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The media can press ahead with an eye on the truth
CHRONICLING EVENTS: The media must maintain its credibility and relevance to shine light on the path society chooses
A CAREER journalist who eventually became publisher of the Chicago Tribune wrote in his much acclaimed book, News Value, that the newspaper has its own character long before reporters and editors come to the job and that it will still have such character long after they leave.
Jack Fuller went on to write that while editors may have their opinions on a subject matter of interest, such personal worldviews don't matter once they sit in the day's final editorial conference.
The only thing that counts would be adherence to the truth discipline. And on one of the walls in his office is written these words: "To Help Society Master Their World Through Knowledge".
In America's war on terror after the Sept 11 attacks, for the first time, reporters were included in combat operations in the battlefield. Called embedded journalists or embeds in short, the George W. Bush administration's decision to include them in American war efforts was to ensure that reports from American news organisations would not deviate from Washington's grand plans.
From lessons learned from past US administrations during the Vietnam War, Bush's officials thought that uncontrolled news reports from the battlefields might have a damning impact on the war itself.
During the Vietnam War, the Johnson and Nixon administrations blamed the then comparatively more objective reporting by the US media for America's loss in the war of public opinion at home, which ultimately sealed Washington's entire war efforts' fate.
But as soon as the first embedded journalists set foot on the battlefield, journalism schools around the world started asking whether embeds would be able to file their reports without influence from field commanders.
Press veterans from the Vietnam War reminded that reporters cannot stand in the way of history or influence its course. They should be there only to chronicle events as history unfolds.
For the record, America has fared no better in Iraq and Afghanistan than it fared in Indochina. And sentiments at home were as strongly opposed to the presence of American troops in both fronts as they were during the Vietnam War.
It is possible to control the press. In fact, it is not difficult to control the press. But society is a different ball game altogether as it will follow its own path.
The press serves only as a beacon of light shining down that path society chooses.
Hence, the Malaysian government's decision to amend the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 is a step in the right direction.
In a nation hopeful of being called a developed country eight years from now, Malaysians have become capable of weighing between the good and bad and it is highly likely that a vast majority of people want Malaysia to succeed, although they may have differing views on how success could and should be achieved.
It is in the foundation of journalism that the press' duty is to inform of the good and bad lying in the path society chooses. And that such duty shall always be guided by the truth discipline and a high sense of responsibility.
But the press cannot make the judgment call. That privilege will always remain in society's hands.
Take that away from society, and the press will lose its credibility, and, ultimately, its relevance for it may no longer shine the light on the path society chooses.