Saturday, December 3

Everyday is April Fool’s Day

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C_PC0006505DO you remember reading “a bar of dark chocolate a day makes you slimmer”?

A study shows chocolates not only accelerate weight loss but also lead to healthier cholesterol levels and increased well-being overall.

The findings made the front page of mainstream media, health magazines, online news portals and on television talk shows – to the amazement of many chocolate lovers.

I do remember reading that because all my friends love chocolates and being watchful eaters, they “hallelujah” over such “medical findings,” sharing on their Facebook and vowing, from then on, to eat a bar of chocolate daily.

I rejoice with them, even when chocolates have never found their way to my shopping cart.

The study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, PhD, research director of the Institute of Diet and Health, jested in the study on May 27, 2015: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

After he achieved what he wanted to prove, he revealed: “I am Johannes Bohannon, PhD. Well, actually my name is John and I’m a journalist.

“I do have a PhD, but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria – not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.”

Bohannon fooled millions into thinking chocolates help weight loss. His study was 100 per cent authentic, as he claimed, but the results are meaningless and the health claims that the media shelled out to millions all round the world are utterly unfounded.

Relating the whole process, he shamed the journalists: “The key is to exploit journalists’ incredible laziness. If you lay out the information just right, you can shape the story that emerges in the media almost like you were writing those stories yourself. In fact, that’s literally what you’re doing since many reporters just copied and pasted our text.”

Guilty as charged? Yes, we are – not only journalists – but all of us who use social media. Are Facebook users not the writers and editors of Facebook itself?

Similarly, when the earthquake rocked Mt Kinabalu, Emil Kaminski, a Canadian travel blog writer, decided to troll Malaysia by calling the tourism ministry a monkey and pretended that he was one of the 10 tourists who striped naked and urinated on the mountain top.

Scooping each other, the media, including the mainstream media the world over, picked up his Facebook posts, Youtube and Twitters and published his story, and even his tweets, as Gospel truth:

“Solitary confinement = no sex, but on the upside, excellent wifi in my cell,” he tweeted.

Soon, the whole world reported that he was arrested by Sabah Police.

Yes, he was hated by many but were we not dumbfolded by his trolling of the media: “I found it astounding that not even the smallest amount of journalistic inquiry was conducted. Did anyone ever talk to the police? Did they know I was not in Malaysia?”

No, while we complained and experienced snail-slow wifi in Sabah, we did not stop and ask how could the Malaysian jail have such wonderful high speed wifi!

We have compromised basic fact-finding and verification with speed. We just want to break the news first!

Of late, we were once again being seemingly flushed with “toilets” and “urine.”

The news first broke with the surfacing of a complaint letter from a group of “unnamed parents” to Kedah State Education Department that a teacher had asked the non-Muslim students to drink water in the toilet and their own urine.

It is called a “scoop.” But worthwhile information is much more likely to emerge face to face. People rarely phone in with tips or stay anonymous unless they want something plugged.

As the news developed, the state exco in charge of education asserted that the teacher who caused uproar for allegedly telling students to consume their own urine was actually making a joke in telling them not to do so.

Datuk Tajul Urus Mat Zain explained that the teacher was telling students to seek permission prior to consuming water outside classrooms when he purportedly joked with them   saying “don’t drink our own urine” after informing them that they could also consume tap water in the toilets.

If the explanation is true, setting aside religious sensitivity, on purely moral lessons, it is teaching students the virtue of “respect” – that’s how I see it.

Yes, but we could walk an extra mile by visiting the school and finding out from the students before jumping the gun. After all, the parents had chosen to remain “anonymous.”

When my daughter told me her teacher (a Malay) could not pronounce her Chinese name and uttered kencing every time she was called, we all had a good laugh.

When my son was fuming because his granduncle was a BN candidate and his classmate’s dad was a rocket chief and when they quarrelled in school, the classmate “threatened” that she would ask his daddy and mummy who are both lawyers to sue him, we chuckled over it.

Have we parents also been over reactive and over sensitive over some harmless jokes – or in this case we could just call that “senseless and tasteless” words – by teachers?

Are we preoccupied by the politicians’ racist remarks too many a times that we assume the teachers are being “racist” for doing so?

How many of us practise the respect of not eating during Ramadan on the plane, especially when the passengers sitting next to us are not eating? How many of us tell our children this is a good virtue to follow?

How many of us try to restrain ourselves from posting food on Facebook during Ramadan?

These are all the good virtues that our parents have instilled in us during our young days when there was no racial tension. For that matter, Sarawak is still enjoying such kind of peace and harmony.

But at the rate we are sharing information with no second thoughts, or verification, and we are all half-journalists, I am afraid the peace we enjoy are sinking ground.

We most often got something wrong when we took something from somebody or some place else and failed to check it ourselves, and above all, we do not think before we share.

My journalism guru said: “Perhaps, editors are too scoop-hungry. It isn’t clear readers are as concerned with scoops as editors, and they become cynical when two or three papers claim the same story as an exclusive! We need to get exclusives but we need to give a solid service to everyday news too.”

The Holy Book says whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.