berthahenson

Reflecting over Xmas

In News Reports on December 19, 2013 at 5:05 am

For the first time ever, I am not going to be home for Christmas. The whole family has decided to fly off to Lombok in Indonesia. So no open house at Mother’s. No food. And no presents for visitors. No, I am not escaping Mas Selamat style and I certainly don’t appreciate jokes about being detained at the airport for trying to flee the country…(Will blog immediately if it happens, unless everything technological I am carrying with me gets confiscated.)

But this is one holiday I am really looking forward. I haven’t had one since I quit my old job. And since Breakfast Network (now defunct)  started functioning in February, I’ve had no time at all to smell the roses.

It was my brother who suggested that we close house and jump ship for Christmas. It’s something he brings up every year but Mother got in the way. An old-fashioned Christmas is what she likes with Midnight mass, presents under the tree, carols playing, family, friends and dog around.

Mother said yes because we resorted to simple blackmail. If you don’t go, Sis won’t go, says Bro. Sis needs a break. She acquiesced. Now looking at what’s been happening around me lately, she’s in full agreement.

So we’re going. Tomorrow! Yay! 

I was toying with the idea of bringing along my laptop because I am so used to thumping on a keyboard but I’ve decided against it. This WILL be a holiday, away from computer, Facebook and errrm…all G agencies.

I don’t know what I’m going to do there except read and play with my nephew. I might do some thinking if I can get my brain to start up. I want to think about  what it’s like to be a non-mainstream media journalist. About having to play by the rules (and still get a black eye!). About not getting access to information to do a good job of reporting or writing.

I also want to think about what it means to be a “moderate’’ commentator. And whether there is really such a thing as a middle ground between the pro-G and anti-G lobby.  I want to think a bit deeper about this word called trust. .

I am not anti-G but neither am I so pro-G that I leave my brains behind when I look at what it does. People say I am not consistent – that is, you should be either pro- or anti-. I don’t think I want to look at the world that way. My position is: When you think something is right, praise it. When you think something is wrong, knock it. And put your name behind it. I intend to continue operating that way.  

But being accountable and transparent hasn’t done me much good, going by the dance I’ve had with MDA. I want to wrap my head around what’s been happening lately.

You know, I agree with the principle that we must not let foreign funding influence reporting and writing. But I do not agree with the imputation that because I do not register the site/company with MDA, I am against the principle.

It’s a typical argument.

If you agree that people should not kill each other, you should agree that murderers should not hang. If you agree that more should be done for the poor, you should agree to pay more income tax. I have seen the opposition politicians being hobbled by such arguments over the years whenever they objected to aspects of a policy. Poor things, I thought. (Now, poor me?)

I had asked MDA to say plainly that it has no evidence that I have been consorting with foreign players for funding. It told me there was no need to do so, since I had reported this in an earlier post. I must say that MDA has no idea of the difference between reporting hearsay and hearing it from the horse’s mouth.  

You know, foreign embassies have got in touch with me because they want to know my views on the media, especially with the recent waltz. I told them point blank that it has been my policy even in my past life not to meet diplomats on a social basis. I think they were quite flummoxed at my not-very-polite answer. But how else should I couch it? Better dash their hopes, I thought. A new media player even offered to introduce me to the people behind malaysiakini to get an idea of how the online site operates as a business. I saw it as a death sentence. Thank you, but no thanks.

The undergraduates who intern for me at the now-defunct BN can testify as to how I would ask every new recruit if he or she was Singaporean. And the difficulty I faced trying to turn him or her down if the answer was no. I know full well the complications of having “foreign influence’’ in journalistic operations. When a foreigner writes for the now-defunct BN (sorry I have to keep repeating this), he goes under the label Expat Eye. Nothing can be clearer than that.   

I know I’m rambling. But that’s the (good? bad?) thing about blogging – anyhow also can.

Which was why I had such hopes of building a good, professional team of reporters and writers with layers of checks, editing processes and professional standards. I wouldn’t let me – or others – get away with rambling on a news/views site. There is a code. For the ex-BN, it was no preaching and no advocacy. Can be critical. Can ask questions. Must have writing style that engages, even if wicked. Must be bylined.

