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1:43pm 11/08/2022
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Bernama: missing the big picture
By:Mohsin Abdullah

So Bernama will not sue TV news presenter Sydney Yap for “exposing” on Facebook the alleged discrepancies and shortcomings involving the national news agency’s Mandarin TV news unit.

Well and good!

Bernama CEO Roslan Ariffin was quoted saying the news agency would (now) prefer to talk the matter out instead over yum cha.

A pleasant about turn after a message from Bernama was circulated to the media saying the agency would take legal action against Yap for “defamation”, as it deemed the news presenter’s allegations had “affected its image as well as the government”.

The news agency has come under heavy fire from media groups and NGOs for wanting to take Yap to court. Hence, the about turn or U-turn, if you like, is a pleasant one indeed.

I’m sure by now many would have already known what Yap said in her Facebook post.

Anyway, for a quick recap, Yap claimed there were serious staffing issues due to low wages, wage cuts and delays in hiring to fill in vacancies due to bureaucracy.

Roslan has denied all that.

There are always two sides to a story. I don’t intend to repeat Bernama’s take on the issue outlined at length by its CEO.

However, I need to say that he admitted that the “take Yap to court move” was proposed by Bernama’s human resources department.

But Roslan was quoted by Malaysiakini as saying legal action should be a last resort, meaning, as I see it, legal action or not would depend on what transpired during the talk with Yap (assuming it will take place). Am I right to say this?

You see, Roslan was also quoted by the news portal saying this, “ I said why fight? Contact her. If she made a mistake (she can) apologize. Say sorry or it was a misunderstanding. Figure it out.”

Now, such words can put ideas into one’s mind. That is open to all kinds of interpretations.

Is the Bernama CEO preempting the outcome of the talk, or saying what he wants to see happen during the talk?

To be fair to Bernama and Roslan himself, let’s not go into it.

But it seems that Yap is not out of the woods yet.

Speaking of woods, I can’t help but recall this idiom: Can’t see the wood for the trees.

We know that when we say someone cannot see the wood for the trees, what we mean is that someone is very much involved in the (other) details of a situation so much so he or she does not notice or see what is important about the situation as a whole, in its entirety.

I would say, in “handling” Yap’s so-called allegations, Bernama is precisely that, i.e. failing to see the wood for the trees. Or should I say Bernama is missing the big picture.

Just what is the big picture? First, a little bit of history. Well sort of.

If the information I gather is right (which I think it is), the Bernama Mandarin TV news unit was set up back in 2002. Need I say (I’ll say it anyway) the target audience was the Chinese community?

The BN government of the day wanted to disseminate its messages and views on issues to the Chinese via Bernama Mandarin TV news.

The government wanted to reach out to a Chinese audience, the majority of which at that time was tuning in to the AEC channel on Astro for their news, which included opposition views obviously not to its liking.

I do not want to label it a “propaganda machine”. Suffice to say, Bernama Mandarin TV news was to give the government’s side of the story. The national news agency, after all, comes under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.

But in 2013, “rumor” had it that the Bernama TV Mandarin news (as well as its Tamil bulletin) would be stopped.

Even then MIC deputy president Datuk Seri S Subramaniam spoke on the “rumor”, or as some called “allegation”, prompting Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek who was at that time Communications and Multimedia Minister to respond.

Shabery was on record saying the government had never intended to close down Bernama Mandarin (and Tamil) TV units or stop airing bulletins in both languages.

However in 2015, Bernama CEO Datuk Zulkifli Salleh announced that its Mandarin and Tamil TV news would be stopped to cut operational costs.

When Pakatan Harapan won GE14 in 2018, its Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo “requested” Bernama to resume broadcast of its TV news in Mandarin and Tamil.

In June 2018, Bernama’s Tamil TV news was back on air, followed by Mandarin a month later.

The Mandarin news bulletin was outsourced to a private company which was later absorbed by Bernama in 2019. It remains a Bernama entity till this day.

Now we have the allegations by Yap. True as said earlier, Roslan has addressed it. Well, most of it. But Sadly, not one important aspect.

Yap claimed that Bernama’s Mandarin news unit only has three personnel now. Is this true? There was no response from Roslan on this in his lengthy rebuttal of Yap’s allegations.

On 5 August, Bernama announced that its TV news in Mandarin would only be televised from Monday to Friday.

Why? Could this be due to not enough personnel manning the fort?

If indeed the Mandarin news team only comprises three staffers, surely it is seriously understaffed.

One needs not be an expert in TV broadcasting to know that three people simply cannot produce a five-day news presentation.

If lack of staff is the big problem, will Bernama go on a recruitment drive?

Granted it is not easy to employ new personnel especially for Mandarin TV news production, but the question to ask is what Bernama intends to do to overcome the problem?

Another big question is, just what are Bernama’s plans for its Mandarin TV news? Continue with it or cease operation?

But here’s the thing. I’m sure the current government would also want Bernama Mandarin TV news to play its role in giving out its point of view, messages, and what you have to the Chinese community. What’s more with GE15 is said to be around the corner.

However, Bernama is not doing the government cause any good as far as reaching out to the Chinese community via its Mandarin TV news is concerned. No fault of the unit, though.

Bernama’s focus now is apparently on Yap and not the core of the problem. That to me is missing the big picture.

And I think the government will not be amused.

(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)

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Mohsin Abdullah
Bernama
Sydney Yap

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