I feel I should and must relate our experience in light of what is taking place.

This cartoon was among the many “controversial” ones I created as a metaphor in February this year following the decision by the Multimedia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to block The Malaysian Insider (TMI) – my wife, Ista’s former employer – over its report on the 1MDB scandal.

The following harrowing weeks saw my then eight-month old pregnant journalist wife, pondering on her fate. The idea of suddenly seeing her only source of income rapidly diminishing was too absurd to even consider.

But absurdities are the norm here in Malaysia when a month later, on the morning of March 15, we woke up to the bad news.

Ista and I were a month shy from the birth of our baby girl, Sitarey, when the plug on TMI was pulled, jeapordising our plans in having a good start to raise our first kid.

The closure came amid the rise in cost of living, the hike in petrol, transport, property and toll prices. The closure came when we both were expecting a smooth sail in ushering little Sitarey into the world.

The cartoon above and several others below were drawn by me out of anger and frustration. The media is being fucked and people are being silent about it.

I truly did feel like a superhero at some point as a journalist.
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I truly did feel like a superhero at some point as a journalist.

The both of us took up journalism because it was related to a passion close to our hearts; writing.

We see ourselves as story tellers. The idea of getting out there as journalists, experiencing history being made before our own eyes, thrilled us.

There is a reason why news pieces are not referred to as “news pieces” on the editorial floor. They’re called stories and stories are a form of art. 

“Where’s your story?” coming from the editors can at times be daunting. But there was some form of excitement whenever that question arose.

Journalism is art. Ask the press photographer. Or the videographer. Or the editorial cartoonist.

It was journalism that spurred and inspired the artist in me to give editorial cartoons a try when I was a journalist at The Rakyat Post (TRP).

My first editorial cartoon for TRP poked fun at the hike in petrol prices. Over the course of weeks, the cartoons had to be vetted through by an editor due to their "controversial" nature.
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My first editorial cartoon for TRP poked fun at the hike in petrol prices. Over the course of weeks, the cartoons had to be vetted through by an editor due to their “controversial” nature.

There is something about getting that right image or cartoon at the right moment. There is that sense of amazement in being part of something big and then presenting the visuals to the world.

You’re a good journalist when the reader feels a sense of being there with you, experiencing what you as a journalist had experienced.

A good journalist, an artistic journalist, has the capacity and talent to yell “I was there!” through their stories.

We both started out as journalists with The New Straits Times (NST) excited, exhilarated, enthusiastic and we both resigned after feeling absolutely demotivated, uninspired, wearisome in the span of two-years with the manner in which news organisations ran.

On one side you have the mainstream media being told what to ask and report.

On the other fence, you have the authorities stifling with the alternative media on what is being asked and reported.

Artwork by Sukhbir Cheema
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I could only vent my frustration through cartoons and writings. Artwork by Sukhbir Cheema

A month prior to the closure of TMI, TRP suddenly closed shop too. Several of my former colleague saw themselves being laid off just like that. Just as swiftly as they had closed shop, TRP was back online a week later, this time managed by only a handful.

The rest of my former colleagues had to source out their income in various other means. There was even one videographer who had to survive solely on Uber and Grabcar alone.

I sort of survived the axe because six months prior to that, I had quit TRP as I had grew wearisome and demotivated as a journalist and editorial cartoonist.

A rejected cartoon by TRP. Artwork by Sukhbir Cheema
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The last straw, the rejected cartoon by TRP which made me decide to quit the news organisation. Artwork by Sukhbir Cheema

I was freelancing when Ista lost her job. So you can imagine the craziness and moments of desperation to truly survive.

The journey so far has brought me to a realisation; it sucks to know that the reason why some journalists are financially stable is because many have no choice but to allow themselves to stay domesticated like the canine in the image above. Some, pretty much don’t give a fuck as long as the salary comes in.

Let’s face it, journalists have bills and loans to pay too.

Many toe the line and write as they are instructed. A handful – those who go against the grain – are touted as troublemakers. They loose or quit their jobs and have to start over.

Like us. To sustain and prep ourselves for our daughter’s arrival, I had to sell an e-comic I drew on press freedom. It was titled, “A Malaysian Solution“. It is now available for free download.

