Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fweet for press freedom!

The theme this year is “21st century media: New frontiers, new barriers”. However, in Malaysia, old barriers, especially repressive laws, continue to hamper both old and new media from serving the public interest.

It’s time for the people need to stake their claim on new media and reclaim traditional media.

On World Press Freedom Day, show your support and make your voices heard in a Fweet (Facebook and Twitter!) in 3 steps:

1. Change your Facebook profile pic to a yellow ribbon (left) for press freedom.

2. Tell us, by answering our Facebook question: What are you doing for press freedom?

3. Tweet your answer, *and* ask our prime minister @najibrazak the same question, and include the hashtags #wpfd #malaysia

Examples of a Tweet:

For #pressfreedom, I’m lobbying MPs to undertake media law reform. What about you @najibrazak? #wpfd #malaysia

Utk #pressfreedom, saya akan menulis surat kepada pengarang menggesa pemansuhan PPPA. Anda bagaimana @najibrazak? #wpfd #malaysia

We deserve the media that we get. So let’s do something about it. Spread the word!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

From perpetuating conflict to promoting peace: the Maluku media experience

The power and responsibility of media as well as the need for media plurality were brought home in a most compelling way during a forum organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia, when an Indonesian journalist shared her personal experiences in reporting the civil conflict between Christians and Muslims in the Maluku province.

Insany Syahbarwaty, who heads the Maluku Media Centre, related how the media shifted from being reactive to proactively defusing the conflict through peace journalism after journalists from both sides of the religious divide got together and realised their role in perpetuating the conflict, which lasted from 1999 to 2002, resulting in 50,000 deaths.

Insany told the 60-plus crowd at the 8 May forum in Kuala Lumpur, held to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, that the conflict was the darkest period for her as a journalist.

“It was very difficult for journalists to do their job. We had our own internal conflict between our religious inclinations and professional obligations. There was also intimidating pressure from their respective religious communities to name and blame the perpetrators,” she recalled.

She said even if journalists wanted to cover both sides of the conflict, they could not because areas were divided by religion and anyone caught outside of their territory would face certain death. She had to hide her religious identity by exchanging her tudung for a cap in order to enter ‘hostile’ areas, and tag along trusted friends or with government officials.

She broke down several times during her talk, recalling the tragedy and how some of her friends had to pay the ultimate price for adhering to their professional dictates rather than succumbing to community pressure.

As with everyone in Maluku, the media, too, was segregated along religious lines geographically and in personal conviction. Before the conflict, the single media company in Ambon, which was in a Christian area, had staff from both religious backgrounds. But because of the religio-geographical limits journalists faced during the conflict, they were broken up to serve new media outlets created in other areas of their own religion. This bred distrust among journalists of different faiths and worsened partisan reporting, with journalists continuing to report one-sidedly by obtaining sources solely from their own religion.

“As a Muslim and also due to the geographical constraints at that time, I only reported that Muslims were attacked by and died in the hands of Christians. The Christian journalists did the same. The reading public seized on the information and killed the ‘other’ for revenge. The ethnically segregated media were under pressure from their respective religious communities to produce details of the violence and who committed them,” she said.

The result was tit-for-tat, unthinking reporting that merely reported on figures related to the violence, which in turn fed into the vengeful and emotional public on both sides of the conflict, fueling more violence.

Insany became emotional again when recalling one such incident.

“A misunderstanding resulted in a village being attacked by Muslims. A young man was chopped to death in pieces. Because of that single news report, which spread through word of mouth, the violence spread to North Maluku where, in an instant, 20,000 people were killed and many churches razed.”
She said a lifeline came in the form of intervention from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) in 2001, which brought journalists from both sides together to Bogor, to thrash out the issues, especially on the subject of the media as the main reason for the conflict continuing.

“We were fortunate because AJI saw that the journalists could not be saved if there was no one saving them. I’m so grateful to our colleagues. The killings would have continued otherwise,” she said.

Out of these discussions and meetings, the Maluku Media Centre was born as a ‘joint home’ and a clearing house of sorts for all media. Journalists from different faiths come together to discuss each other’s reports at length, providing the missing perspectives and input before publishing them.

