‘Good journalism can make a difference’

It is a cliché, but Datuk Dr Johnson Fernandez is living proof that the pen is mightier than the sword.

On Saturday, Fernandez received an Honorary Doctorate in Journalism (Honoris Causa) from India’s St. Mother Theresa University (SMTU) in a ceremony held at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

Besides Fernandez, three other Malaysians were honoured by SMTU – Raymond Chin (Honorary Doctorate in Social Entrepreneurship & Community Services), P. Applannaidoo (Honorary Doctorate in Martial Arts & Humanitarian Services) and Datin Dr Nor Hafizah Ismail (Professor of Practice).

Fernandez’s doctorate came nine days after he received the Darjah Indera Mahkota Pahang, which carries the title ‘Datuk’.

The award was presented by the Regent of Pahang, Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

The 65-year-old managing editor of Revon Media Sdn Bhd said both honours came out of the blue. Fernandez described them as a recognition of journalism in the country.

“I hope the doctorate will make people realise that good journalism can make a difference,” said Fernandez, who served with the National Echo (1979-82), The Star (1982-87) and The Malay Mail (1987-2003).

“I never expected either award. It is an honour to get one from the King, and special to be recognised by a foreign university.

“I have always been fair in my reporting and commentaries. If someone does something good, I would say so, and try to encourage them to do better.

“Similarly, if an official or player fails to perform, I would call them out. It does not matter who they are. My criticisms are fair and balanced,” he added.

Fernandez said he was sad that constructive criticism or hard-hitting commentaries are hard to come by in local media these days.

He said part of the reason could be that these days, officials are not as ‘hardy’ or ‘brave’ to accept criticism, and instead, would threaten legal action if they did not like an article.

A former Malay Mail Sports editor, Fernandez covered major sporting events, including the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and was feared for his weekly columns in the now-defunct newspaper.

Royalty, Cabinet ministers, high rollers, business tycoons, officials, administrators, and athletes felt the brunt when Fernandez penned his thoughts.

But he also gave credit where credit was due.

His honest assessment of calling a spade a spade earned Fernandez recognition in the past two weeks.

“Journalists from my era wrote without fear or favour, and officials, who were often the brunt of our criticisms, accepted that it was not personal,” said Fernandez, the 1994 Sports Journalist of the Year.

“When we criticised royalty, we did not hit out at the royal houses, but rather, their position as presidents of sports associations.

“We did not have to worry about being sued – as long as we were honest and wrote the truth.

“Hopefully, today’s sports officials and others realise that journalists want what is best for the country.”

Fernandez never assumed his articles were read by those in other countries, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call from SMTU.

“All I wanted was to do my job as diligently as possible and write without fear or favour,” said Fernandez, the only Malaysian journalist invited to speak at the 2010 Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva.

“For veterans like myself, who are fading into the sunset, these awards mean a lot to the fraternity. Hopefully, they will inspire today’s journalists, that they too, can make a difference.”

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