22 October 2018
The ill-fated river cruise ship is refloated amid complaints from victims' families about the handling of the tragedy by Chinese officials. Photo: Reuters
The ill-fated river cruise ship is refloated amid complaints from victims' families about the handling of the tragedy by Chinese officials. Photo: Reuters

Journalists risk life and limb but some people don’t get it

Imagine a high-paid media executive who sits in air-conditioned comfort and goes out to mix with the rich and powerful.

Now spare a thought for the working journalist who risks life and limb to report the news.

The contrast is dramatic in any situation but more so in the context of a newspaper editorial about sending reporters to cover breaking news overseas.

The gist of the argument is that such news coverage is unnecessary and that reporters produce “rubbish” anyway, so the public could do without it. 

Heaven forbid if that is what other media organizations think, but the fact someone even raised the topic so disingenuously is troubling.

It’s said that truth is the first casualty of war and here we are trying to bring down a venerable profession without firing a single shot.

The issue is not so much about editorial judgment — those decisions are made by an editor — as it is about an emerging mindset that media outlets could survive without having to compete in the marketplace of news and opinions.

That thinking co-opts a supposedly free press to vested interests, from companies to individuals, even governments.

That is the world of the “official mouthpiece” where media organizations are guaranteed an indefinite shelf life as long as they articulate the official line.

The editorial in the free newspaper zeroes in on two of the biggest news stories these past two weeks — the sinking of a Chinese cruise ship and the MERS outbreak in South Korea.

And the object of the criticism is Apple Daily, which sent reporters to the scene of the events. In both instances, its reporting is “rubbish”, according to the editorial.

Was the newspaper commenting on the decision to send reporters over, or was it criticizing how the journalists reported the news?

In the case of the boat sinking, China has been at pains to counter a public backlash after the victims’ families criticized officials for their handling of the tragedy.

On Friday, they righted the stricken ship and allowed relatives access to an area near the accident site but failed to calm tensions.

The news came back to Hong Kong as the reporters saw it, not as China would have wanted it.

The editorial goes on to accuse the reporters of trying to create trouble for China.

On Apple Daily’s MERS coverage, the editorial argues that there is no need to take risks in order to report the news.

Which is just the point — there is no need to put people in harm’s way but they go to the story because that is what they have to do.

Astoundingly, the editorial condemned the reporters for supposedly putting Hong Kong at risk of MERS infection.

In fact, they submitted themselves to MERS testing at the airport as soon as they returned to Hong Kong. There have been no reports anyone of them is a carrier of the MERS virus.

The point is that a newspaper — any media organization for that matter — is a public trust and performs a vital social function.

It’s not for editors, let alone editorial writers and media executives, to decide how it’s doing its job. The public is the best judge of that.

The newspaper editorial should have asked if the public was served by having these two important news stories reported in the way that they had been.

Then again the answer would have destroyed its premise.

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EJ Insight writer

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