Many pieces had to be re-worked because of bald assertions without proof and sweeping statements without facts. Quite a few were spiked. The young ones were told they were too young to pontificate and to be clear that they were commenting from their own (limited) perspective, (short) life experience and (narrow) world view. I thought they should still be heard, despite and because of their youth.

It was good that I had old(er) people for company though as they had institutional memory, even if we lacked the resources of a newspaper archive.

So what happens when I get home at the end of the year? I guess I’ll continue blogging. Life goes on. In fact, I’m not even sure I can refrain from blogging while I’m away.

 Probably cannot.

 See how.

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  1. I agree. Personally, I’m neither pro nor anti as well. I’m pissed about certain things they do but I realise that sometimes our Government acts a certain way, is due in part to pressure from citizens. I’ve heard a saying somewhat along the lines: the Government deserves the citizens it has. Similarly, the citizens deserve the Government it gets 🙂

  2. The Weatherman replies:

    Moderation is similar to sitting on the fence. It hurts, as you must have recently discovered but it also makes us nervous.

    You see, if you’re with us, then we know you’re not with them. We know how to reward you, or even to safely ignore you.

    If you’re not with us, then we know you’re with them. We know how to sabo you or at least, have your taxi claims watched.

    However, fence sitters are like pigeons – nice eggs but messy habits. Have you observed how they rock and lean on the wire – depending on the wind direction?

    Since when did we weathermen ever get our predictions right?

    Now, if you were as predictable as night and day – easy peasy – as we can focus on important challenges such as climate change.

    Happy reflections.

  3. Hi Miss Henson,

    I am terribly saddened to about what happened to The Breakfast Network and I sincerely hope you get some well deserved rest.

    Pardon me asking, but what was your goal with The Breakfast Network? The endgame? Was it to give those students an additional avenue to train their skills and develop their journalistic aptitude? Or was it to leverage on social media and develop a reasoned, sound and concerted effort to alternative news?

    I ask these questions merely as a curious reader and a freelance wannabe journalist/writer (I shudder at the words blogger). Also these questions are completely off the record and won’t be reproduced anywhere, in any form.

  4. Maybe shd change name to Breakfree Network n go underground, jus like the Catholics in China.

  5. Hi Bertha,

    Thank you for sharing. I agree with you that it is not an inconsistent stance. The dichotomous way of being pro-this and anti-that.. it just leaves a trail of divide in its wake.

    Always appreciated the fair views and perspectives that you and BN offered to readers, never shoving anything down our throats, but challenged us to think in other perspectives.

    For what it’s worth, enjoy a great holiday with your family! It’s great that you are surrounded by loved ones.

    Be well!

  6. Did you say “trust”? As in you wish the government would ‘trust’ you and other independent sources to be respectable, moderate “hubs of reason”? I’m sure it’s no coincidence that you and Mr P Balji (wonder what the P stands for), both veteran journalists, spearheaded similarly doomed ventures. Got to admire your spirit, but I don’t understand where the optimism comes from.

    We don’t need a Breakfast Network that needs to depend on the “trust” of the government to even exist. Sorry. What we need is for people to desire to speak out, and do just that.

    What I really want is for the newspaper industry to become extinct, or fade into irrelevance. Tightly controlled messages, varnished truths, and professionally written euphemisms are irrelevant to me. No newspaper on planet Earth uses the fragment “Gov’t introduces… to help…” as indiscriminately as the Straits Times. I just wish for my children, and my friends’ children, to be able to know what BS is when they see it.

    The other thing is that I’m really sick of this “I’m not pro or anti government” thing, as if it’s a crime to be one or the other. It even crops up in my daily conversation, which tests my patience. To that end I say that you don’t have to strive to be a moderate. You should be moderate as the pure consequence of statistics. Similarly, you don’t have to ‘strive’ to be of average height and build, or strive to have an average salary. That being said, TRS and other websites demonstrate that we do have a disproportionately large loony bin.

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