Kuching was in an international media spotlight last week after an award winning ABC journalist Linton Besser and cameraman Louie Eroglu were questioned at the Kota Sentosa police station for about six hours.
The reason: At Kampung Haji Baki on the night of March 12, Besser had asked Prime Minister Najib Razak to explain “hundreds of millions of dollars in your bank account”. Najib just ignored him and walked on.
The matter did not end there. Hours later, they were asked to go to the Kota Sentosa police station where they were questioned and statements taken.
A video clip of the scene of that particular moment when Besser was asking the prime minister had since gone viral and anyone, who has watched it, is free to give their judgment on what actually transpired.
They were supposed to be charged in court on Tuesday on what the police had alleged for “obstructing any public servant from discharging his public functions”, but the Attorney-General decided to drop the charge without giving any reason.
A federal minister Hamzah Zainuddin opined that the two were detained due to fears that Najib could be kidnapped by ISIS militants.
Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohammed said the “arrest and deportation” of the journalists did not mean that the country did not practise press freedom.
According to a reporter, who was at Kampung Haji Baki, the two Australians were with a group of local TV reporters and cameramen waiting for the arrival of the prime minister to the village.
As soon as Najib had alighted from his official car and ready to shake hands with the villagers, Besser popped up the “thorny” question which, of course, the prime minister did not want to answer and walked on.
This is the type of question that reporters have always wanted to ask, but did not have the opportunity.
A reporter with a local newspaper has complained that the prime minister had not held any press conference for a long time in Kuching and he recalled the last one was before the scandal of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) broke out and became an international issue.
The local reporters would love to “juluk” (doorstop interview) him on many controversial issues in Malaysia, but those burly and tough-looking security personnel prevented them from going nearer to the prime minister.
After the completion of official functions, the reporters – in normal cases with other VVIPs including Chief Minister Adenan Satem – would wait for them near the door or at convenient spots, to get them for comments on current issues. That is how the term “juluk” comes about where reporters would hold their tape recorders or handphones to the faces of the persons they interview.
So far, the VVIPs and the chief minister have been rather obliging. Hopefully, nothing will stop the reporters in future from doorstop interviewing those VVIPs for the sake of public, who are hungry for news, and for the sake of freedom of the press.
But the thought of what had happened to Besser could deter even the most senior reporters from asking politicians on any controversial issues.
The questions, like the one asked by Besser, must have extremely hurt Najib’s feeling, especially when it was asked in front of many people who may have great respect for him. Who would not? It must have been like someone stabbing him right into his heart. And it was even difficult to swallow when a foreigner asked the question.
ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) is not the only media organisation which is interested in asking Najib that kind of question.
Reputable international media organisations like CNN, BBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are also giving prominence to stories related to scandals in Malaysia.
At home, news portals like Malaysiakini, Malay Mail Online, Free Malaysia Today and the recent shut down The Malaysian Insider have long been interested in the answers to similar questions posed by Besser.
Why not? Since disclosure that the RM2.6b had been banked into Najib’s personal bank account in 2013, the Malaysian public has been fed with different versions on why it was banked into his personal account and what it was for.
Najib admitted that the money had been banked into his personal account, and he said it was not for his personal use.
The statement by the Attorney General Apandi Ali was of not help either when he said that Najib had not committed any wrongdoing. Instead of pacifying the Malaysian public, Apandi had further caused more Malaysians to be upset.
The role of the media, therefore, is to inform the public on the correct and right information.
Those in power and authorities must accept this role of the media. But the role of the media is often misunderstood and not appreciated by the certain sections of society, including politicians.
They are scared to be quoted by the reporters. To these people, reporters are busybody people, asking sensitive questions or intruding into their private lives.
But of course, there are people who know the value of the media. These are the people who have high regards for and appreciated the role played by the media.
An extract from Global Ethics Network sums up the role of the media: “Media is the sword arm of democracy. Media acts as watchdog to protect public interest against malpractice and create public awareness.
“Today when politicians are taking full advantage of their positions, an evil nexus of mafia and crime syndicate is making the life of the common man miserable, taxpayer’s money is siphoned out for the personal gain of the influential while ordinary people are a mere spectators, the media, therefore, has a greater responsibility.
“As the fourth pillar of democracy along with judiciary, executive and legislature, media of today has an all embracing role to act against the injustice, oppression, misdeeds and partiality of our society.” – SARAWAKVOICE.COM
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Sarawakvoice.com