by Lutfi Hakim
Is cancelling subscriptions to print newspapers for racist content a good thing? It’s worth thinking about given our local context.
News companies globally struggle to find steady sources of revenue which have dwindled since the internet made information a cheaply traded commodity. Print even more so as costs rise, and the need to maintain online presence along anyway.
It has also meant deep cuts to editorial budgets, and the number of professional journalists working today. This is true even in Malaysia where journalism doesn’t pay that well anyway, and working conditions are tough.
Journos in Malaysia, especially the long-time ones, love what they do and are committed to it. But their ability to report the news depends on whether news companies can remain afloat.
On one hand, it does make sense to cancel school subscriptions that propagate racial sentiments, through its political coverage and op-eds, since that sends a strong signal against such stances.
A newspaper however is more than just its political pages. It also covers the community, the economy, business, culture, sports and more. When a paper folds, all of that goes along with it.
Again, in an ideal free market that would be plenty of ready alternatives who can easily fill the gap, but that is not the case in Malaysia. There are only two Malay broadsheets (if you can still call them that), and both are struggling financially.
Two or three, either way, the closure of one would mean a huge of loss of jobs in journalism, but even more distressing would be the loss of professional coverage and practice.
Building a news organisation in this day and age is difficult It is an expensive venture to produce news that is than freely shared, including by competitors. The real costs of writing, investigating, cultivating relationships, and researching cannot be easily recouped.
If the concern was coverage, surely the government can have a chat with the editors on their editorial tone. This does not mean telling the papers what to write, but expressing concerns that what they’re doing is unhealthy for the nation.
It would be great if we had an independent, self-regulating press council that can decide on the standards and ethics of news-writing, and have the power to reprimand publishers who go beyond that, but alas.
As a cost-saving measure, it’s doubtful that cancellation is truly efficient, as newspapers provide a cheap and accessible resource to information and knowledge on a daily basis. Schools must surely appreciate this.
Problematic coverage may even present an opportunity to teach students (and teachers) about political and media literacy, i.e. don’t believe everything you read. It is window to the different contours of society, that Malaysians need to be able to realise and recognise.