Are bloggers journalists? Does the term “responsible journalism” apply to bloggers?

These are the questions which I have been pondering over since it was announced in the media that bloggers Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin Atan are being sued for defamation by the motley crew of senior and former senior head of the newspaper News Straits Times. Of course, with blogging being such a strong passion for many Malaysians, this action has caused a sensation both in the local & international blogosphere and also in the local media.

Naturally, I – being a blogger, a journalism graduate and also someone who works in the media industry – cannot let this issue go by without offering my own two cents worth. It’s really only worth two cents, there are many more excellent commentaries out there from various sides about this issue, so, obviously mine would be a little bit insignificant. After all, I’m not exactly the most popular nor am I the most visited blog in all of Malaysia.

Back to my first question ‘Are bloggers journalists?’. This can be considered quite a hot potato issue in journalism circles. It all depends on which side we look at it. Bloggers can say they practice “citizen journalism” because they also write about current issues, human interest stuff and also offer their opinions regarding current news – all of which are also available in most newspapers and media. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some bloggers consider themselves journalists as well even though they have received no training whatsoever from colleges/universities and are not recognised by journalistic associations. 

That is exactly the main difference between a blogger and a journalist. A blogger is not a professionally trained journalist and therefore, he would not have any inkling about the code of ethics and the do’s and don’ts of journalism. A blogger who writes on current news and offering opinions and comments about them cannot be thought of as journalists and they cannot call themselves journalists because they really are not. Because of this, the second question I was thinking about, ‘Does the term “responsible journalism” apply to bloggers?’ – is pretty obvious.

As bloggers are truthfully NOT journalists – they can write whatever damn hell they want on the blogs and therefore, they should be prepared to face the consequences that could arise from them posting everything wantonly without thinking. So, rather than throwing “responsible journalism” at these bloggers, it is much more accurate to say “responsible blogging” so The Sun have totally misconstrued the whole issue.

In the case of Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin, both come from professional journalism background and are therefore, well aware of the ethics and rules we journalists have to follow. Obviously, they being much more senior and much more experienced then I, I assume that they have meticulously thought through every idea and decision that they make with regards to what they post on their respective blogs. As such, both of them did the right thing – they reported on issues that are deemed of public interest, which the public have every right to know.

The actions that NST had taken against Jeff ooi and Ahirudin will spark off a dangerous precedent – it is nothing but an effort to clamp down on bloggers who are blogging about truth, about fairness and about justice. The NST is trying to shut people up from speaking the truth about them – that they are a bunch of journalists who have scarificed their integrity and objectivity to become government puppets and spokespersons – trumpeting the “goodness” of the government when there’s so much filth deep underneathe all the “goodness.”

Is it any wonder why I hate parting with my hard-earned cash to buy NST? The actions NST has taken has only made me all the more fervent in boycotting the paper and I would certainly be telling my friends to do the same. The freedom of expression cannot be curtailed. Never. It will never happen as long as its defenders are alive and breathing in this country. The NST is only hurting itself in the process, there’s no doubt the law would find Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin not guilty of defamation because the onus falls on the plaintiffs to prove that the things Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin has written on their blogs are false, defamatory, injured their reputation and suffered significant damage. Unless they lie through their teeth, I cannot see how NST will get out of the deep hole they had dug for themselves.

At the end of the day, the crux of the matter is that bloggers have to blog responsibly and abide by the rules even though we have the freedom of expression. But if we’re confident and sure that what we have posted on our blogs are the truth and are trustworthy, then, there’s nothing anyone could do even if they sued us for defamation. Oh, let’s not forget about the term “smart blogging” – know how to blog without getting into all the mess that Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin is experiencing right now. There is a way – you only need to know how. I did just that here in this post. 🙂

Finally, to all bloggers out there – don’t, DON’T ever let this furore shut you or your blog up… there are many, many, more things to fear about than being sued – like corrupt officials and authorities getting away with their crimes and causing the public more grief and suffering. If you know or are aware of such things but don’t know what to do about it, blog it! There’s always a high chance someone will stumble upon it and picked it up from your blog and make more noise about it and it goes on until someone takes action against the injustice.

Let the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech flow free. Don’t be afraid! Bloggers Unite – Show no Fear!!!