“If we want, we can make media perpetuate the conflict or stop it. If we want it, it will happen. And we wanted peace. Slowly, with much difficulty, we did it. We wrote facts that brought out the humanist aspect, focusing on the qualitative rather than the quantitative. The community intimidation and pressure were still there, but we persevered,” she said.
They could not count on the government to maintain law and order as it had its own political reasons to perpetuate the conflict. Till today, in fact, the government is still failing in setting about a true process of reconciliation by finding the root cause of the conflict.

“Journalists were proactive move long before government efforts to reconcile community. And it is still up to journalists to ensure peace remains. Because till today our areas are divided by religion. It’s like a tinder box waiting to ignite should a similar trigger happen again, if we don’t keep a watch out for the signs.”

She quoted the highly respected activist journalist Andreas Harsono’s words about being a journalist first above all else when called to duty, putting aside one’s other identities be they religious, ethnicity, nationality, and so on.

Insany's experience was echoed by fellow panelist Prangtip Daoreung, a freelance journalist who has researched the conflicts in Acheh and southern Thailand.

Prangtip said media are often trapped between the interests of the powerful and the demands of the parties in conflict, and a simple journalistic element such as verifying facts can become an uphill challenge. Citing the conflict in southern Thailand, she said facts available to journalists were often distorted by the sources.

“The challenge for journalists reporting conflict is to detach themselves from the various demands and be aware of not inflaming the issue or inadvertently contribute to the hatred,” she said.

Putting facts in context and giving voice to different groups are important measures, but a journalist cannot achieve this by working alone, she said, pointing out the need to work with those from different backgrounds in order to understand the local and bigger contexts before setting a collective standard on reporting.

Speaking about the situation in Malaysia, Editor and co-founder of The Nut Graph Jacqueline Ann Surin said, while it is comparatively peaceful here, the media's laxity in questioning convention can deepen communal cleavages.

“Is it relevant to bring in details such as race, religion and gender? Why do we see references to [the race riots tragedy of] May 13 but not the peaceful years before?

“Perhaps the lack of reflection rather than control has got to do with the absence of stories that emphasise common experience and togetherness,” said Surin.
Prof. Dr Mustafa K. Anuar from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) said journalists have to intervene to promote better understanding among communities in times of conflict.

“The media should give voice to those making effort to establish peace, and not merely report the details of conflict or what the authorities have said. It is inadequate and dangerous to focus only about the violence, and not find out the root cause of any conflict,” he said.

The Maluku media experience provides a powerful and painful lesson here. For most part of the conflict, they were merely mirrors, reflecting what was around them unthinkingly and in so doing amplifying an already horrific situation to become worse.

Wiser now, they are taking on the role of activist journalism by educating society of the need and ways to protect peace. They went through reform professionally – through training on peace journalism by AJI – and structurally – in terms of creating a plural media environment within newsrooms and in the industry as a whole: the former, by having journalists of different faiths working together under the same roof; the latter, with the mushrooming of 54 newspapers, 32 radio stations, five local television stations and four news sites.

The forum ended with the launch of the CIJ annual review on freedom of expression in Malaysia for the year 2009. CIJ Executive Officer Masjaliza Hamzah, who moderated the forum, presented a copy of the review to the panelists.

Media sebagai penjana konflik; media sebagai pendamai: Pengalaman di Maluku

Kuasa dan tanggungjawab media serta keperluan untuk kepelbagaian media ditekankan oleh seorang wartawan Indonesia ketika berkongsi pengalamannya dalam melaporkan konflik persaudaraan antara penganut Kristian dan Islam di kawasan Maluku.

Insany Syahbarwaty, yang mengetuai Pusat Media Maluku, menceritakan kepada forum anjuran Pusat Kewartawanan Bebas Malaysia bagaimana media berubah daripada reaktif kepada proaktif dalam menyelesaikan konflik itu dengan mengamalkan kewartawanan keamanan (peace journalism) setelah wartawan daripada kedua-dua agama bertemu dan menyedari peranan mereka dalam menggertakkan konflik tersebut.

Pertelingkahan itu yang berlangsung dari tahun 1999 ke 2002 sehingga mengakibatkan 50,000 kematian merupakan saat paling gelap kepada Insany sebagai seorang wartawan, katanya kepada hadirin seramai lebih 60 orang di forum 8 Mei bertajuk “Membina Keamanan Antara Komuniti” yang diadakan di Kuala Lumpur sempena Hari Kebebasan Akhbar Sedunia.

