Express likely pulled off world's last great scoop
Published on: Tuesday, October 02, 2018
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Express likely pulled off world's last great scoop
Kota Kinabalu: It is possible that the world's last great scoop was pulled off by a small newspaper in Malaysia that punches beyond its weight and something all Malaysian journalists can be proud of.Disclosing that the newspaper concerned was none other than the Daily Express – the best-selling newspaper in Sabah and Labuan – its Chief Editor James Sarda attributed the achievement to good investigative journalism and luck.

"Above all, it was the decision of fugitive Barings derivatives trader Nick Leeson to pick Sabah, and Shangri-la Tanjung Aru Resort in particular, to hide while Interpol was looking for him for causing the eventual collapse of Barings Bank in 1995," James told the R.AGE recently, the section in the Star newspaper dedicated to youths.

He said scoops are what journalists used to be excited about until technology, starting with the internet and, lately, smartphones took it away from their hands circa 2000. Scoops are exclusive reports and the more important the scoop, the greater the prestige for the newspaper and journalist/s concerned.

For instance, although the Washington Post is not anywhere it was in its hey day, it became legendary for bringing down US President Richard Nixon through its exclusive Watergate scoop.

"Journalism used to revolve around scoops, and a lot of newspapers used to be fighting each other for scoops," said James.

"But nowadays, scoops are not the domain of journalism, be it print or broadcast. It takes time to have a breaking news on air and this is where even the broadcast media have also lost out to social media like Whatsapp, facebook, twitter and instagram.

"All these four applications are now responsible for breaking the news first via words and pictures and not traditional media anymore."

James cited a recent picture of former Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman lying on a hospital bed which was widely WhatsApped.

"Everybody was wondering what happened to him since the May 9 elections and, suddenly, there was this whatsapp image of him on social media.

"Whoever took the picture of him actually achieved a scoop. Only there were unanswered questions like why was he on a hospital bed? How long? These is where the journalists come in by following up on the image. But the people already know the main event, i.e. that he was unwell.

"The moment you have a smartphone and you take a picture, you are techninally a reporter. What is it there for journalism schools anymore? They may seem to have become redundant but then again, we need journalism schools all the same because we need to be able to produce professionals who can turn out reliable, credible news that can actually defeat fake news, the byproduct of this same technology," said James, who earned a Masters in Journalism from Cardiff University as a Chevening scholar.

Asked if he had any regrets being a journalist, James said: "Of course not even though it was not my first choice. Especially for a newspaper like the Daily Express which has contributed immensely for Sabahans since it was set up about six months before Malaysia's formation in 1963, which itself makes it a heritage newspaper.

He cited the cancellation of the RM700 million Sukau bridge through Special Writer Kan Yaw Chong's investigative reporting that earned the paper the Prime Minister's Hibiscus Award as among one of numerous contributions of the paper to Sabah.

"The story was that the former BN Government wanted to build a RM700 million bridge in the Kinabatangan rainforest.

Everybody said it was crazy, and the project didn't go through the Federal Cabinet as far as we understand.

"It didn't go through the State Cabinet either, and it was just approved by the Prime Minister because of yet unclear considerations. Some reckoned it was because the son of a Sabah Umno leader was married to the daughter of the Umno YB of the area and could not refuse the request of those close to him, regardless of the project cost or implications to wildlife or tourism.

"But, we argued that if you are going to build a bridge there, you are going to displace the orang-utans and the elephants. It would be the end of Sabah's claim to being an eco-tourism haven.'

James said Daily Express carried out a sustained campaign to try to get the authorities to cancel the project. "Privately, former State leaders said there was nothing they can do because the Prime Minister had endorsed it."

"Credit should go to social media. When world No 1 conservationist David Attenborough, who used to come to Sabah for many of his wildlife documentaries, saw our report on the internet, he decided it cannot be allowed to happen and criticised it widely in the British media and got world attention.

"So it got cancelled and for that we won the PM's Award…for actually stopping his (ex-PM's) project," said James, adding that neither former PM Datuk Seri Najib nor his Deputy showed up on the awards night. It was presented by a civil servant. - Mary Chin



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