Traditional media in Sarawak have a long and rich history and have developed resilience to face the changes and challenges in the ecological media environment. The arrival of social media and interplay of power of different political hues have added a new complexion to media in Sarawak, writes TOMAN MAMORA, BorneoPost Guest Writer and recipient of Tokoh Media Sarawak 2022.
HUMANS are sentient, emotional beings who turn to connectivity and social conversation through media to seek renewed strength and support across the community to stay in power or remain buoyant in business. Politicians, businesspeople, and social actors of all stripes exhibit these traits just as consistently today as they did decades ago, despite the possibility that the dynamics of the communication environment have changed.
The evolving media attest to this narrative as well as the interlocking relationship between power, ownership, and media practitioners that have influenced and shaped the character of print media today. It provides a defining perspective of the legal framework as well as the current media landscape, although increased democratisation in recent times has relatively loosened the hold and softened the grip.
Although the media and society have experienced some milestone changes over the past few decades, we have never lost our passion for communication and storytelling and for occasionally exploring the narrative beyond the printed space. The desire to be heard, understood, and to maintain buoyancy and popularity with the general public is shared by individuals in politics, business, and charitable and community work. This desire is what drives them to tell their stories and connect with a large audience. And if their stories are newsworthy and meet the news threshold, they will secure a space in the media and subsequently in the readers’ minds. Any newsroom adheres to this accepted convention. It is as much a necessary skill as it is a filtration process that is taught in journalism schools.
Many of them who hold important stations in life try to carve out their own nuanced niches and subtly exercise their authority in an effort to establish themselves as reliable newsmakers. The well-intentioned journalist will never choose to disagree and risk the wrath of these ‘elitist’ newsmakers.
Adapting to change
Times have changed rapidly in the past three decades. The boundaries of the traditional media have shifted with the growing presence of new entrants and factors of influence. With the advent of citizen journalism and the flurry of social media, the situation has grown more complex, giving the consumer wider freedom of choice and discernment.
For the print media, the time to adapt to changes and reinvent its identity and character has arrived. Borneo Post and its sister papers saw it coming and took early measures to embrace digital technology and incorporate the relevant applications to enhance content coverage and provide interactive platform for readers and consumers to access and air comments and feedback. Speed and instantaneity are the buzzwords. They drive the change and ensure the promise of timely delivery of stories.
And most traditional media have upped their competitiveness by incorporating real-time coverage of events or speeches on soundbytes and hyperlinks. These are elements which characterise the otherwise traditionally-rooted print media which are fast transitioning into the new ‘hybrid media’ that incorporates the conventional and digital.
Traditional and new media each have benefits and drawbacks of their own. Traditional media has the benefit of being well-established and having a wide audience, but new media, or what is commonly referred to as social media, are capable of producing quick, real-time reports and giving readers the chance to react and comment in real time.
Naturally, compared to the more established traditional media, the social media, with Facebook leading the list of users, do not have the experience and luxury of providing in-depth and structured stories but instead thrive on the sensationalisation of topical issues. Still, they operate on the periphery and can significantly influence public opinion. They present a challenge and, on occasion, an intimidation factor for elites in power and the mainstream media.
The worry is not lessened by ignoring them. Keep in mind that social media can be both a problem and a solution in many situations. Both the general public and media professionals are aware of the dichotomy and have generally come to terms with it as a result of the media landscape’s ongoing democratisation.
East Malaysia’s leading English broadsheet, Borneo Post has taken the initiative to embrace digital technology across the entire gamut of news and media production in order to keep up with the digital adaptation race and to cater to the growing IT-savvy readership.
As a result, its interactive hyperlinks and online website, which already function to strengthen and complement its traditional base, which is the printed version of The Borneo Post, have joined the effort to tell stories and hear people’s stories across a broad social landscape through multifaceted media channels.
Media professionals are widely regarded as the ‘fourth estate’ in regard to their role in the political process and development of the state. It is an acknowledgment of their influence and status among the elitist powers of the state. The phrase has its origins in the French Revolution, where the church, nobility and commoners comprised the first, second, and third estates.
Viewed from a wholesome perspective, the concept of the ‘fourth estate’ place the media as an important integral component of the political and socio economic development process. In this, media are therefore a partner with shared responsibility in the pursuit of a shared destiny.
As partner, they are not expected to be subservient to any particular ‘estate’. But the media are expected to understand the bigger picture of development and progress and the challenges and obstacles that need to be addressed and mitigated.
They are expected to step up to the plate and perform a sacrosanct intermediary role of telling the story of change and development to the target audiences, and later writing stories of the people’s views and reactions to the contents on the earlier development stories. Sweet or bitter, they have a duty to tell the story from the policy maker side. Conversely, they also have an equally professional and civil duty to tell the reaction story from the public side.
As issues and subjects of societal value, including those relating to development and multiracialism continue to dominate public discussion in quiet spaces or public domain, journalists are expected to embrace research and investigative skills to enable them to respond to specific issues and initiate a series of reports that would trigger public interest and help create the desired public opinion.
The Borneo Post has made significant strides towards creating spaces for critical analysis and commentaries on topics and issues that are important to readers. By doing this, The Borneo Post has set in motion a trajectory of intellectual convergence befitting an increasingly educated, affluent society. It has also raised its intellectual bar.
For far too long, journalists have been cocooned in the old ‘inverted pyramid’ model of news reporting. Venturing outside or beyond it is regarded by traditionalists as breaking the rule or committing a taboo. Yet, wisdom comes when one ventures outside the familiar territory and breaks new frontier.
Many of these rules had their origin at the Fleet Street in London, home of the British Press. Many of the rules, too, have been broken by Fleet Street and its following of 100 years to meet the needs of the changing times.
In Sarawak, we should have the courage to test the limits and investigate uncharted possibilities in journalism. Since your job as journalists is to tell stories, nothing should prevent you from seeking out fresh material and developing original writing techniques.
*Toman’s column ‘Between the lines’ is published every fortnightly in thesundaypost