“Konflik itu menyulitkan kami dalam menjalankan tugas secara profesional. Konflik memuncak dan menyebabkan pemisahan kawasan antara Kristian dan Islam. Sebagai orang Islam, saya hanya meliputi ‘kawasan Islam’. [Begitu juga dengan wartawan Kristian yang terhad kepada ‘kawasan Kristian’.] Kami kesulitan melakukan akses kerana nyawa. Jika anda Islam, anda pergi ke ‘kawasan Kristian’, otomatis leher anda dipotong,” katanya, sambil menambah bahawa begitu juga sebaliknya bagi orang Kristian di ‘wilayah Islam’.
Beberapa teman-temannya terkorban kerana cuba menjalankan tugas mereka secara profesional, kata Insany, yang tidak dapat menahan air mata dan kesedihannya tatkala mengingat kembali kematian sahabatnya.

Insany juga menceritakan pergolakan dalaman yang dihadapinya antara kepercayaan agamanya dan tanggungjawab profesionalnya. Media juga tertekan dan diintimidasi komuniti agama masing-masing yang mahukan butiran keganasan, terutamanya siapa pelakunya.
Sebelum pertelingkahan itu, Ambon mempunyai hanya satu media di mana pekerjanya berbilang agama, dan ia terletak dalam kawasan Kristian. Tetapi kerana pembahagiaan kawasan mengikut agama yang berlaku ketika konflik, media berpecah dan bertapak di kawasan mengikut agama masing-masing. Pemisahan media mengikut etnik turut memburukkan keadaan. Wartawan membuat liputan berdasarkan sumber daripada pihak agama sendiri dan tidak menghiraukan pihak lain. Wartawan juga mula hilang kepercayaan sesama sendiri kerana agama masing-masing.

Akibatnya ialah pemberitaan balas-membalas antara kedua-dua pihak yang cetek atau hanya menekankan butiran keganasan yang menyemarakkan lagi keadaan.

Mengingati satu peristiwa sebegini, Insany kembali terharu.

“Satu salahfaham dalam sebuah kampung menyebabkan ia diserang oleh puak Islam. Seorang pemuda mati ditetak. Kerana satu berita itu sahaja, yang disebar melalui mulut, keganasan berlaku di Maluku Utara di mana dalam seketika sahaja 20,000 orang dibunuh dan gereja-geraja dibakar.”

Mujurlah Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) melihat bahawa wartawan di Maluku perlu diselamatkan, kata Insany, dan menjemput wartawan daripada kedua-dua pihak untuk berjumpa di Bogor pada tahun 2001, di mana mereka berdebat mengenai media sebagai punca utama pertelingkahan berterusan.

Hasil daripada pertemuan itu, lahirlah Pusat Media Maluku sebagai ‘Rumah Bersama’ di mana wartawan dari pelbagai agama berkumpul dan berbincang mengenai laporan berita masing-masing dan memberi perspektif yang diperlukan sebelum ia diwartakan.

“Jika kita mahu, kita boleh membuat media meneruskan konflik atau memberhentikannya. Apa yang kita mahu boleh berhasil. Dan kita mahu keamanan. Perlahan-lahan, dengan banyak kesukaran, kita berjaya. Kita menulis fakta yang menonjolkan aspek kemanusiaan, dan kualitatif bukannya kuantitatif. Intimidasi dan tekanan komuniti masih berlaku, tetapi kita teruskan usaha kami, sebagaimana yang dilatih oleh AJI dalam bengkel kewartawanan keamanan,” katanya.

“Wartawan sudah proaktif jauh sebelum kerajaan berusaha untuk mendamaikan komuniti. Media masih dibebankan untuk menjaga keamanan. Kerana sehingga hari ini kawasan-kawasan kami dipisahkan oleh agama. Ia bagai api dalam sekam kalau kita tidak menjaganya.”
Pengalaman Insany juga diceritakan oleh seorang lagi ahli panel dalam forum tersebut, Prangtip Daoreung, wartawan ‘freelance’ yang pernah membuat kajian mengenai konflik di Acheh dan selatan Thailand.

Prangtip, yang juga merupakan Felo Intelektual Awam Asia, berkata media sering terperangkap antara kepentingan golongan berkuasa dan desakan pihak-pihak yang terlibat dalam konflik sehingga menyukarkan lagi elemen kewartawanan asas seperti menyemak fakta menjadi perkara. Di selatan Thailand, misalnya, fakta yang disampaikan kepada wartawan kerap diputarbelit oleh puncanya.

