just that — Malaysian. And being Malaysian, it needs to be loyal to Malaysia.
By that, I mean being loyal to Malaysians. The lives of our security forces are at stake as they are true heroes defending our people and our land.
Criticise and question the actions and policies that are being made so the Malaysian public know what is being done in their name.
And, hopefully, this will allow the authorities to keep themselves in check to ensure that what they are doing is the right thing.
One thing is for sure. The sovereignty and security of Malaysia and its people is of the utmost importance. Those who threaten it will be dealt with accordingly.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.