Media must stop sensationalising news and avoiding real issues

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The Star needs to be more responsible with its headlines so that it does not end up creating villains and misleading its readers, says Maria Chin Abdullah.

I refer to the headline printed on the front page of the Star newspaper (29 January 2019) that read “A greed tragedy”.

The headline was about the tragic deaths of two women on 28 January during a free food promotion programme for senior citizens in Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with the Lunar New Year.

By using the word greed in the headline, the paper automatically implied that those who attended the event had an insatiable, selfish desire for handouts. It also implied that these people do have enough money or food but are there for more. It takes away from the seriousness of the issue at hand, which is poverty, and dismisses the tragedy as merely a consequence of greed.

Poverty is a real issue that many Malaysians struggle with. If anything, the stampede that day tells us that we as Malaysians must do better to address the issue of poverty in this country. The tragedy also raises the question of elderly care and the challenges of an ageing society.

Blaming those involved in the stampede for being greedy is irresponsible and reflects appalling journalism.

This is not the first time that the Star has sensationalised its headlines to sell the news.

Recent examples include calling the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day on 8 December 2018 a counter-rally to the rally to oppose the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and an article on khalwat raids titled “No More Moral Policing” (6 October 2018)based on an interview with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for religion, Mujahid Yusof Rawa.

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I must insist that the Star’s editors be cautious and sensitive when doing so as it can be misleading, raises misconceptions and tarnishes the image and reputation of others.

This was clearly seen when journalists covering the education minister were fixated about unimportant things being said such as school shoes and swimming pools rather than writing about and questioning the value of the real structural and institutional reforms being proposed for education. Where were the questions on social integration of all schools in Malaysia when the minister brought it up in Parliament?

More effort should be made to ensure headlines are more reflective of the state of poverty in the country, in particular, the neglect of the aged. Headlines are meant to draw the attention of stakeholders, leaders and politicians to the extent of the problems. Some of the journalists seemingly are too ready to trade in complex narratives for simple, dramatic and entertaining stories.

Media freedom under the Pakatan Harapan government is precious and we are in a unique time, when the media are accorded the opportunity to talk, investigate and highlight the issues that are plaguing our society.

The media must be reminded of their role as the fourth estate in upholding responsible and fair journalism. Like the rest of us, they must be taken to task if they seem to be more interested in creating inaccurate statements simply to get more clicks.

What’s more, it is a great disservice to the work of those journalists who have fought hard for press freedom and aimed to set greater standards of reporting for years.

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Lastly, the Star needs to be more responsible with its headlines so that it does not end up creating villains and misleading its readers.

Maria Chin Abdullah is the member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya.

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