The media is a very powerful tool and as much as media may want to be popular, it is very important that it remains cautious of the issue it is writing on all the time.
Journalists and editors must always remember there are repercussions for everything that is published and sometimes it can be fatal to the sources.
Case in point is the exclusive report by The Star today in which the journalists had spoken personally to the hostages being held at ransom in Jolo, Philippines.
The Star reported today that an SOS message has been sent out by a Malaysian hostage held by Abu Sayyaf, pleading for help as he has been starving and beaten up.
“We can’t bear it anymore. We are in pain. All of us are sick. We have cuts on our bodies. We are weak. No food to eat. What’s more, we are beaten. There are people who want to shoot us. Please help us.”
Those were the words of Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, one of the five Malaysians abducted by Abu Sayyaf gunmen from Lahad Datu waters in the east coast of Sabah on July 18.
On Wednesday, Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Rami called The Star from Jolo island, southern Philippines, and passed the phone to Mohd Ridzuan, 32, for him to send a message to the Malaysian Government.
“I’m a hostage from Malaysia. My name is Mohd Ridzuan Ismail. And I’m asking for help from the Government and my boss to rescue us as soon as possible,” the sailor said in Bahasa Malaysia in an eight-minute conversation.
“We’re suffering in Jolo island. We appeal to the Malaysian Government and our boss to negotiate for our release as we want to return home as soon as possible,” he said, sounding forlorn.
There is a possibility Mohd Ridzuan might die in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf who had beheaded its first Malaysian hostage Bernard Then in November last year.
Mohd Ridzuan, who is from Pahang, was kidnapped with four other Sabahan sailors – Tayudin Anjut, 45, Abd Rahim Summas, 62, Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23, and Fandy Bakran, 26, reported The Star.
Associate Professor in Defence Management and Studies Mohamad Faisol Keling says that in cases like this, messages can be misconstrued, where it not only causes more grieve to a victim’s family but also drawing unwanted negative attention.
Although it is not reported anywhere that the journalists were working hand in hand with Malaysian police, according Mohamad Faisol, the media is doing the right thing only if they are reporting cautiously.
“It is very important for a writer or a journalist to weigh the impact of his or her writings before even embarking on story.
“People believe whatever is written in the media, that is why a writer must think carefully what they are about to say and be very ethically with the way they write,” he says.
Mohamad Faisol says while there are several media outlets in Malaysia that are still lacking in practising good ethics when they write, he says that it is not fair too to generalise that all media outlets in Malaysia are not ethical.
“Today we don’t only have print media, but there is digital and radio and this makes it harder to control what is being reported out there.
“It is harder to control the individual who is behind a story that was written, in fact, there is no way we can control a person over what he or she will write.
“But in the context of kidnapping cases what a person writes is very crucial and that is where he or she needs to have clear cut reporting motives,” he adds.
He points out that media outlets today or not only driven by the need to report but also by various factors that are influential reasons to why reports end up creating negative impact to an ongoing case.
“The problem with the media today is, whatever they do in terms of reporting it is very profit-related. Once their jobs are influence by profiteering, that is where it is very dangerous.
“They will do whatever it is or whatever it takes to maximise profit. Whether it is long or short term profit, that is their drive when they are reporting.
“This is where their reports become negative to a particular situation as they are already blinded by the wrong reasons before they began writing,” says Mohamad Faisol.
While we pray for the best outcome, let us just hope reports such as this – as much as the kind intentions of the journalists may be – do not turn fatal, instead of helping to rescue the hostages.
Soo Wern Jun@The Heat Malaysia Online