Friday, August 14, 2009

Inadequate Journalistic Aptitude:A Lesson To Be Learnt

Hantu Laut

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.


Y1 said...

Silly or ignorant mistake is one thing if harmless but in this case it may cost the nation miilions in terms of persecution, investigation and judicial costs. If one prescribe to conspiracy theory, this is as good as it get, ie the Govt is all out to get the opposition using party owned media, with the cohort of the police who did not invetsigate fully and the AG prosecuting if it simply based on a newspaper article. It that any reason why so many right thinking Malaysians are cheesed off with the current state of affairs?

donplaypuks® said...

Looks like the DPP did not interview the scurillous reporter at all, but jumped at making life difficult for Karpal.

Is this the quality of justice we should continue to expect?

Surely the judge should throw the case out now instead of wasting Taxpayers' money and time!

We are all of 1 race, the Human Race

eddy said...

I have a different angle Bro. I think if anyone wants to call a meeting or press conference then he must know who his target audience is, so that he would prepare his speech based for the target audience and what he wants the target audience to know.

In this case Karpal calls for a press conference and should accordingly prepare his statement or speech on his target audience namely reporters from all the newspapers Utusan,Straits Times, Star, Sin Chiew etc.

Karpal should be the one who should do his homework to ensure that his statement is easily understood, as such latin words like ultra vires should have not been used but instead translated to simple English/BM.

Reporters covers many media events in a day and they do not have much time to write a story before it is passed to the editor for print. So to me it is the duty of anybody who calls a press conference to make it easy for reporters to report what they have said. If Karpal gets into trouble for calling a press conference that can only be understood by judges or lawyers then Karpal is responsible and have to answer for his oversight. Tq.

SM said...


You said it bro! The standard of our MSM stinks! Don't even get me started with the pathetic Utusan (just look at their Seditious Editorials! I'm waiting for someone in BN to have the guts to tell them to stop that crap or face the consequences! But I guess that's too much to hope for!).
Thanks God for the Internet.
As for me, well, I have all but boycotted the local Malaysian Newspapers.

SM said...


By the way I just read what happened when Jagdeep questioned the RTM Reporter Eliani Mazlan!
Now we know wny the standard of our MSM is so pathetic!

Anonymous said...

What to do when journalism nowadays means a way to 'cari makan'. People who cant find other jobs elsewhere and abore the teaching profession, choose the easy way to make ends meet. No more a noble profession to provide news to te masses, journalists nowadays are the cut&paste generation who do not do investigations or research into a topic but to just provide something before the dateline. Editors are the products of these so called journalists and if you do not believe me, try finding the mistakes in todays MSM and see how many there are when spoof reader are suppose to do their jobs. Years ago before the Chinese & Malay medium students joined the MSM, newspapers were a source to improve your English (or Malay) not worsen them!
Too bad for been nostalgic but products of our new NEP education is the cause...

SM said...


There ar esome of us who actually are making excuses for the incompetence of these journalists?!
Wow! No wonder the standard of English in Malaysia sucks. Don't even talk about professionalism & work ethic!
Malaysia Boleh & Salam 1-Malaysia!

Hantu Laut said...

You always missed the point, we are talking about the reporter not the DPP, here.

Hantu Laut said...


Not necessarily so, I think reporters should know what they are reporting, as they 'ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law'.

Bro, Karpal is a lawyer and will always use legal jargon.Whether he actually insulted the Sultan only the court can decide.

There is no 'lese majeste' law in Malaysia and that's may be the reason he was charged under the Sedition Act.

Lese majeste are still laws in many monarchy states, both constitutional and absolute, including some European monarchs. You could be fined or imprisoned.The worst is Thailand, you could end up in jail for as long as 15 years.

Hantu Laut said...

should read.. as they say 'ignorance....

Hantu Laut said...

There are many good reporters who take pride in their job.Of course, in every profession, there are always the bad apples and the incompetents.

donplaypuks® said...

No. You missed the point.

There's no trial without the AG and DPP thinking there is a fair case. But it looks like they did not interview their witnesses well and understand if they knew what they were talking about.

They should have known well before the testimony on the stand about the quality of their case and witnesses.

That would have saved both the witnesses and the AG's office from the resulting public humiliation and ridicule!

We are all of 1 race, the Human race

eddy said...

1. I respect your point bro, however I still think that anybody who calls a press conference must speak the language of his audience, and cannot expect the reporter(s) especially if they are from the Utusan,RTM or even Sin Chiew to translate the difficult legal jargons for print in their newspaper or TV programme. Karpal could at least print out translation of his Press Statement in Bahasa Malaysia next time, this will probably save him a lot of anguish. For the record 'ultra vires' is Latin phrase and it is not an English word. Anyway, I suppose we have to agree to disagree on this one.

2. Yes bro, too bad there is no 'les majeste' Law in Malaysia. Maybe its time to introduce this Law in Malaysia, something like the one the Thais have.


Anonymous said...


Please make your points in very simple english.

Too abstract for me as I do not really understand your comments .

Remember, it is your duty to do so, since you make those comments !

Talking of convoluted and parasitic minds !

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.