Alternative does not equal impartial

NOV 27 — I had a brief stint interning at Malaysiakini recently. It seems to be the sort of place that certain people enjoy targetting, whether for the purpose of fulfilling political interests, or for some other ulterior motives.

Threats to editorial staff came fast and often, as did questions with regard to editorial integrity on account of their “European Union funding.” Certain politicians accused them of spinning repeatedly. They received distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on their servers. The National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) sued them for RM200 million for defamation. Most recently, the police came to investigate them because of a reader’s “controversial” letter concerning Nurul Izzah Anwar’s recent statements about Malays and Islam.

I found the office to be very interesting, coloured with a variety of people you wouldn’t expect — computer science aficionados, physicists, men and women of different walks of life. The only commonality that these people shared was a collective desire to cover the side of Malaysian politics others choose not to cover. Some say this makes them biased towards the opposition, and I personally agree. Malaysiakini, or indeed any other news portal in the world, cannot be totally impartial.

It’s romantic to think of alternative media being there to unveil the truth and to report impartially on all affairs. But the fact of the matter is that they make their best effort to convey an accurate picture of their own construction.

No media outlet in the world that takes itself seriously will simply report facts without a sense of direction — if that is what readers seek, it’s easy for them to find it within press releases and Google searches.

On the other hand, many feel that alternative news portals are synonymous with the truth simply because they are not mainstream. But they are not musketeers for justice, nor are they evil creatures here to destroy the stability of the social framework.

To a large extent, the average alternative media consumer is someone who disagrees with the coverage of the conventional media, and chooses to filter out the mainstream coverage in favour of other types of information.

Alternative media does exactly what it prescribes itself to do — provide alternative viewpoints. Different thoughts. Different paradigms.

The fact of the matter is that what news outlets can and should do is direct the flow of the national conversation to things that matter, bringing into focus things that may otherwise evade notice by the public. To bring into saliency things that have been forgotten by the mainstream conglomerate, to provide a different type of conversation into the modern paradigm.

It is important to remember that “different” does not mean “better.”

The media is a director — not of films, but rather of your minds. The media brings you the things it wants you to think about, the things that it wants you to act upon — it’s a very powerful responsibility.

Just as there are good films and bad films, we have to learn how to distinguish the bull from the good and the necessary is the hallmark of an intelligent person who wishes to thrive within the intellectual ecosystem.

People shouldn’t fear or shy away from the news reports produced by alternative media. But however convincing they are, people shouldn’t trust what they say wholesale either.

Stop suing or otherwise fighting against alternative media just because they write things that not everyone agrees with. Alternative media is a celebration of the right to differ and the ability to question, which is a privilege that the mainstream media does not convey; it is a privilege that all should understand; and enjoy.

Don’t just read The Malaysian Insider, don’t just read Kini — don’t believe everything they say. And give The Star and Utusan Malaysia a break too.

* Victor Tan is on a very happy gap year. Please email him at victortanws@gmail.com if you have questions.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.



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