There is an anecdote oft repeated in Islamic tradition about a young man in Arabia, a little over 1,400 years ago, who was so well-known for his trustworthiness that his people called him Al-Amin – The Truthful.
One day, standing before his people, he asked whether they would believe him if he told them that an enemy force was massed behind the hills, ready to attack. They replied that they would, of course, for they had never heard him tell a lie.
That young man was Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, who despite the reputation and standing indicated by this episode, would soon face an avalanche of hostility, becoming a public enemy in his own homeland as he set out to spread his message to a community that did not want to hear it.
The lesson here is clear: faced with social assumptions and entrenched interests, the young man’s “truth” counted for little, even to those who called him the “The Trusted One”. Then, as ever, people believed what it suited them to believe, what was the most convenient to believe, regardless of the credibility of the source.
Today, people are faced with numerous appeals for their trust, for decisions ranging from the right washing detergent to the right school for their kids, the right car to buy to the best person to entrust with the administration of the country (and a large chunk of our tax money). Each appeal is ultimately based on the perceived credibility of individuals, institutions, corporations, brands or parties.
But our long-established concepts of trust and truth have completely changed in this complex, technologically advanced society, dominated by the internet, social media and big data. Now we trust anonymous, faceless entities with our hard-earned money (read online banking), ride in the private cars of complete strangers (read Grab), and arrange to stay overnight in the homes of others (read Airbnb). Not to mention allowing international corporations and dodgy websites alike access to our most private data by blindly accepting cookies at every invitation.
Similarly, we now have a tendency to trust those who appeal to our beliefs and values through slogans and sound bites, no matter how little their actions should inspire our trust.
We watch, like and share clips of people who preach religions and their associated values, as we do with politicians who dangle before us the promise of a better life. Often, we don’t know or care who they are. But for some reason, we trust them to tell us what to think and believe.
This suspension of judgment extends to the news on which we depend. Again, we put our trust in some sections of the media as the bearers of truth and dismiss others as pedlars of fake news, often with little more critical assessment than we give to marketeers and spin doctors.
So, does truth matter?
Well, why should it if an untruth suits and serves us better? This attitude has become a reality in politics and news as much as in marketing and business, hence the rise of Trump as the leader of the free world despite his famously economic approach to truth. Such is the disconnect between truth and trust that people choose to trust him precisely because he tells the lies they want to hear.
Where then does that leave journalists?
Traditionally, trust and truth are central to the work of the press. Concern with such principles should be what distinguishes journalists from what are now referred to as “content writers”. For those concerned with reality over imagery, truth and trust must always be linked. But often, they claim to pursue the truth when it is actually the trust of the readers that they seek.
It is under such circumstances that MalaysiaNow is launched – when trust has become disconnected from truth.
MalaysiaNow is not another breaking-news portal. We have no armada of reporters whose only claim to credibility is the ability to discover new stories and publish them fast and first.
What we hope to do is to break the news down for our readers so that critical issues that affect them are analysed and debated without being clouded by the partisan politics which have for so long characterised our national psyche.
Backed by a team of dedicated journalists and writers trained almost entirely in online media, this is our humble ambition. We hope you will join us in this new endeavour.
Don’t uncritically accept everything we write as the truth, but be assured that our approach will always be truthful.
And should the time come when we have to report that a pack of wolves is preparing an attack, we hope that our readers will trust us because they have never known us to lie.