“Cabaran bagi wartawan dalam melaporkan konflik adalah untuk menjauhkan diri daripada pelbagai desakan dan menyedari bahawa laporan mereka boleh mengapi-apikan isu atau menyumbang kepada kebencian,” katanya.

Tambahnya lagi, adalah penting untuk menempatkan fakta dalam konteks dan memberi suara kepada pelbagai kumpulan, dan untuk melalukan ini seorang wartawan perlu bekerjasama dengan wartawan yang mempunyai latarbelakang yang berbeza nescaya semua memahami konteks tempatan dan secara keseluruhannya supaya mereka dapat bersama-sama menetapkan standard pemberitaan.

Di Malaysia pula, walaupun keadaan di sini aman secara bandingan, ke media dalam menyoal norma-norma boleh mendalamkan jurang perkauman, kata ahli panel ketiga, Jacqueline Ann Surin, yang merupakan editor dan pengasas bersama The Nut Graph.

“Adakah relevan memberitakan butiran seperti ras, agama dan gender setiap kali? Kenapa 13 Mei sering menjadi rujukan tetapi bukan pula tahun-tahun yang aman sebelum dan selepasnya?

“Mungkin ketiadaan evaluasi (reflection), dan bukannya kewujudan kawalan, yang merupakan punca tiadanya berita yang menekankan pengalaman bersama dan kebersamaan,” kata Jacqueline.
Prof. Dr Mustafa K. Anuar, pensyarah komunikasi di Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) berkata wartawan perlu proaktif dalam menggalakkan pemahaman antara komuniti ketika berlakunya konflik.

“Media harus memberi suara kepada pihak yang cuba mewujudkan keamanan, dan bukan setakat melaporkan butiran konflik atau apa yang dikatakan oleh pihak berkuasa. Amat tidak mencukupi dan berbahaya jika keganasan sahaja yang ditekankan, dan bukan akar penyebab konflik,” katanya.
Pengalaman media Maluku memberi pengajaran yang pedih tetapi penting. Ketika konflik bermula, mereka hanya bagaikan cermin yang keganasan di keliling mereka tanpa memikir mengenainya secara mendalam dan oleh itu mengeruhkan lagi keadaan itu.

Kini, media mengambil peranan kewartawanan aktivis. Mereka mendidik masyarakat mengenai keperluan untuk keamanan dan cara mempertahankannya. Reformasi media berlaku dari segi profesional – melalui latihan kewartawanan keamanan yang dijalankan oleh AJI– dan dari segi struktur – dengan adanya persekitaran media yang plural dalam bilik berita serta dalam industri. Kini, wartawan daripada pelbagai agama bekerja di semua media, yang berjumlah 54 suratkhabar, 32 stesyen radio, lima stesyen television tempatan dan empat media dalam talian.

Forum berakhir dengan pelancaran laporan tahunan CIJ mengenai kebebasan bersuara di Malaysia bagi tahun 2009. Pegawai Eksekutif CIJ Masjaliza Hamzah, yang menjadi moderator forum, menyampaikan laporan tersebut kepada ahli panel.

Monday, May 10, 2010

CIJ's forum on peace journalism gets a place in 'The Sun'

The Sun report on the forum quoted all speakers and did a fair job of informing the purpose, not forgetting the launch of the 2009 annual review on freedom of expression in Malaysia by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

It highlighted Maluku journalist Insany Syahbawarti's personal epiphany regarding the importance of doing one's job as a journalist first and foremost. "During the conflict there was pressure from my own community to produce reports that only reflected favourably on our side," The Sun quoted her as saying. "But as time went on, I realised my reports were playing a role in fuelling the conflict."

All panellists agreed that the media has to provide space for inter-community interaction as well as portray the diversity of peoples and views. More.

Forum reported in BERNAMA

National news agency BERNAMA's report captured guest speaker Insany Syahbarwati's points really well. Sinar Harian too published BERNAMA's report.

Among Insany's points:

"Media pula ada menyampaikan berita yang provokatif dan secara jelas menyebabkan masyarakat terus beremosi selain memberi akibat buruk kepada perkembangan perdamaian di Maluku."

