You probably have read the story about Utusan reporter Mohd Nizam Mohd Yatin who told the court that he thought the phrase 'ultra vires' means 'to insult'.He was under the impression that Karpal Singh used the word to insult the Sultan of Perak.He appeared in court as prosecution's witness in Karpal's sedition case.
Karpal's defence lawyer Jagdeep Singh may be expecting too much to expect that Mohd Nizam, a Malay reporter, should understand the meaning of this legal jargon derived from Latin.The term is mainly used in legal works.Ultra vires literally mean 'beyond the powers' which in simpler form would mean 'doing something beyond your legal power or authority' which is the opposite of 'intra vires' which means 'within the powers' which is not as much in use as ultra vires, which can be found in most dictionaries.
I do not know the educational background of Mohd Nizam but to be fair to him it is not his educational background that is at fault here because he is not alone, many English educated persons are just as clueless as he is about the meaning of the word.This is what Mark MacCormak says in his book 'What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School'.You only learn about it after you left school, college or university, whichever the case may be.
Was Mohd Nizam wrong for not knowing the meaning of the word? Yes and no.There is a thing called common sense.You are a reporter and confronted with a word which is Greek to you, what would you do? Naturally, unless you are lazy, which may be the case here, you would want to find out the meaning before you submit your report to your boss.I believe all reporters have access to the Internet and it would have saved Nizam the embarrassment if he had been a bit more diligent, a click of his mouse would take him only a few seconds to get the meaning of the word.
Nizam was not wrong for not knowing it before he came across the word but what was wrong was him groping in the dark, for his presumption of the meaning and for his lack of curiosity after he came across the word in the course of his work.Curiosity does not kill the cat here.As Mahatma Ghandi had said "Indolence is a delightful but distressing state; we must be doing something to be happy"
I would not like to question the standard of journalism in this country but there have been many cases where journalists made boo-boos of what they wrote because they are just too lazy to learn about the subject and the jargon associated with it.
A while ago I read an article in a local newspaper where it was reported that a state-linked companies made over RM400 million in profit exporting rubber and rubber products.I know the company personally and know for sure they couldn't have made that much profit. I have seen it happened many times and in different newspaper where reporters mistook 'turnover' or 'gross sales' as profit.Whether it is the reporter to be blamed or the editor who sent the wrong reporter to cover the story, never edit the content, or the editor himself is ignorant.
If you are a business reporter you are expected to know the jargon associated with the industry, otherwise, you would be just like a parrot that repeats what it hears and not know what it means.Just like, I came across many years ago 'amortization of assets' which a reporter thought as enhancing the assets value when it actually mean reducing the assets value through depreciation. You can either amortise your assets or your debts.There are other forms of amortizations which I will not go into details.
To be honest when I first started using the Internet, I didn't know the difference between an Internet and Intranet, I thought they were one and the same.Curiosity and the need to know helped me to find out that they are not the same.Intranet is a private computer network used by employees within an organisation or companies.
The search for knowledge is like the receding horizon, it's infinite, you never reached your destination.
One can write a text book on ineptitude of reporters and bad journalism if one wishes to but that should be left for another day.