BY R. NADESWARAN
JOURNALISTS are often reminded that, like a coin, there are two sides to a story. “Get the other side to comment on the story,” editors would scream. When there is no response, the story will include these immortal words: “He declined to comment”.
On June 25 last year, no Malaysian knew the name Xavier Justo, a Swiss businessman. In a series of reports, the media painted him as a greedy, ruthless and cold-blooded blackmailer.
The NST trumpeted his arrest by the Thai police in an exclusive report which it said had the country talking and “followed by newspapers and online media around the world”.
Nirmal Gosh of the Singapore Straits Times, who was the first to interview Justo, claimed the “difficulty of gaining access to the man” and that he had to “call the Thai police every day, sometimes twice a day”. But there’s another side to this as we would learn later.
Justo “confessed” to having met several people and was the “bad boy” in wanting to “topple a democratically elected government”.
In subsequent reports and analyses, newspapers used his “confession” to pooh-pooh the many assertions made by the foreign media.
In stories published by international media based on his “confession”, Justo was portrayed as a reluctant player in a plot to “topple the government”.
The key phrase subsequently used in defending allegations of misuse of funds was “to topple the government”.
To add spice, reports emerged that “Justo had met several Malaysian politicians” in their bid to “topple the government” although no evidence was presented to support their case.
All these seemed to be the gospel truth to certain sections of Malaysians. That was until last Friday, when another side of Justo’s story appeared in the UK-based Guardian newspaper.
In a 6,315-word essay, Randeep Ramesh laid bare the events leading to Justo’s arrest and the subsequent events that unfolded.
His wife Laura was quoted as saying that Justo was forced to confess by his ex-colleague Patrick Mahony, a director in a company, in order to protect several high-level individuals.
“Xavier was no thief – he was only asking for what he had been promised. Even through this darkest and most difficult time of his life, which is right now, he writes to me that he is keeping strong for our son and I – that he will fight for us whatever it takes,” Laura told the Guardian.
Mahony, she said, had offered Justo a deal – confess and plead guilty, and PetroSaudi will get him out of jail by the end of the year.
Justo reluctantly agreed. He signed a confession – without a lawyer present – which claimed that he had attempted to blackmail his former employers, and apologised “for the harm, stress and anxiety I caused them”.
So, there we go with both sides of the story. We will leave it to you, the discerning reader, to decide whose report is to be believed and who to dismiss with a pinch of salt.
This columnist has repeatedly said that Malaysians suffer from a disease called the truth deficiency syndrome. And the spread of this disease is being augmented by the unsuccessful attempts of the government. It is preventing Malaysians from making an educated, well-informed and precise opinion after having all the information before them.
The blocking of websites is not helping the cause. In these modern days when yesterday’s technology becomes obsolete today, the internet provides unfettered access to information at a press of a button or the click of a mouse.
Many including the sites of news portals and blogs may be “officially” blocked but people continue to have access, nevertheless.
Are you going to continue blocking websites, which carry reports not favouring the country or its leaders? How many websites can you go on blocking? Would you want to block access to theGuardian and cause a ruckus around the world?
Technology allows one to unblock or go around a circuitous route to gain access. So, has it served its purpose? Are these measures counter-productive? The answer is a resounding “Yes”.
With so many applications available, it will be an exercise in futility. As said earlier, the reader must be able to digest the information and make his decision.
In 2012, I penned these words: The only thing truthful in newspapers these days are obituaries because publishers demand to see the death certificate and keep records of the advertiser. There are two more which are truthful – the four- digit lottery results and prayer times.
Has anything changed? I hope this theory will be debunked by those who believe that our countrymen have a right to information – good or bad.
R. Nadeswaran says preventing dissemination of information is not going to stop anyone from having negative perceptions. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org