Eight proud years of being 'The Malaysian Insider'
There was a moment last March 30 when several police officers came to arrest me over an article that was bylined "By The Malaysian Insider". I asked them why me? They said, "Because you're The Malaysian Insider, right?"
That was one of the proudest moments of my life as a journalist in the past 28 years. Being blamed or being known as the person who wrote specific news reports, even if it was a generic byline.
I showed them my identity card with the name Jahabar Sadiq. They were confused and had to get further instructions. Eventually five editors were arrested for a day over a complaint that was deemed untrue. I am glad to say, no charges were ever brought against us.
A group of us started The Malaysian Insider -- which was shut down last week -- more than eight years ago with the simple idea that Malaysia needed an impartial, if not neutral, news portal that would cover the news of the day, and give an unvarnished take of issues in the country.
Malaysia did not quite have that in February 2008 when we launched the news portal. The readers had very few choices: either read pro-government newspapers or listen to or watch government-regulated radio and television, or go online and seek news from news portals favourable to the federal opposition.
Or blogs of questionable veracity. Content was being produced in a zero-sum game mode -- you are either with us or against us. There was no middle ground, no platform for both sides to argue in a marketplace of ideas.
The first two years of The Malaysian Insider saw a skeletal staff covering the news of the day, even attempting some analysis and opinions. Most of them were given that byline -- The Malaysian Insider -- as established journalists and writers did not want to be known for holding such views.
And the fact was, it was a great branding tool for the news portal.
I came on board officially in 2010, after serving two years of my three-year contract with Reuters Television in Jakarta. It was the start of an adventure where no political party on each side of the parliamentary aisle trusted you but everyone else lapped up the reports, analyses and opinions.
The premise was simple. Investigate and seek out news that matter. Inform people so that they make informed choices, no matter whether it was the party that was in power or the party on the opposition benches.
The only side we worked for was the side of the ordinary Malaysians -- who wanted good governance, transparency and honesty.
We recruited young and old reporters who could investigate and had a way with words. We hired professional photographers for great storytelling snaps. We also gathered young and unknown voices as our columnists, not caring if their politics or opinions were agreeable or disagreeable.
The Malaysian Insider wanted to cover the news of the day, and if possible, analyse it for our readers to know the behind-the-scenes considerations and the kind of backroom deals that politicians and some leaders are wont to do.
It was difficult, to say the least. We worked with the deep-throats, moles and insiders -- all different labels for those with a conscience who wanted to expose something and get the truth or facts out in the open.
The political parties that formed the federal government did not like us. Some of the parties in the opposition pact were uneasy with us. So we must have been doing something right. No one could think they owned us or were partial to us, and everyone was looking forward to more news which we dutifully dished out every morning starting from 7am.
There were days when it was hard to find the news that mattered for us to make as leads, there were days when there was nothing that was really happening -- after all, this was the Malaysia in a post-Mahathir time. Mahathir Mohamad was always the news, unlike his successors or so we thought. But his successors made the news at a time Malaysia was changing and information was all the more vital. We made sure we were there to cover it factually, accurately and speedily -- lessons I learnt from my days with Reuters.
Because, no one can fault you if you report accurately and let the report speak for itself. The facts, the truth, is the greatest weapon of all in journalism. Governments and politicians want the truth bent to suit them and not the public.
Newspapers, broadcasters and portals owned by vested interests would do that. And they would also advertise on social media be it Facebook or Twitter to ensure their news reached out to everyone online, to match their influence in print and electronic media.
We just had the truth, painstakingly researched and ensuring that every side had a say in our package of issues of the day or analysis pieces. Sometimes, mistakes were made, particularly in breaking news situations, but more often than not we were as accurate as we promised we would be.
Our sources helped us a lot. They were the real Malaysian Insider and they made sure we were on top and ahead of the news curve.
We broke important news for the country -- from the time Prime Minister Najib Razak was to repeal security laws in 2011 to him sacking his deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin last year. We also explained and analysed the rise of religious sectarianism in Malaysia despite the government insisting it was a nation of moderates.
Despite being a success and garnering such a huge following of nearly two million unique visitors and 60 million pageviews monthly at its height, The Malaysian Insider was not a commercial success. We are all the poorer of it since it was shut down on March 15. Its servers are offline and it cannot publish news any more. It has gone dark, leaving a void for impartial and important news for all Malaysians.
All said and done, we have shown that most readers want to read news from an impartial if not neutral news portal. They want their news unbiased and not lopsided. Unlike those in power.
Jahabar Sadiq was the first and last editor of The Malaysian Insider.