By Najmi Mamat
Nothing lingered in his mind except for his mom at home upon realising the hotel where he stayed in Cairo, a walking distance from Tahrir Square, was closed from inside. Everyone was trapped in the building.
That was the night of July 5th 2013, when he just arrived for his assignment. Former TV Al-Hijrah broadcast journalist, Khairil Amri Tajuddin, was assigned to report on President Mohamed Morsi who was overthrown by the Egyptian army two days before he arrived in Cairo.
A riot took place between two groups just outside the hotel. Little did he remember that there were clashes that led the Egyptian security forces to fire at them with teargas.
Amri was on the brink of death. It left indelible marks on him. At that time, he only thought of his mom. And that had caused him to refuse sharing the story with his editor in Malaysia as he chose not to make his mom panicked.
“The story of my experience being trapped in the building is worth writing, but I would rather choose to keep it personal as I have a family waiting for me to come home,” he admitted.
Amri described that it was one of the most challenging assignments he had ever faced. His only wish was for his mom to not be affected mentally and emotionally.
“That was one instance of risk which I had to endure. At the same time, my family too took that risk,” he reminisced.
For some journalists, specifically, those involved in covering crime, defence, war, zones of conflicts, as well as disasters, they might think that there is no story worth dying for. However, for Alang Bendahara, 42, who left the New Straits Times in December 2014, ‘risk’ is like his middle name.
“I am a daredevil. All my life, I was never afraid of any challenge or death. So, although this job is rather risky and dangerous, I love it,” he admitted.
His story of being warned with fires by the Israel navy made a few headlines in some online news outlets.
Alang still remembered the day in May 2011, when he and a few other journalists went onboard the Mavi Marvara Finch ship, following the humanitarian mission for the Spirit of Rachel Corrie. They had two missions – to break the illegal siege of Gaza waters, and to bring in the sewage pipes for the treatment plant in Gaza city as the sewage piping had been destroyed.
“My media team had to maintain a cloak of secrecy from the moment we first stepped into Greece. This mission was a covert attempt, hiding behind a single ship bought by Perdana Global Peace Foundation.
The Israeli Defence Forces’ (IDF) boats had stopped us and fired warning shots, their navy officers used a loud hailer to fire upon me when they saw me recording the events on my camera,” he shared, telling that their ship, then, was never detained, but was forced into Egypt’s waters.
To them, their challenges as Malaysian journalists were just another episodes of life. Despite the profession not being considered as the most death-defying job in the world, it still gave them a special part in history.
Hopelessness… a “nowhere” job
There were certain times and days that put them in a hopeless state.
Amri recalled the day when he reported on the incident involving the disappearance of Malaysia’s airplane MH370, when the whole nation, especially families affected were waiting for the news updates from Australia, as that was the location for the search mission. They waited for two weeks for the results of the search mission. He didn’t think the assignment was hopeless, rather he regarded it as a “nowhere” job.
Unlike Amri, Alang explained that hopelessness in doing the job was something like “common problem” faced by any journalist, especially when it comes to the lack of story ideas.
“But hopelessness is never a problem when exciting assignments fall on your laps every day,” he told.
“A good journalist would always know the ways to circumnavigate any blockage in getting details to our story,” Alang added.
Press freedom… when there’s financial freedom
The risks did not put limit to them even though the freedom of the press was an ambiguous thing. Alang gave an instance of the killing of reporters which were planned by politicians’ henchmen in the Philippines as a result of their one-sided new stories. He pointed out that some reporters’ integrity was gone for the sake of monetary gains.
“True press freedom can only be achieved when journalists have financial freedom, but it is never going to happen,” he stressed.
Amri also admitted that freedom does exist but within certain limitations. It is still bounded with the rules and regulations that should be followed by journalists to avoid defamation and misleading information, especially when dealing with international conflicts.
“That one is the current challenge faced by reporters nowadays – termed ‘digitalization’, where the reporters play the role as gatekeepers to those citizen who leaped upon the boundary of the freedom,” he encouraged.
There must be secret ingredients behind the fiery passion or a very tiny catalyst that shakes the spirit to keep thriving.
The mindset to discover more and more was his motivation. Alang chose two words that explained his answer on motivation; curiosity and solution. He knew his responsibility as a reporter was to help others by being the voice of the people and to change public perception by telling true stories.
Keeping motivated… Inserting emotions into the mission
Meanwhile, Amri had a different inner voice that pushed himself to survive along the journey of being a journalist. He believed that by inserting the soul of emotion into the mission of covering the news, it would help him to keep motivated.
For instance, he put himself into the shoes of the family of the victims in any tragic event. To him, carrying his obligations for the family members is more important than anything else.
When one goes to great length in any field, then, he or she is an ‘avid’ person.
For some avid journalists, they know their role, mission, and goal. Despite all the risks taken, the most interesting thing about being part of the story teller is something to be kept in one’s memory.
For this former multiple awards-winning journalist, this fourth estate had included him to become part of the community in global media by using words and visuals.
“The power!” He yelled, highlighting the power of journalism to help people and to frighten off the oppressors, from catching bad people until changing the world and society to become a better place.
For Amri, there are two types of people in life who can go anywhere, anytime which brings the same focus – a robber and a journalist. They both come forward to complete the mission through risks, only for one mission – to come home with ‘harvest’.
“I can’t believe I stood next to Ministers and Kings, only a journalist will get that opportunity.”
He agreed, “To reach that level, I have to work hard, to be a fast learner and to be inquisitive.” ***