Stateless boy Tan Yao Chun has a happier future now.

“Why do you want to be a journalist? You will not become rich working as a journalist.”

Fuad Rahman, a senior TV3 broadcast journalist and news presenter, asked me the point-blank question in a strong Kedah dialect.

He wanted to know why I wanted to quit my Medical Imaging diploma programme at Institut Teknologi Mara (now Universiti Teknologi Mara) to apply for journalism studies instead.

As a senior journalist, Fuad was making a point to this Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia leaver on the reality of being a journalist — it is a tough job that does not guarantee that you will become a wealthy person.

The conversation took place about two decades ago when I was accompanying my late uncle for a teh tarik session with Fuad, his close friend, near his home in Petaling Jaya or Subang Jaya.

It turned out to be an enriching session as he shared his experience and thoughts on the nature of this field.

When I was later pursuing my journalism studies at UiTM, in her introductory lecture on Asian History, Dr Paridah Abd Samad enlightened the class on the meaning of journalism.

“Journalism is an ideology. That is why it is the only discipline in this mass communications studies with the ‘ism’, unlike public relations, broadcasting, publishing or advertising.”

An expert in history, Dr Paridah, who occasionally writes for the New Straits Times, told those in the lecture hall on the duties of a journalist as an agent of change, besides reporting events to be recorded in history.

As time went by, the idea of media convergence, predicted in one of the textbooks that we used during the studies, pretty much became a reality. The challenges of the new media are real and imminent. At 172 years old, NST is moving with the times, adopting new elements such as online and live updates.

The recent revamp has brought a fresher look and experience to the daily, but it is the change in the content that has made a difference.

Regardless of the technology we are adopting, the crux of the business is still the principles of journalism. That is what the newspaper is all about and that mantra was reflected in our expose and extensive coverage on stateless children.

The plight of Tan Yao Chun, a stateless boy from Changlun who was denied enrolment into a public school for not having a birth certificate, sparked a debate.

Compiling interviews and material to come up with a front-page report on the boy’s predicament was challenging and hectic.

We wanted the reports to be comprehensive and meticulous so that they leave an impact. Tan’s story reflected the problem of 10,000 stateless children in Kedah and the estimated 150,000 stateless children in the country.

The Kedah government reacted swiftly with Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah announcing that all stateless children be allowed to enrol in public schools in the state, in accordance with the Education Ministry’s circular issued in 2009. His announcement, which came a day after NST published the boy’s picture, was a blessing to the family and brought hope to thousands of parents and children in a similar situation.

Yesterday, NST front-paged a smiling Tan happily starting his first day in school.

How much is his smile worth? It is priceless — this is what journalism is all about.

True, a career as a journalist will not guarantee a fortune, but it provides an avenue to touch people’s lives and push for changes.

Following the expose, some quarters argued that a blanket policy on issuing special documents to stateless children would only open the floodgates for foreigners to take advantage of the system.

While we do acknowledge the risk, let’s not forget that we are only talking about stateless children who are born to parents or a parent who is a Malaysian but having issues obtaining a birth certificate due to late registration.

With modern technology, and a simple DNA test, we can justify whether a child belongs to his or her parents but, strangely enough, there is little change in our system with regard to documents required to get the process done.

It is bewildering that as we embrace and adopt technology, we are still being selective in taking advantage of how it could help simplify things, without compromising the country’s security.

After all, it is the humans who are in control of technology, policies and enforcement.

The fear of illegal foreigners taking advantage of the system should not supersede our compassion to resolve the issue of stateless children. Embrace technology, but never lose sight of humanity.

Adie Suri Zulkefli is NST’s Kedah
bureau chief

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