Everyone’s a journalist today: James Sarda
Published on: Monday, May 23, 2022
By: David Thien
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James receiving his award from Kevin Lim, the President of the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu.
Kota Kinabalu: Technology has redefined the role of journalists given that whatever information one needs today is readily available by scrolling a screen with your fingers no matter where in the world you may be and in real time.

“All you need is a hand-held gadget with internet connection. And even if you cannot write, you need only capture a picture the moment something happens and upload it on Tik Tok or watsapp.

“Hence, anything that anybody who is a somebody may say or do anywhere or any tragedy like the Ranau earthquake becomes public knowledge without waiting for the morning’s papers or the hourly news bulletins on satellite television.

“Which makes everybody in this hall a journalist because all of you do have handphones,” Daily Express Chief Editor James Sarda JP told an audience of Rotarians, recently.

James, who has a Masters in Journalism from Cardiff, was speaking after being conferred the Vocational Award by the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu for his contributions to journalism in Sabah. 

The award by Sabah’s oldest NGO is recognised internationally and is given to “towering individuals whose services have positively impacted the community.”

James, the nation’s best Environmental Journalist in 1996 and also won the Malaysian Press Institute’s top reporting prize in 1999 said the gamechanger in all this was the debut of the smartphone around 2008.

“The raging debate before 2008 was whether newspapers will become irrelevant in the era of internet, satellite and cable television plus emergence of news portals. 

“Then suddenly, the worry switched to a phone that was made to be so smart so much so it posed the biggest threat to the existence of print and other media. 

“The social media content carried in these smartphones are sometimes what most newspapers dare not publish without incurring lawsuits or getting into trouble with the authorities for sedition, blasphemy or inciting unrest.

“But it gives the smartphone an edge in the world of publishing when such information keeps being forwarded multiple times because the servers that upload such content are based abroad and out of the reach of enforcement agencies or those maligned.

“Although much information in social media today is questionable as they are put out by people with no journalistic training but driven by agenda, emotion or mischievous intent, it has also forced journalists to re-examine their own roles and what else they must do apart from their traditional role in order to stay relevant,” said James, a Chevening scholar.

James, who was trained at the now defunct National Echo and the Star, also spent six months as a Staff Writer for the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina in the US when he won one of 12 places in the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships. He was also selected for the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh’s study of medical tourism in Kerala, India, and covered the Commonwealth Parliamentary conferences in South Africa and Cameroon. 

James said what also did not help the media was when former US President Donald Trump decided to engage with the people direct by tweeting rather than through the press because of his dislike for CNN.

Nevertheless, James said mainstream newspapers like Daily Express – now Sabah’s oldest – have responded to this challenge by also migrating to online, including twitter, Instagram, facebook, among others.

“Today, the Daily Express online platforms are so popular they have become the preferred choice of younger readers within Sabah and abroad,” said James.

James said despite these challenges, journalists would do well if they remember that their obligation is still to the public out there.

“Because they have been trained for what they do, they are irreplaceable where objectivity and facts are concerned due to fake news, misleading news and facts meshed with half-truths in social media.”

One role which the Daily Express has been doing since its inception in 1963 has been helping people understand themselves and their environment better.

“We help people rediscover themselves, about their past,” James said in his PowerPoint presentation.

“It is not only something we will be remembered for. It is one way to reconnect with society,” he said.

“Including listening to those who have something to say or giving a voice to those who never thought they mattered.”

He also said the place of Daily Express as Sabah’s only heritage newspaper set up six months before the formation of Malaysia in 1963 is assured with its unmatched track record of being there for the people and as the only truly “local voice” for the people of Sabah and Labuan for nearly 60 years.


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