(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Bernama acting editor-in-chief Syed Jamil Jaffar has said that the news article on the nation's economy put out by Bernama on Dec. 31 was based on the latest report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) received by the national news agency the same day.
He said: "As far as we are concerned, the IMF 1997 annual report on which the article was based is the latest we have received. Upon receiving it in the mail on Dec. 31, we checked to see whether there had been any news item done on it and having satisfied ourselves that there was none, we proceeded to do an article that very day."
Syed Jamil said it was normal for the agency and other news organisations to receive the annual reports of international bodies months after the year ended.
"The reports are still considered contemporaneous as they are the latest available."
I commend Syed Jamil for his disarming candour except that the head of the national news agency did not realise that he had just made a most self-incriminating confession about Bernama's sloppy journalistic culture and standards.
Syed Jamil can only plead mitigation but cannot deny that Bernama had been guilty of misleading the people by reporting an IMF "glowing report" on Malaysia when this was an outdated report prepared before the economic crisis in July last year and failing to report the most recent IMF report on Malaysia forecasting 2.5% growth for this year
Syed Jamil has failed to defend Bernama's journalistic honour and integrity as to why it had not only passed off a six-month old report on the Malaysian economy before the economic crisis as the latest IMF report, it also misled Malaysians in failing to report the IMF’s latest report on the Malaysian economy released in Washington on Dec. 19, 1997 in the form of its Interim World Economic Outlook, which gave the forecast that Malaysia’s economic growth this year would be 2.5 per cent.
I find the reaction of the Bernama acting editor-in-chief shocking because of its complacency and being totally lacking in any sense of remorse, shame or pride as a responsible journalist.
What is even more shocking is his ignorance that IMF interim world economic outlook which carried the IMF’s forecast on the Malaysian economy as growing by 2.5 per cent this year, and his total lack of interest about it, talking the bureaucratic language: "Should we receive the IMF interim world economic outlook report, we will also do the necessary".
A responsible and good journalist will never talk like that, for he would find ways and means to get such a report even if he had not known of it before!
It is astonishing that a national news agency like Bernama does not have a copy of the IMF Interim World Economic Outlook released in Washington on Dec. 19, 1997. I am prepared to give Bernama a free copy of the IMF Interim World Economic Outlook if Bernama needs it.
Ignorance however is no excuse for the dishonest and untruthful report of the IMF 1997 Annual Report as the latest IMF assessment of the Malaysian economy, even claiming that the IMF report commended the 1998 federal budget which was presented to Parliament on Oct. 17 - more than three months after the report had been transmitted to the Malaysian government by the IMF Managing Director, Michel Camdessus on July 9, 1997.
Anyone who reads the IMF 1997 Annual Report would know that it has nothing to do with the economy of today, and that it was talking about the Malaysian economy ending in April 1997 - which was the year-end for the 1997 IMF Annual Report!
It is clear that Syed Jamil does not know what he is talking about, and I am giving Bernama an extension of 24 hours to apologise to the country and people for such a serious journalistic lapse, which has made Malaysia the laughing stock of the IMF and the world - which is not helpful at all to the nation in restoring confidence which had been so badly battered in the past six months by a long-catalogue of self-inflicted wounds.
If Bernama is not prepared to admit its serious journalistic lapse, make a fulsome public apology and promise to exercise the highest journalist care and responsibility in future, I would lodge a report against Bernama for its most irresponsible and dishonest reporting. Bernama Act which was passed by Parliament seeks to ensure that the national news agency should exercise the highest standards of responsible journalism by providing for the public to lodge official complaints against irresponsible Bernama reports and for the Bernama Board to establish an inquiry into the complaint.