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Published: Thursday July 23, 2015 MYT 7:17:00 AM
Updated: Thursday July 23, 2015 MYT 7:23:55 AM

Beware of dubious NGOs

THROW a rock and chances are you will hit an NGO. 

This probably isn’t a real saying, but given the sheer number of NGOs operating in Malaysia at the moment, it isn’t very far from the truth either. 

Nowadays, setting up a non-governmental organisation can be a relatively easy process.

All you need is a cause to champion and a fair number of like-minded individuals who are willing to pledge their time (and money) to your organisation. 

Once you have the numbers, you need to increase your NGO’s presence. This can be achieved by making regular statements and public appearances just to remind people that you exist. 

Should those appearances happen to be at protests or rallies related to the cause you are fighting for, all the better. At least you are guaranteed some form of publicity.

And once the news outlets start reporting about your group’s activities, let’s just say your popularity would have increased by about tenfold.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against NGOs and the work they do. Many of them are genuinely trying to make this country a better place to live in. 

However, I do take issue with specific groups which are being categorised as NGOs but in truth are as shady as cheap sunglasses and a red beret.  

Made up of an equally dubious member base, these groups have somewhat mushroomed under Malaysia’s current political and social climate. 

Many of them are not officially registered entities and have no ounce of credibility, yet they are given the attention that they yearn for. 

As media practitioners, we need to assume part of the blame for providing these groups with the time and space to thrive, when in most cases what they say does more damage than good.  

In fact, news organisations are actively seeking out these types of NGOs, especially if their statements help to reinforce a particular editorial stand on a current issue.

I began noticing just how much importance was being given to these dubious NGOs at my previous job, where certain groups’ press conferences and activities were classified as “MCMU” (must cover, must use). 

Fellow journalists will be familiar with the term MCMU, which is often used by editors to signal that a story must be published because it is editorial policy. 

I was assigned to cover this group’s activities on several occasions, and while I did not question where the instructions were coming from, I did find it odd that their outright nonsensical statements were being packaged as news. 

This increasingly common practice in the media fraternity was recently put to the test by a group of so-called “social experimenters” who decided to set up a fictitious NGO that promotes greater governance. 

For two months, the group that called itself Citizens for Accountable Governance Malaysia (CAGM) released a string of press statements with the intention of weighing in on the current political scenario. 

These statements, attributed to a lawyer by the name Md Zainal Abidin, were swiftly published by news outlets on the assumption that they were authentic. 

The fact that the group seemed to be operating solely from an online blog did nothing to raise red flags among members of the media, who were more focused on the content rather than the source. 

The pinnacle of CAGM’s short-lived existence came when it released a statutory declaration (SD) attributed to a former AmBank employee who was apparently sacked for questioning alleged cash transfers into Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s personal account.  

Feeding on the public’s appetite for news with regard to certain allegations concerning the Prime Minister, the group fabricated the aforementioned SD just to see whether the media would take the bait. And they did.

CAGM came clean several hours later, admitting in a blog posting that they weren’t a real organisation and that it was all part of a social experiment to test editors who failed to “check their facts” and “thrived on reporting sensational news”.

CAGM is now being sued by AmBank for dragging the bank into its lies, which goes to show that it does not pay to troll the masses in such fashion.

More importantly, however, there is a lesson somewhere in here for editors and journalists, who should be more wary of pseudo-NGOs seeking a quick path to fame.

Such groups will be condemned to their natural deaths, or at the very least confined to the blogosphere, if we can only learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: NGO, MCMU, akil yunus

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