Related Links:

Jeff Ooi’s Screenshots
Ahirudin Atan’s Rocky’s Bru
NST Playing the Bully
The Post that Sparked the Controversy
In Honour of the Heroes
Malaysian human rights lawyer and activist Malik Imtiaz Sarwar’s Blog – Disquiet

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  1. There is a reason why I do NOT like the NST. They do have some good news from time to time, but those seem to be rather… erratic.

    Their website leaves MUCH to be desired though.

  2. “Are bloggers journalists?” – Well, I don’t consider my page a ‘blog’, but a ‘journal’. I guess that makes me a ‘journalist’, right? 😉 Kidding aside, in the sense that journalists report news and events (that’s MY particular definition of one), then no, I’m not a journalist. I consider my page more along the lines of Op-Ed, I take news and events/situations and offer commentary. I don’t know if anyone’s actually reading it, but it’s out there for anyone who wants to read it and comment.

    “Does the term “responsible journalism” apply to bloggers?” I believe it should, that is to say the *concept* should apply. If one is going to make statements on an issue/person, one should do what one can to be able to support the statements made. I try to do that when I can, but for the most part I post opinions…what I *think* or *feel*, so I tend to believe I’m pretty safe with what I write.

    Opinions can run the gamut from harmless to libelous, so one must also take into account that one’s journal is being made available through a provider, and as such is subject to their scrutiny. It seems that a party with objection to some journal’s content would save themselves a lot of time and money by, instead of filing suit, simply contacting the journ…sorry, weblog’s provider and complaining to them; I’m sure the provider would exercise any reserved right and remove the content *if* they decide it’s against their guidelines. I’m no fan of censorship, so I hope it would not come to that.

    “As bloggers are truthfully NOT journalists…” Well, I hate to be the proverbial fly in the ointment, but I should point out (not taking exception, mind you) that it might be more accurate to say that *most* bloggers are not journalists, as I’m sure there may be a few, like yourself, who maintain a blog. But I agree with you in that most are not trained for journalisitic endeavors, and as such, some post without regard for their audience and are ill-prepared to avoid bringing any negative consequences about in the first place.

    Well, there’s MY two cents worth. Here’s hoping the “free press” that are weblogs and journals remains intact.

  3. Corgan

    Am pestering my dad to unsubscribe NST (after all he’s been doing it since i was born =P). I can’t stand those obnoxious, UMNO-pologetic articles esp from columners like Kalipoodah, Brenden “piagiariser” Ferrera and Hairy Jamaluddin although I admit I’m sucker for their comics and EPL pullouts.

    “Responsible blogging” for me is a sort of oxymoron, because unlike mainstream media, blogs operates in cyberspace which has no boundaries and restrictions whatsoever. Jeff Ooi and Rocky “Ahiruddin” got sued because unlike typical bloggers, they’ve got balls instead of hiding behind some anonymous screenname.

    That event also sets questions to whether PM Abdullah’s policy on transparency is just talk cock. If Jeff/Rocky loses the suit, it spells doom to a [i]truly[/i] responsible journalism, that is to report and expose without bias and favour. The action of the current BN govt to classify toll concessionaire agreements and water privatisation dodcuments under Official Secrets Act (OSA) contradicts Abdullah’s stand regarding transparency and openness.

  4. Sora – Your two cents worth are as every bit as important as gold! I, too, hopes to see that the “free-ness” of weblogs and journals remains at is and that no one in the govt has the smart ass idea to censure us bloggers.

    Corgan – Hahaha, I agree with you that NST’s comics are real killers, man. Another and only itsy bitsy reason that I pick up NST at all is for Amir Muhammad’s column every Thursday. No one in Malaysia writes satire like he does!

    What you said about “responsible blogging” being an oxymoron is quite spot on. It is difficult to regulate the content and behaviour of someone who works in cyberspace. It would be rather silly and a lost cause if anyone even tries to crackdown on weblogs and journals because unlike normal websites, weblogs can be built and set up instantly for free. Close one blog and another one would pop up. The govt really should concentrate on something else.

    I definitely salute people like Jeff Ooi and Rocky. They certainly have balls of steel to stand up for the rights of bloggers as well as for the individual’s rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression AND freedom of information. I do not think they’re villains at all…and I certainly blame everything on the NST ruffians you mentioned.




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