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A page from my bilingual e-comic “A Malaysian Solution” which was sold for RM10 online. Through the sales, we had money to purchase pampers for Sitarey and pay for the hospital fees. I’m grateful for those who truly supported us during those moments.  

The system is such that it takes a great amount of financial funding to sustain a daily functioning news organisation because you’ve got to think of employees’ salaries, electricity, internet and amenity bills, and do not forget the rent for the office space.

One of the reason why Ista and me decided to start small with Eksentrika is because of the factors above.

We want to be free to write things that matter to us; the arts. Devoid of instructions and orders from those above. We want none of that.

There is a reason why many journalists are not as enthusiastic as they should be.
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There is a reason why many journalists are not as enthusiastic as they should be.

Alas, to have a free and non-biased press devoid of meddling from the top would mean that the media organisation has to be funded by the people and only the people if news is to be fair and balanced.

Government and local or international funders typically have a stake in the organisations they fund. Their funding comes with a price – a portion of what must be (or must not be) reported about affairs and issues related to them.

Very rarely you’ll find angelic funders devoid of hidden agendas allowing news organisations to run as they should.

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Another page from “A Malaysian Solution“.

The role of a media organisation is to report the affairs of the nation and to highlight issues plaguing the people who make a nation. A media organisation behaves as a conduit – a loud hailer – that bounces off feedback from both sides.

It feels exhilarating writing a story that matters to the people which makes the front-page. Especially if it concerns issues that matter to the people; human rights and the environment to name a few.

Many journalists feel challenged when they write such news pieces. Ista and me were among them.

When we began as rookie reporters, it was always great to start the day wondering where will we be driving our cars to. What story would we unearth and shed light on. Who we can provide a voice to.

Alas, just as my cartoons at TRP, many of our news pieces never saw the daylight when we were at NST.

The lack of freedom only strangled our enthusiasm and killed our motivation to be that journalist who is able to write for the people.

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Journalists desire to be free. Artwork by Sukhbir Cheema

In pursuit of writing about things that matter to us; specifically the Malaysian art scene, Ista and me created Eksentrika through our own pocket money.

We discovered that media organisations generally keep themselves alive by running advertisements, advertorials, brand plug-ins, subscription and yes, even through funding.

But all these depend on how well the site does.

Now, here is where I would like to bring the spotlight on Sungai Besar Umno chief Jamal Md Yunos who threatened to “tear down” Malaysiakini – an independent news portal boasting over a million readers. His threat came after he walked in the Malaysiakini office and demanded to have a table talk with the news-portal’s co-founder and editor, Steven Gan.

Naturally, Steven agreed and Jamal ordered a cup of coffee along with some pisang goreng to go along during the meet up.

I’m alright with folks such as Jamal questioning the purpose of Open Society Foundation (OSF), an organisation linked to American billionaire George Soros, funding an independent news-portal such as Malaysiakini.

It’s a legitimate one because if a business magnate and investor is linked to funding a news organisation, what is his/her/their motive?

How much of a say do they have in the running of a news portal? Malaysiakini apparently has clarified.

Now, Jamal should also be knocking on the doors of Utusan, The New Straits Times, Berita Harian, The Star, and TV3, demanding the intention behind their funders while ordering a cup of kopi and pisang goreng.

Among the many conundrum alternative media organisations such as Malaysiakini faces.
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Among the conundrums alternative media organisations such as Malaysiakini faces.

Would he dare to threaten to tear down a portion of a building belonging to the mainstream media?

I want you to scroll up to the image above again and study the dog with the media tag. Observe the manner in which the dog remains subservient to its master. If ever there is a reason why the Malaysian media remains the way it is, it is because it only barks when it is ordered to.

Those that opt to run free are threatened a beating. Or worst, put behind bars or forced to closed down.

***This is a re-edited post which had to be taken down upon the advice of some of our readers. We agree in that the choice of using the previous image was too graphic and insensitive to some. Thus, following our apology issued on Facebook, we have replaced it with the image of this dog with a media tag and reworded the original article.

Do you resonate with the above? Do you feel that journalism is a form of art? Comment below or send us a personal reply to editors@eksentrika.com