Commentary Local Politics

It goes with the territory, Ms Sreenevasan

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Written by Aziz Hassan

Recollections & Reflections – November 3, 2017

THIS week has provided Malaysians more than enough talking points to last a while, from a young man who allegedly beat up three volunteer public order personnel to a journalist in faraway Britain who decided that part of a good defence was to squeal on her Malaysian source.

Many are surely waiting in much anticipation, with the first case likely to reveal more dirt since a few years ago and the second on if the court that is hearing a defamation suit against the editor will accept her defence statement which contains many allegations but with almost nothing by way of substantiated evidence.

Personally I’ve always wondered why Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose only link to Malaysia appears to be that she was born in Sarawak before it became part of Malaysia, should be so focused on finding all the negatives she can about this country and its political leaders, specifically those in government, or anyone else who may be in cohorts with them.

Anyone on a crusade against bad governance and corruption has my unequivocal support and admiration and that goes too for Brown’s Sarawak Report portal if that’s what it does but because she zooms in only onto Malaysia, the mind begins to ask many questions.

Wikipedia describes the portal as an investigative journalism online news resource that offers an alternative vision of justice, transparency and a fairer future in Sarawak. It is based in London.

The other pertinent point is that every press platform needs money to survive. Oxygen alone is not enough. God knows what this portal survives one.

Brown used to be with the British mainstream media and thus should be well aware that a true blue journalist must never reveal his or her source of information. Well you can if you are afraid of going to jail but the moment you reveal your source, your credibility as a journalist goes out of the window.

That was precisely what Brown did in her statement of defence last month relating to the suit filed by PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, naming senior Malaysian lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan as her source for stories maligning Hadi and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Expectedly the Malaysian press went after Sreenevasan, who is known also as an activist not too excited about the government. On the contrary she is openly aligned with the political opposition.

The lawyer initially kept mum, invoking subjudice, but lawyers talked to by this portal argued against this, with one recalling Sreenevasan’s statement ten years ago that commenting on a matter of public interest that is pending before the court is neither subjudice nor contempt.

But she decided to open up yesterday, via a statement to the press which seemed more like an expedition to try and find people to blame, in parts mere conjecture.

No doubt there were statements from many asking her to come clean, with most coming from those in the government and others known to be friendly to them. Not a brilliant move because if you were Sreenevasan you too would not talk. Whatever for? No compelling reason to do so and no reason why you should strangle yourself.

But there is little to suggest that the barrage of press reports was the work of Hadi or people in cohorts with him, as alluded to by Sreenevasan in her statementy. But if Hadi is asked to explain by the court for this, should that be of concern to Sreenevasan?

She also ranted about being harassed by the press.

Nothing new there, for if the journalists, mainstream or otherwise, didn’t do this they would be failing in their duty. It’s common practice in the democratic west, from which the local press copied.

Journalists stalking outside her office or home can’t be an offence and just as Sreenevasan suggested to anyone with a grievance in this case to go to the British court, the same suggestion must apply to her here in she feels harassed.

Go apply for an injunction to keep the local journos at least a kilometre away from you.

Other issues Sreenevasan picked on included the way the local newspapers played up the stories on her, going to town against her, although only two paragraphs from Brown’s defence were on her.

In politics, as in most things in life, there are two sides involved. It can’t be denied that Sreenevasan is seen to be with one side, the side that the mainstream press finds issue with and will always be hunting for.

You may find this objectionable, Ms Sreenevasan but this is what is known as press freedom, for this is something for which the editors alone make the call, rightly or wrongly. The treatment you’ve been getting from the mainstream press is something that goes with the territory.

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.