Journalists struggling with job insecurity amidst government’s “technological illiteracy”

Malaysian print media (

Malaysian print media (

By Ziinine A. Britshi
Malaysia World News

KUALA LUMPUR: In 2020, a college in Kuala Lumpur launched a new course called “Digital Journalism”. Unfortunately, this course had failed to attract many students and the lecturer who proposed and created the new course was advised to leave though he was teaching other subjects.

It was very difficult to market this new course; the marketing staff did not understand what the course was all about nor did the prospective students.

Digital journalism is still a new phenomenon in Malaysia. Only few people who work with or follow some established news portals like Malaysiakini or the StarOnline would understand what the meaning of ‘online’ or ‘digital journalism’ is.

People here are used to traditional media such as newspapers, radio, magazines or TV. It will take many years for them to understand or cope with the new digitalization era.

Only after the COVID-19 pandemic and total lockdown was implemented Members of Parliament and ministers started to understand digital media and digital journalism as most of them are now working from home through online apps.

Now we have online Members of Parliament (online MPs). Hopefully they understand what it is like working with the new technology.

“Technological illiteracy is a real problem and those who work online every day and are close to technology often forget how overwhelming it can be when others do not have that opportunity,” blogged Candice Georgiadis.

“Teaching everyone how to use, manage, evaluate and understand technology and information online is as critical a subject as reading or learning mathematics.”

Few years back, the ruling government, Barisan Nasional (BN), spent millions of Ringgit (RM) on newspapers and TV for their political agenda. They used to ignore the power of the internet news published by online journalists. Some elderly ministers called online journalists as “social media or Facebook users.”

A few years ago, online journalists started to be recognized and accredited by the existing government. However, many of them are still downtrodden, especially those independent online journalists who are not from the government’s mouth-piece-mainstream media.

I did a research paper a year before the downfall of the BN government where I concluded that online journalism will be one of the main factors that could oust the ruling government headed by Prime Minister Najib Razak, like many other ministers and presidents across the globe.

Since year 2011, online journalism -mainly the independent online news portals-, have succeeded in mobilizing the public and ousting many dictators, corrupted or incompetent leaders in the world.

While BN was relying on traditional media and spending millions on their mouthpiece print media and TV channels, the opposition went to online digital media and teamed up with online journalists and netizens. As a result, they reached and influenced a large number of the population and gained the support and votes mostly from the young, middle aged and the professionals.

The fall of Najib Razak and his party that ruled Malaysia for almost 60 years since independence was not due to corruption or abuse of power but more to their ignorance about digital media and their technology illiteracy. They had also underestimated its impact where many governments had lost their power during the digital era.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) that took over the government from BN in 2018 till 2020 had forgotten where they came from and once in power, they started to give priority and importance to the traditional media especially the TV channels as they still perceived these mediums were still influential for their political strength and prestige.

The elites and VIPs, especially in the developing countries still think that appearing on TV or established newspapers is more glamorous and influential than appearing on a news portal or a Facebook post.

Hence, the game drew back to the old style – the online journalists had been ignored once again though they were the catalysts for PH to win the 14th general elections in 2018. We should not forget that PH had financially supported some of their news blogs before and after they won the election but they did not support many other independent journalists. The new government Perikatan Nasional (PN) that took over from PH seems to be acting the same as the former government.

According to a study in 2019 by the “Nieman Lab’s Predictions for Journalism 2020,” both digital and print media faced new, painful rounds of layoffs and closures, from BuzzFeed News to The Times-Picayune to Vice to Splinter, among many others. The entire publications ceased to exist.

With each set of firings came the collective hand-wringing and unconvincingly upbeat tweets from newly unemployed journalists that make your heart ache. By one estimate, nearly 8,000 media jobs were lost this year.

I have witnessed talented reporters losing their jobs and opting out from traditional journalism or media altogether in order to support their lives.

Nowadays, many journalists are jobless while fresh graduates in journalism or mass communication disciplines are likely to be confused about what to do or where to work. It has been noticed that it is not technology that kills journalism. Yes, there is no doubt it has caused many print media such as newspapers and magazines to “close shop” but on the other hand it has strengthened the journalism profession in the digital media outlets.

It is pertinent that the online media have served the public well with the most up to date and timely information. It is only the government in power that is not taking care of the media practitioners equally and unconditionally.

As Rachel Glickhouse said in an article that she posted in Nieman Lab, “when newsrooms permanently shed jobs, it isn’t just harmful to journalists or dangerous for local communities and democracy. It’s also bad for the media eco-system as a whole, especially as journalism increasingly relies on collaboration.”

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