The front page story in one of the local papers, The Star, today featured an announcement by the Malaysian Transport Minister that roads in Malaysia were to be star rated like hotels – which according to The Star would cut the road toll by 30%
This will mean the worst roads will be rated one star and the best roads five stars.
The announcement was in response to a story a few days ago that there had been 5,976 road deaths in Malaysia in the first 11 months of 2008.
That is an appalling figure. It means that Malaysia's annual road death toll of about 6,500 persons is four times that of Australia (around 1,600 a year), even though both countries have a similar population.
It clearly reflects the lack of regard for road rules in Malaysia, and shows the effect of a small but significant percentage of drivers that use the roads like a racetrack and show utter contempt and disregard to others who may be driving more safely.
But that's not the point of this commentary. The point is that nowhere in the story did it explain how rating the roads would cut the road toll – and the story didn't say who had made the claim (which is bad journalism in itself).
The story didn't carry a byline, so perhaps it was written by a junior reporter who didn't have the initiative to ask the question “how”.
One of the problems with journalists in Malaysia is that there is a culture of not challenging authority, and this often flows through to press conferences and not being prepared to challenge statements made by Ministers and others in authority.
I recall once I was observing a press conference by a Malaysian Minister and a young female reporter asked a searching but extremely relevant question to the Minister. I could see looks of surprise on some of the other reporters' faces that she had the 'audacity' to ask such a question – and clearly the Minister didn't like it.
Instead of answering the question he scolded her by saying: “Don't ask questions about subjects that you don't know about lass – leave that to the experts.” It was clearly a question he didn't want to answer (and probably didn't know the answer to). It was a question that should have been followed up by other journalists in the room – but they had got the message from the Minister and left it alone.
The quality of journalism unfortunately still has a long way to go in Malaysia.