CMCF Seminar: Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed Arabi Addresses the New Era of News

By Aida Mokhtar

KUALA LUMPUR, 21 October 2023: IIUM Communication Professor, Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed Arabi Idid, who was former IIUM Rector, presented his keynote address entitled ‘What is Behind the Headlines: A New Era of News in the New Old Media’ in a seminar.

The Seminar Beyond Headlines: A New Era of News was organised by the Communications and Multimedia Content Forum (CMCF) in Kuala Lumpur on 19 October 2023. It attracted academics, students, and media practitioners.

The keynote address established the tone for the seminar as it focused on the intertwining roles of theory and practice in relation to the global media evolution witnessing shifts from print to digital media that have dictated our expectations of media news delivery and the ways users or audiences use media. 

The highlight of the keynote address was featured in the form of concepts and models that have been amplifying the shifts in media use.

For Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed, the ‘audiences’ of traditional media have become the ‘users’ of new media representing the changing nature of the media from that which was predominantly linear and one-way communication to media that has become interactive. This resulted in transformations made to the Communication model for traditional media that dictates messages moving from the source to the receiver but with new media, messages are not only transmitted from the source to receivers but also to those who co-produce messages who then spread them to others, which is a new development.

Nowadays, “With the new media, the emphasis is on searching for recent news rather than painstaking research and in-depth analysis,” mentioned Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed. He also said that new media news is reported rapidly but not as in-depth as traditional media news but then again this development seems to agree with the needs of current users that are into new news rapidly updated on new media rather than in-depth analyses characteristic of traditional media. The question arises – Do we then follow trends or do we set trends in the media evolution?

The perspective of ‘timely time’ akin to traditional media has also migrated to the new facet of ‘timeless time’ associated with social media where both journalists and users are focused on the rapid reporting of news to feed habitual users who demand for news to be updated around the clock. There are pros and cons perceived, as rapid does not amount to in-depth news reporting nor accurate news reporting. But does the current user care for profound news reporting or do they simply want to receive news rapidly? Media organisations after all need advertising dollars and need to keep their users interested; this was echoed by several media practitioners in the subsequent panels of discussion.

But all is not lost as research also found that both new media and traditional media appear to be used together. “We assume that audience members would use one traditional medium and other social media (Facebook, YouTube),” said Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed. Perhaps the audiences are getting the best of both worlds?

He also reported on trends in terms of media usage that saw WhatsApp as the most used social media platform, the increased use of the Internet compared to traditional media such as radio, television and newspapers and the preference for TikTok in Malaysia. 

“We started asking the use of TikTok only in April 2022. We then found that only 26% used TikTok daily in April 2022, but this percentage jumped to 49% in July 2023,” mentioned Prof.

He continued by saying that gone are the days when there is the need to call for press conferences thus upholding the phenomenon of disintermediation conceptualised by Edward Hall. Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed gave the example of former US President, Trump, who usually makes statements on X and gets them picked up by media organisations without the need to call for a press conference. There appears to be a new development in the form of direct interaction between politicians and anyone else for that matter, with the media. Thus, what is the role of the media in this regard? How do they make themselves relevant? – are brought to the table.

It is apparent that this development has seen changes made to the role of the media in relation to news delivery as they cry that they are more credible in the context of how news now spreads. “If the broadcast mindset assumes one-to-many communication, the spreadability paradigm assumes that the content will circulate through all available channels, from peripheral awareness to active engagement,” mentioned Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed.

Of course, fast news can also lead to fake news on new media. Trump has a different take on the definition of fake news as the rest of us raise our concerns on fact checking and news accuracy. He defined fake news as any news he did not like, said Prof. in his address.

Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed ended his keynote address by stating that beyond the headlines sees the dual development of new news that is frequently updated to captivate the users’ interests and the mainstay of traditional media in the form of in-depth news that is read profoundly and engages audience members’ interest. The current development posits that news appears to be curated from social media content and journalists take leads from social media as well.

The subsequent sessions of the seminar concentrated on the importance of reporting the truth and the notion of how this should be done. Recommendations were thrown into the foreground regarding how journalists should report truthful news. The Executive Editor for The Vibes, Manvir Victor, stated that reporting truthful information should be done by quoting different people and by letting audiences or users decide which piece of information is true. The Chief Executive Officer of Media Prima Audio, Nazri Noran, declared that his organisation sends people to the ground to find out for themselves truthful news and report this to audiences and users. Another issue of concern was the idea that mainstream media has seen greater competition in the form of citizen journalists and thus they have to be two steps ahead of the game, said Nazri.

Balanced reporting is important but so are advertising dollars, after all media organisations are businesses that need to survive. Finding the right balance between reporting the truth without offending advertisers was also raised by the moderator, Sheahnee Iman Lee and panelists of the Panel Discussion 1: Media Mavericks: Discussing What’s New in News. Of course what makes an interesting panel discussion is the issue or opportunity (?) of using ChatGPT and other Artificial Intelligence (AI) software that will not replace jobs as they are merely tools for journalists that have to be embraced as the human ability of ‘smelling’ good news cannot be replaced by AI, advised a Journalist with Nikkei Asia, Norman Goh. The audiences were also taught the ideals of how to report suicide in the news, how to make media content accessible to persons with disabilities (PwDs) and real case studies of offenders breaching the Content Codes or otherwise, by CMCF Executive Director, Mediha Mahmood.

The seminar ended with a rhetorical question raised by CMCF Chairman, Kenny Ong, of whether audiences or users are looking for truthful news in the first place or are they merely looking for entertainment making us ponder further on the importance of truthful reporting by journalists – apt for a concluding remark where we take home a question (that is still) hovering over our heads as we carry on pondering.

It was apparent that a powerful message came through the CMCF seminar putting forth the significance of self-regulation in the media industry and what it entails, in the spotlight – for CMCF, stakeholders should make the right decision when it comes to ideal content creation, as they know best, of course guided by the Content Code.***

Photos of panels of discussion in the seminar: