23 August 2006

"You Can't Shoot Me. Legally Speaking, I Didn't Defame You."

Sometimes, reading the newspapers is like entering an imaginary world, one quite far removed from reality. Prof Ang Peng Hwa, Dean of the NTU Communication School, had an article in yesterday's TODAY. I shall not be too unkind, since he was obviously publicising his upcoming workshop on "Blogging and the Law". Still Prof Ang makes one point so strange that I just have to comment:
Having seen students doing journalism, I myself have been surprised at the difference that media training makes. I have seen how even students who have been considered good writers and editors have fallen into legal pitfalls when they have not had the proper training.

The importance of training was brought home to me in a recent research project done by a colleague in the Philippines. The Philippines has one of the most free press systems in the world; but by some reckoning, it is the second most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist, second only to Iraq.

In her research, she found that 90 per cent of the journalists killed had no training in journalism whatsoever. In many of the cases, they were radio journalists who so defamed, harangued and harassed their news subjects that these people felt that they had no recourse other than violence.

Had the journalists been trained, they would probably have known to what legal limits they could go. In other words, without intending to trivialise or condone the violence, 90 per cent of the murders of journalists could have been averted with proper training.
I wonder what they teach in journalism school these days. Karate? Wushu? How to Use a Bulletproof Vest? While such subjects would indeed lower the murder rate of journalists, I don't think that they've found their way into the syllabus yet.

Many journalists in the Philippines get killed, but it's not because they lack training. They get killed because just like Iraq, the Philippines has major problems with law, order and security. And it's not just the journalists who get killed. It regularly happens to politicians, labour leaders and social activists. Even the President gets implicated in their murders.

Click here, here and here, for examples. And does anyone still remember Mr Aquino?

By the way, here's another one of those statistical sleights of hand - "90 per cent of the journalists killed had no training in journalism whatsoever". Doesn't this show that untrained journalists are much more likely to get killed?

No, not at all. For example, it may well be that 90% of all journalists working in the Philippines have no training in journalism. If the killers do not care whether the journalists they plan to kill are trained or not, then on average, 90% of the journalists who get killed will be the untrained ones.

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30 comments:

Gerry said...

Ang Peng Hua is just another armchair expert who never got into the field. A filipino engineer I used to work with has a second job delivering Coke concentrates. He and his brother routinely drive their van with a live grenade within reach of their driver's seat. During one of my stays in Manila, a congressman was arrested for having three M-16s in the boot of his car; he had licence only for one. When jailed, that didn't stop him from getting married in prison, with Imelda as one of the wedding guests. You're right the filino journalists didn't get shot for their penmanship, or because of their killer's sensitivity to criticism.

vandice said...

I think Prof. Ang has a valid point here, provided we know the % of 'trained' journalists out of all the journalists in Philipines...

If 90% of them are untrained... then it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the reported figure reflects their proportion.

If, however, 10% of them are untrained and they make up 90% of those murdered, clearly there is a strong correlation.

vandice said...

Yes, they get killed because of the poor law and order. But the point to note is whether untrained journalists are more likely to be killed than their counterparts.

Anonymous said...

Now I know why I must attend Ang's workshop. Because I am a blogger and the Singapore authorities are like the henchmen and murderers in the Philippines.

Anonymous said...

Luckily, my unarmed combat skilks quite good.

Whispers from the heart said...

She should have MB as the guest speaker? the blogger with the war scars to show.

Actually, I don't get it. U mean they won't kill you if u have a degree in Journalism from say Harvard or MIT?

NUS can or not?

G said...

I don't get it.

Are those journalist killed by the law (death sentence) because they break the law?
So if they would know the law they would not break it and would not get killed?

Or are they just killed by henchmen whom does not care about laws anyway?


I think Prof Ang is not even an armchair expert, lacking very basic common logic.

Anonymous said...

"Having seen students doing journalism, I myself have been surprised at the difference that media training makes. I have seen how even students who have been considered good writers and editors have fallen into legal pitfalls when they have not had the proper training."

Even those who had proper training have gotten into legal entanglements too. The Philippine anecdote is poor and totally out of context.

Ang is probably trying to explore a new market segment (bloggers) and promoting his workshop.

Anonymous said...

I have attended Ang Peng Hwa's course on Media Law at NTU, and he's actuallly one of the more engaging lecturers at Mass Comm, and he's able to distill into a few plain English sentences about how the newspaper licensing framework works to keep the media here in line. ;)

That said, I agree with Mr Wang that the point which he has pointed out is illogical. If I feel that journalists are to receive (any form of) training, it would really be in the area of journalism ethics. Otherwise, good writing is that of a keen mind and a flair & talent!

Anonymous said...

i think what he means is that:

1) if there is proper training in journalism, journalists will and can write better.

2) when journalists write better, they are less prone to miscommunication.

3) when there is less miscommunication, they are less likely to get killed for the things they write.

if these points were what he intended, he certainly didn't get them across clearly enough.

even if he wanted to market his workshop, using that sort of example is just... not correct.

lau Min-tsek said...

This is a good example of victimising the victim.