And her parting shot, during which you can almost hear how the whole room went pppp because of the gravity and wisdom of her words:

"Malaysia sebuah negara multietnik yang mana perbezaan itu amat nampak sekali. Jika media di Malaysia bisa menjaga yang namanya perbezaan itu ialah hal yang biasa dan semua orang boleh lebih berfikir secara rasional dalam menghadapi perbezaan maka segala sesuatu akan menjadi lebih baik.

"Maka diharapkan media di Malaysia akan dapat sama-sama menjaga keamaan dan keharmonian masyarakat di sini dan jangan sampai apa yang pernah berlaku di Ambon berlaku di sini."

As she said during the forum, this is a lesson that she paid a high price for to learn.
Thanks, Insany, for sharing it with us, so that we may save ourselves from having to tread a similar path of violence before we could learn to live in peace.

Full BERNAMA report.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

AFP report on CIJ's annual review

Malaysia Today published a report by news wire AFP about Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia's annual review for 2009, which was launched on 8 May concurrent with our World Press Freedom Day forum.

Intrigued by AFP's report? Want to know more? Download CIJ's annual review in full here.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Pictures from the CIJ Forum and Launch of 2009 Annual Review

The panel (from left): Insany Syahbarwati, Jacqueline Ann Surin, Dr Mustafa K Anuar and Prangtip Daoreung, with CIJ's Executive Officer Masjaliza Hamzah (middle) who acted as moderator.

From the Facebook of CIJ's Executive Officer Masjaliza Hamzah

Thanks to all who attended and supported the Centre for Independent Journalism World Forum on Building Peace Across Communities to commemorate World Press Freedom Day on 8 May. Good turnout for a Saturday morning event (50+, including a journalism lecturer from Taylor's College in Kuala Lumpur who brought his students along!).

People stayed on for 2.5 hours listening to
the panellists -- Insany Syahbawarti, Jacqueline Ann Surin, Prangtip Daorueng and Dr Mustafa K. Anuar. Not a single person left until it was truly over.

The level of discussion was very good. Insany gave an excellent presentation in Bahasa Indonesia (Siew Eng worked with her for the English powerpoint version of her presentation and gave simultaneous powerpoint translation into English -- quite a feat!).

Insany (left) spoke from the heart about her personal dilemma as a journalist caught in a religious conflict situation in Maluku, Indonesia, -- very powerful stuff -- especially when she talked about her identity as a Muslim and her role as a journalist.

(Short report to come. Watch this blog!).

Friday, May 7, 2010

CIJ tells BFM radio what WPFD is about and why M'sia ranks low in press freedom

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Executive Officer Masjaliza Hamzah explains to BFM radio what WPFD is about, drawing as example some of the recent threats faced by journalists in Malaysia and where we stand in the world in terms of press freedom. On the prevalence of self-censorship in newsrooms, she explains how that came about (it's something to do with whom we elect as MPs - i.e. lawmakers and not longkang inspectors) and how detrimental it is not just to the public but backfires on the media owners themselves. She says the country has to take responsibility for its role in the low rank in terms of press freedom, and gives a few pointers for us to take going forward. Hear the interview in depth and detail here.

Blogger Walski, on media as a "race barometer"

Thanks, Walski! For blogging about the WPFD forum organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism's (CIJ). He says: "...what the media has to say about the health of race relations, and more importantly, how it chooses to report race-related matters in Malaysia, play an important role in shaping our own opinion with regards to race relations. “Reality” is many times shaped by how we view it." Read the rest/chip in here:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Take action for our press freedom!

We had little reason to celebrate the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. Rather, two cases of self-censorship, in deference to the 'sensitivities' of the government of the day, were exposed just days before that: Joshua Wong, an award-winning TV journalist, chose to sacrifice his job and position to stay true to an important journalistic principle - independence from the subjects; and Chow Z Lam, who may find himself out of favour soon for relating how TV2 pulled the plug on his programme.

Self-censorship is an age-old fact in Malaysian newsrooms. While most reporters are helpless to stop it, we the public are not. We must make a clear and united stand that we will not tolerate anymore this state of affairs that is created by the government of the day. We sent them a message on 8 March. We can do it again by signing this memo calling for a stop to political intervention into and self-censorship in the media industry. Initiated by civil society organisations, including the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), it is addressed to the Federal Government, NTV7 and TV2, and a copy will also be sent to the state governments.

The deadline's 28 May.

So, spread the word around to the thousands dissatisfied news consumers out there. We can stop the rot!

It's time for action!