Are journalists so special?

  • Companies and their PR people should show the journalism profession some respect
  • On the other hand, journalists themselves should respect their profession

Are journalists so special?THE price of Huawei’s MediaPad, its version of a tablet, on Amazon.com is US$423 (RM1,313). But because we journalists must apparently have such tough jobs and work so darn hard and must be severely underpaid, Huawei and Celcom have decided to reward us with an eye-popping offer.
 
In their own words, “the highlights of this spectacular event will be the unbeatable promotions exclusively for members of the media in attendance, including the Huawei MediaPad at RM99 only!” [The event in question is their July 8th media announcement].
 
That’s a cool RM1,100 super discount or 93% off. This has to go down in the Malaysian Book of Records as the best discount ever.
 
But customers of media outlets can be reassured, we know how to draw the line and be professional. Don’t worry. We will always report without being swayed by the goodies that come our way from the companies we cover! After all, we serve you, our readers, listeners and viewers.

Riiiight.
 
These types of offers have been there from when I joined journalism in 1993 and I accepted it and I have accepted free phones too. My first one was a WAP phone in 2001. Boy, was I excited. I did feel that it was not right but consoled myself that the telco, via its PR company, was giving all the journalists at the event the phone. That made it okay.
 
It became “Not okay” to me in 2005. I remember because I turned 40 and asked myself if the profession I loved was a respected one. I felt it was not. Mainly because the strong public belief that journalists could not report freely, especially when it came to politics and corruption and crime. That was external.
 
Making it worse was the way we conducted ourselves. Actually let me rephrase that into the present tense: Making it worse is the way we conduct ourselves, especially in asking for discounts.
 
And, if we do not ask for discounts, we sure don’t turn them away when they are offered.
 
Just recently I was at a media dinner attended by around 30 journalists including a few very senior journalists. Our hosts probably got carried away and spontaneously said during the speech that they should organise a special media visit to their event an hour before it started to avoid the crowds and to advise their merchants to give us a special discount as we were VVIPs. Sitting there, I felt very small. Is this what journalism has come to?
 
Now this Celcom and Huawei deal breaks the proverbial camel’s back for me. Enough is enough. Show some respect to the profession and to us practitioners. And can the media discounts. We are not special.

In fact, I have always suspected that deep down in their hearts, those who deal with the media, the PR folk and the corporate communications people in companies, do not really respect the profession. And this is mainly because some of us journalists are quick to ask for a “media price” whenever there is an opportunity.
 
This puts those who have to deal with the media to promote their corporate brands in a tight spot. Journalists seem to think a “media price” is part of the benefits of the job. But taking discounts, which sometimes can be substantial, undermine the integrity of the profession. We journalists can try to convince ourselves otherwise, but it does.
 
Anyway, journalism in Malaysia is not dangerous. So why do we think we are so special? The Committee to Protect Journalists released its 2011 Impunity Index and Malaysia was not in the list of 13 most dangerous nations to be a journalist.

I am probably looking at the wrong list. The way the media is feted with food at press events, we surely will rank among the top five most unhealthy countries to be a journalist in. Actually, make that top three.
 
The above media invite from Celcom went out to about 50 journalists. I wonder how many shot off a sharp response to Celcom to admonish them. I wonder.
 
I think it is time for an Integrity Pact for the media with guidelines on corporate gifts set for all media organizations to follow including the value of hampers received during festive seasons. I wonder if my peers will be interested. This will raise the integrity of the profession. At least we can start with what we can control ourselves.

Celcom and Huawei respond

 
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