Shocking Editorial: ‘What People Expect of Newspapers’

Imagine a world where the media felt their primary obligation was to inform society of important events and issues “with an openness to consider the different views out there before arriving at any conclusion.” Sounds like heaven, right? Well, NB member ‘lostincyberspace” has shared a fabulous editorial from a Malaysian newspaper called the Sun Daily that should be must reading for American editors and journalists:

When people pick up their newspaper in the morning, they have one thing in common - no matter what their personal interests and views may be. They want news and views.

They want to know what happened in the community they call home, and the larger world which the community is inextricably a part of.

They want to know about the decisions that are being made that could affect them, and the community and world they live in.

They want to know about the different views that exist and are being debated out there.

They want to have a say in these because they would be affected, directly or indirectly.

The editorial gloriously continued (emphasis mine throughout):

Even if they are not going to be affected, a vital part of the growth of an individual and society - a lifelong journey - is to have access to information and views that would help shape opinions and thoughts.

A newspaper's role then is to report the news, to recognise that there is a plurality of views on many of the issues that matter to society, and to present these different views in a balanced manner - not with any sinister aim to instigate trouble, but with the recognition that the press has a role to play in informing and empowering readers to form their own opinions and make their own decisions.

Shocking concept. The editors continued:

That is the role that this newspaper tries to do day in day out whether in our news pages or in our opinion sections - including this space.

We are very much aware that as no one society is homogenous, it is inevitable that some quarters will disagree with one another.

Any sincere effort to negotiate a common space respected by all would entail rational dialogue between all parties, with an openness to consider the different views out there before arriving at any conclusion.

It does not have to be a zero sum game. History has shown that trouble begins when the dialogue breaks down.

Any newspaper that wants to keep its finger on the pulse of society would need to be aware of this and report on all the different views - and not just on one view - and ensure the dialogue does not break down.

Amazing. But, this editorial board wasn’t finished:

The task can be akin to treading on eggshells at times, especially in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society where race and religion are deemed to be sensitive and at times, contentious, issues. And where, despite education, people often still act emotionally when it comes to race and religion. Newspapers and journalists are mindful of that and we know where the limits are. But it is no easy task. And we know there are some people who would prefer less discourse and less disclosure and want the government to have a tighter grip on the media. We therefore find comfort in the assurance given by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at a mass media conference (organised by the Internal Security Ministry that regulates newspapers) on Tuesday that the government will not rush to act against the media everytime there is a complaint from a particular group. In return, he asked that the media use the freedom we have responsibly and accept that that freedom is not absolute.

That's a fair deal.

This newspaper will continue to play our part in reporting the news and articulating ideas and opinions that can help shape the direction of our country for the well being of all Malaysians. We will do this at the right time and to the best of our ability, which unfortunately is not limitless. And we will do so in a constructive and responsible way. We will lose some battles in our pursuit of more public discourse of the issues that affect us all but we know that this endeavour has no shelf life. Indeed, it is an endless struggle with its fair share of ups and downs.

Extraordinary principles all that have been clearly abdicated by an American media that have decided their role in society is to make everyone think exactly like them, and castigate those who don’t.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.