R Nadeswaran aka Citizen Nades, my countryman, who writes for the Sun is one Investigative Journalist I have great respect as I am a bit of a fan.
I worked in Peninsular Malaysia as the Bureau Chief for a Sabah based paper for nearly 5 years and am familiar with many of Nadeswaran’s cutting-edge reports from uncovering bribes and corruption by Little Napoleans in local councils to getting the inside story on politicians influencing civil servants through their shenanigans and utter greed.
I know, investigative journalists are an exquisite breed and Nades fits the bill. They work in a lonely world, pouring over laborious details for days to collate enough information for a story. Very often they hit a brick wall. They have passion, persistence, discretion, but, sadly, little recognition.
Lets give Nades, my friend, some recognition. See why I say Nades is good….
By R. Nadeswaran (The Sun)
“A JOURNALIST will always protect his kind,” is the common remark we usually get when we attempt to defend our professions from friends and foes who disagree with what we write or do. “You guys will never let each other down, however wrong you are,” is another often-repeated claim. I take pride in stating that if I have made a mistake, I will apologise and have done so before.
Terence Fernandez was abducted and held at gunpoint in Baghdad at the height of the US invasion in 2003. He was released unharmed – though not before two people in his convoy were shot and killed. Despite wanting to stay on, Terence was ordered home in my capacity as his editor, after consultation with the senior management of this newspaper.
I justified this decision in an open letter to the readers by saying that no story is worth your life. Many, including those in the government which had sponsored the Joint Malaysian Media Team to the war zone to give an “independent view” of the American onslaught were not happy with the decision but it stood. We were accused of being cowards but I would rather have a living coward than a dead hero.
To those who had offered support and sympathy for the 24 hours that we had lost contact with Terence, I penned these words: “It had been a harrowing day for me at the office, but nothing is more satisfying to note that our boy is still there, making me proud of being a journalist, his colleague, friend and confidante.”
Over the years, both of us had brushes with the law – not of our doing – but over-zealous law enforcers who think they can cow us into revealing our sources. We have always protected our sources and still seek legal counsel when the need arises. If we break that code, no one would ever want to deal with us. And wherever we go, we tell our audience to not treat us as enemies but as friends who can help further a common cause. Not that we would take sides, but sitting over a cuppa beats a confrontational interview, hands down, every time.
Long before Terence’s harrowing experience, there has always been a tinge of support in my heart for my brethren journalists if they had done no wrong. It was on that premise that I walked into the Brickfields police station many moons ago to demand why my late colleague Raymond Nathan was handcuffed behind his back. His
“offence” was to have harshly demanded why an accident victim was not attended to immediately. Having said that, I stayed away from the cause of another journalist who was detained for drug-related offences.
Therefore, after reading the plight of Nevash Nair of The Malay Mail (where I started and honed my investigative journalism trade), who was questioned for six hours by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), I can relate my feelings. I too, not long ago, underwent a similar exercise (though I was not detained) when police officers came to record my statement on the Balkis affair. Nair’s alleged offence (gathered from news reports) was reporting what a member of Parliament experienced at the MACC office. His laptop and handphone were seized – a new experience for those in the fraternity.
What offence did he commit? Did he take a bribe from the MP or any other party to write the report? If that is the case, I would rest my case and declare that the law must take its course. However, this was not the case. While it would be wrong to “interfere” with investigations, no one has told us what Nair is being investigated for. The National Union of Journalists has come out strongly against the treatment of the journalist, but the silence on the part of two senior newsmen in the MACC’s Consultation and Anti-Corruption Panel is deafening indeed. No one expects them to defend any wrongdoer – journalist or not – but they owe a special duty to find out and explain the nature of the so-called offence and if the methodology used by the MACC in the course of its investigation is commensurate with the provisions of the Act. We are likely to be told that “MACC has wide powers” but the speed with which it embarked on Nair’s report and its almost immediate statement – the files were never missing – gives us, lesser mortals hope that the commission can work on cases and produce results in a jiffy if it wants to.
I am not against the MACC and I will be the first to admit that there are bad apples among us and there a handful who are involved in dubious deals, for whom there should be no sympathy. The MACC has a job to do and it should show no favour to anyone – journalists included. In this case, no money changed hands and apparently, they wanted to get to the bottom of the issue where the MACC officials had been quoted saying that “the files are missing”.
If I had been the investigation officer, I would have had a chat with him and asked him how and why he came to the conclusion that the files were missing. Surprisingly, to add to MACC’s perception problem, it singled out Nair while other journalists who filed similar stories were spared the detention and interrogation.
The Fourth Estate has a duty to play in nation-building and the creation of a better society. It has a duty to work with both the public and private sectors in disseminating news which the public wants. If there is something wrong, it has a job of pointing it out and if there’s something positive, it has to be reported as well. This is the credo in every journalist’s mind and most of us are aware of this when we put pen to paper. We are aware of the laws of defamation and the other punitive laws which could land us in jail. But when we are faulted for reporting what was said, is it not a case of shooting the messenger?