Sarawak papers take on AFP

Two Sarawak newspapers have accused French news agency AFP of being “foreign instigators” responsible for Penan blockades in Sarawak. (For details as to how the AFP journalists had “instigated the Penans”, please read Malaysiakini.)

Here’s the background: The two newspapers are Borneo Post and See Hua Daily News. These are two wide-circulated newspapers and they both are sub-companies of the well-connected timber conglomerate KTS Group.

KTS Group and the government-linked company Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC or Pusaka) have formed Pusaka-KTS Forest Plantation Sdn Bhd which have set up an acacia and eucalyptus plantation within the native customary rights (NCR) land of the Penans.

This has affected 3,000 people from more than 20 villages in the Apoh- Tutoh area. The Penans rely on the forest for survival and the Penans claim that this move by PKTS, which was done without their consent, has affected their food-gathering. And besides, no one is supposed to touch NCR land without approval.

The issue of credibility and objectivity: There is every likelihood that the reports by the two Sarawak newspapers will be seen as being politically and economically motivated to suit the needs and goals of the parent company. And so a story like this is bound to reinforce the notion that the political powers and the economic movers in Sarawak are beyond reproach.

At the same time, the action of the AFP journalists, which may seem insignificant when seen in a wider angle, raises the question of how involved should a journalist be with a story or should the journalist be involved at all.

The cardinal rule has always been – get the story and don’t be the story.

The Sarawak newspapers are also guilty of that – in that there is now a news story on Malaysiakini about their news coverage. Some media organizations are instructed to fight battles for their political masters – and this happens all over the world.

In the case of Sarawak, certain influential people in the state probably smelt a rat behind the AFP journalists’ action and wanted to get rid of them.

The French and several other European nations may have had a hidden agenda behind their barrage of criticisms over Sarawak’s timber and oil palm industry and that the state government had to go on a months- long campaign to clean its image.

But this is irrelevant at this point in time and the issue is far too complex for us to figure out who is right and who is wrong.

The issue here is plain and simple: the two Sarawak dailies should report matters as they are so as to maintain their credibility and the AFP journalists should do what they are paid to do – report.

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