One year ago today, I had just come back from New York. Pre-pandemic life seems like a distant memory now – eating a meal in a bustling restaurant, walking the streets with a bare face, dancing in a crowded night club.
When I was holidaying in New York in October last year, I got someone to cover running CodeBlue. The site was humming along on a nice pace, seven months in. I was starting to get used to running my own news site, though I had to deal with an unpleasant police investigation under criminal defamation and the Communications and Multimedia Act over a news report on doctors at a health care conference who criticised a health screening programme.
Back then, I thought that health care – being how apolitical it used to be – was the last issue to get any sort of police investigation. I didn’t just get one, but two police investigations within the span of the first year of operations of CodeBlue – under two different administrations. When I first started CodeBlue, I thought it would take at least two to three years to get brand recognition, never mind police investigations which didn’t cross my mind at all.
The second police investigation against me was a lot more alarming than the first, since it concerned the Official Secrets Act and an obscure provision in the Penal Code about the disclosure of information. While the first police investigation concerned a news report that I wrote without the slightest thought that it could get me into legal trouble, I was very careful about writing the article on the declassified Sultanah Aminah Hospital fire inquiry report, making sure to cover all my bases.
Yet, the State still went after me.
I suppose my birthday coinciding with the October 27 Ops Lalang crackdown was rather prescient. Being a journalist wasn’t actually my childhood ambition (I once dreamed of becoming an astronomer, sometimes a homicide detective). But I fell into it because I liked writing, and I later found out I was pretty good in journalism. Now, I run my own tiny newsroom that seems to have made its mark, in just one and a half years of establishment.
But this piece isn’t really about my start-up. I wanted to spend some time reflecting on my personal growth over the past year. I am naturally impatient and impulsive, and perhaps a little too quick to anger, but my recklessness – usually grounded on my instincts – has generally served me well. So I’m loathe to change that part of me.
Managing a team of people has also taught me patience, compromise, and protecting my staff, whereas previously before, as an employed journalist, I used to get frustrated whenever my stories were killed. In the absence of press freedom in Malaysia (throughout all governments), I learned what “picking your battles” means, which I never really understood before. But I’m also glad that I have managed to stand my ground at times and said “no” to those in power.
I am at a point, though, in seriously considering whether I should change direction and undertake new ventures. CodeBlue certainly has a lot of room to grow, despite making incredible ground so far, but I’m not sure if I want to continue running a news organisation. The power of the media cannot be understated; people can only take action when they are empowered with knowledge. This is particularly pertinent in a public health crisis like Covid-19, where data is scant and official reports (whether intentionally or inadvertently) often do not contain complete information on the situation on the ground.
I have always believed that a journalist’s job is simply to report what is happening, based on our own observations and what people say, so that the public is aware of things that they might not have known. And they can choose to push for action based on their new knowledge. Or people can choose to go on with their lives as usual.
Journalists are essentially eyewitnesses. Sometimes, I long to play a more active role, instead of being a passive onlooker merely reporting on powerful politicians making poor policies. But I’m also unsure if I will do well in the public realm, with my particular ideology and outspoken personality. In any case, it’s a ways away.
There is still much to be done. The Covid-19 crisis isn’t going away anytime soon – the reality of people’s suffering, especially in Sabah, must be made known to all.