In other words, an argument is made that the victims deserved it as they brought it upon themselves. As such, they created the problem.

To illustrate, see the following statements:

"The woman was raped because she wore revealing clothes."

"He was robbed because he likes to show off that he is rich."

Prav said...

vandice -> you're missing the pt altogether...did u like read only half the article b4 commenting?

lau min-tsek -> as much as the sentiment is appreciated (more power to the underdog woot woot and all dat), it's not however a case of victimizing the victim... it's just a gd example of when correlation isn't causation.

the wider point that the wangster's trying to make here (and indeed has been trying to put across for awhile now) i think is that there's a need for an almost derridean like hypersensitivity when reading the singaporean media.

cheers yaar!

Agagooga said...

Filipino journalists do not get killed because of miscommunication, but because they threaten powerful interests.

So unless the training teaches you who not to offend, it's useless.

Then again...

BL said...

Somehow, I got the feeling that Prof Ang is not quoted correctly on the example. One must learn to take the media articles with a pinch of salt.

Anonymous said...

to BL>> but prof ang wrote that article. he wasn't quoted by a journalist.

BL said...

My apologies, I got it wrong there.

wert said...

This is almost too funny. Does it mean that if I attend his very clever workshop, then I have a 00licence to blog?

thor666 said...

the article seems irrelevant to our local context.

i have yet to hear a single journalist get killed in my 20+ years on the island.

i have also yet to see a blogger get killed, although we have all seen one of them get character-assassinated.

Anonymous said...

We all should know PAP's modus operandi by now. The ends justify the means, Money is the greatest good. Make others look bad to make oneself look good.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, I wonder if this obsession with money has to do with the pressure to perform and measure up to the predecessors.

simplesandra said...

Someone should remind Prof. Ang that there are journalists and there are investigative journalists. It is the latter's job to probe into matters that they feel the public should know but are kept in the dark instead.

It's a given fact that it's tough work, and they risk life and limb because of the influential people they antagonise. But that's precisely why they are rewarded with some of the most coveted accolades in their field.

Philippine investigative journalist Sheila Coronel was, for instance, awarded the prestigeous Ramon Magsaysay Award for journalism by Philippine President Arroyo in 2003.

If Prof. Ang's idea of a good, "trained" journalist is one who treasures his life more than the virtues of truth, then I really fear for the future of the profession.


Oh, and by the way, it's not only in Philippines that journalists are murdered for knowing too much--Russia's known for that too. In fact, Mr Paul Klebnikov, a prominent journalist and former editor in chief of Forbes Russia magazine was shot dead on his way to work (in 2004, I think).

So, it doesn't matter where you're from. Training or not, getting killed is merely a part of the occupational hazards of being an investigative journalist. ;)

Anonymous said...

"90 per cent of the journalists killed had no training in journalism whatsoever"

We cannot conclude that the lack of training or no training in journalism caused them to be killed based on the statement above

Anonymous said...

rubbish...NTU have such a rubbish professor. 90% of journalist killed is totally unrelated to the training they received!!! one can just take a machine gun and just shoot all the new journalists who have just gotten the full training...and there u have it, 100% trained journalist killed by mad man LOL

Anonymous said...

Well, if only Singapore had a few of those jounalist who got killed for doing their job our MSM would not have been ranked 147. The pen is mightier than the sword, so said a great man but we are a disgrace to this statement. Except for a few blogs, day in day out all I'm hearing from the MSM that the whole population agrees with PM' views on immigration. Are these jounalist reporting the truth..No they are well trained journalist who do not want to be killed..

Anonymous said...

Actually, somebody did get killed, figuratively, of course. One of those below 30s featured in the infamous televised dialogue with MM Lee. When he was approached for the Diana Ser follow up episode, the poor guy went on his knees and begged in tears, to be excused from "additional publicity". This is no urban legend.

Anonymous said...

Yes, many "untrained" people have been killed, figuratively. Assasination, we all know is not limited to journalist alone. Why we have had "untrained" lawyers, judges, academics and even students fleeing for their lives.

John Riemann Soong said...

Given that one day I want to be a citizen journalist in Iraq, the possibility of getting killed as an untrained journalist can only make the field seem more exciting.

Anonymous said...

ever heard of veronica guerin? she too was gunned down in ireland because she got too close for comfort. she was a good journalist too. downfall of trying to do her job properly i'll say....a little hard these days.

simplesandra said...

Don't think you'll find "All the President's Men" shown during Prof. Ang's lectures, that's for sure. ;)

Anonymous said...

For a journo to be killed just because she is doing her job is sad and disgusting.

Her killers should be caught and executed, or even better tortured to death.

But many journos are not heros, but really no better than the crooks they investigate. The faux photojournalism and staged reports from lebanon are just the latest example of this.

Some journos will stop at nothing, destroying the reputations and businesses of innocent people as if they are on a religious jihad, just to make a name for themselves and sell news.

When a crook gets killed, many may say, she deserved it. Since many journos are also crooks, perhaps the same is applicable.

From my personal experience, 4 out of 5 journos are crooks, which is about the same ratio for politicians and tycoons.

Flosduellatorum