Media, public must reject sensationalist, gutter journalism
August 3, 2012
FMT LETTER, FROM CIJ Malaysia, via e-mail

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) regrets the reprehensible conduct of the journalists who overstepped their ethical and professional boundaries during a recent police raid on a suspected vice den in Selangor.

A journalist who was at the raid two weeks ago reported that some media photographers not only took pictures of the raid but deliberately tried to shoot women who were caught in various states of undress. Some went to the extent of using their personal mobile phones to capture these images and one even tailed after a woman who was trying to put on her clothes in a more private corner.

It would appear that these media personnel cannot distinguish their role as an independent documenter with the public interest in mind, and have instead abused their position.

In doing so, the photographers have failed to observe one fundamental journalistic principle – to minimise harm on those they report on, whether they are sex workers, children, family members of victims etc.

The conduct of these few journalists was all the more dismaying in view of the professionalism and integrity of their peers who had documented police abuse of Bersih 3.0 protesters at great risk to their physical safety.

But it is not only the journalists’ action that should be taken to task. The police conduct in allowing unhindered access in this instance again raises the need for a standard operating procedure to ensure that the rights of all parties – whether in a raid or a rally, be they journalists or alleged wrongdoers – are protected.

We note the inconsistency in treatment: in this particular raid, the media is given unhindered access, but during Bersih 3.0, journalists were practically stopped from doing their work when documenting police violence, had their equipment seized or damaged, with more than 12 cases of journalists arrested and/or even beaten.

While some may question whether the media has any role at all to play in a raid, we believe that the presence of journalists here, as in all cases involving authority, is necessary not only to report the event but also to check against possible abuse of power.

However, journalism ethics, which include the principle of minimising harm, should be adhered to at all times. Media personnel should not inflict needless pain to their subjects and must refrain from exploiting them.

The public and the media should understand that pandering to sensationalism and hype, though a short-term measure that increases readership, comes at a cost to people’s right to be informed of issues of public interest – such as corruption, abuse of power and betrayal of public trust – and to make the right choices.

CIJ urges the respective newsrooms to hold the journalists to account for their actions. On the Home Ministry’s part, this incident and the Bersih 3.0 rally show the need for them to begin consultations to draw up a standard operating procedure in dealing with media, which takes into account international standards.

CIJ also urges the public to reject sensationalist, gutter journalism that thrives on shaming and exploiting ordinary people.

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