MALAYSIA'S NEWS AGENCY BERNAMA LEADS THE WAY IN REGIONAL NEWS EXCHANGE AND COOPERATION
Last Updated: 2017-05-18
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By Ravichandran D.J Paul

The Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) will be celebrating its golden anniversary on May 20 and to mark the occasion, it will release a series of articles on its early days and achievements. This article tells how Bernama has contributed immensely towards regional news exchange and cooperation.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 (NNN-Bernama) -- The Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) has always been looking into ways how it can contribute towards news exchange and cooperate with its counterparts in other parts of the world to provide a bigger picture of the happenings around the world to its audience and subscribers.

Even before starting operations on May 20, 1968, when the news agency was still at the conceptualisation stage, the Indonesian news agency ANTARA revealed its intention to work with Malaysia’s proposed news agency.

In July 1967, while work was underway to establish Bernama, the head of ANTARA Col Noor Nasution, who was then in Kuala Lumpur, had said that he would like to see close cooperation between the two news agencies.

The cooperation proposal was made against the backdrop of thawing diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Indonesia following the fallout between the two after Malaysia was formed in 1963.

About two months later, during the opening of the ANTARA bureau here, both Indonesian Information Minister B.M Diah and his Malaysian counterpart Senu Abdul Rahman noted that ANTARA and Bernama could fulfil the need for a better perspective and understanding of each other's problems and shortcomings.

Diah and Senu also agreed that the two agencies could pave the way for regional cooperation with their other counterparts in the future.

Nonetheless, in the initial years, much of the news exchange and cooperation was limited as communication technology was in its infancy then.

Bernama pioneer and its longest-serving news editor Musa Scully noted that Bernama's earliest tangible news exchange effort started in 1985 with the setting up of the ASEAN News Network (ANEX), where a special desk was set up in Bernama with the participation of sub-editors from the Philippines News Agency (PNA), Thai News Agency (TNA) and ANTARA.

Though such news exchange and cooperation provided greater outreach for the agencies involved in terms of news gathering and dissemination, it paled in comparison with the geographical coverage of the bigger international news agencies.


BIGGER REGIONAL COOPERATION AND NEWS EXCHANGE

To cover a bigger geographical area, and help highlight and promote Malaysia’s voice at the international stage, Bernama's membership in the Organisation of Asia Pacific News Agencies (OANA) provided the much needed platform for the news agency to make its presence felt at the international stage.

In 1981, Bernama hosted the OANA General Assembly after it was given the opportunity to chair the group during its fourth general assembly in Jakarta two years earlier. Bernama was once again given the honour to chair OANA in 2004.

Its Deputy Editor-in-Chief (International News Service) Ahmad Zukiman Zain noted that Bernama's chairmanship of the grouping of 44 news organisations from 35 countries brought a wealth of new experience and expertise to the news agency.

"The fact that we were given the honour to chair OANA twice and to sit on its executive board for more than a decade is a great honour and recognition for Bernama," he said.

OANA founded in 1961 on UNESCO’s initiative is currently headed by Azertac of Azerbaijan currently. The board comprises of TASS (Russia), Xinhua (China), Yonhap (South Korea), Anadolu (Turkey), Irna (Iran), Bahrain News Agency (BNA), Vietnam News Agency (VNA), Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA), AAP of Australia, Kyodo (Japan) and Bernama.

Helming the OANA chair also provided Bernama the opportunity to manage the grouping's news exchange portal and, according to Ahmad Zukiman, the confidence to propose a news exchange mechanism – the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) News Network (NNN) portal (www.namnewsnetwork.org) – to replace the dormant Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (NANAP).

The proposal was endorsed by the Sixth Conference of Ministers of Information of Non-Aligned Countries (COMINAC VI) in November 2005 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The NNN portal serves as a conduit for the 120 NAM member countries to tell their story and use the medium as another communication tool. Both OANA and NNN relay information from the news agencies of member nations that also served as an alternative to the news churned out by the international news agencies.

The NNN portal hosted by Bernama also highlights Malaysia's stand that NAM remained relevant although the Cold War had long ended. In the bigger picture, the news exchange helps to relay Malaysia's stand on many international issues – terrorism, the Palestinian struggle, human trafficking, etc - to the rest of the world.


BILATERAL COOPERATION AND ASEAN NEWS EXCHANGE

Apart from multilateral cooperation and news exchanges, Bernama is also actively involved in bilateral cooperation agreements. In 2015, Bernama signed a cooperation agreement with the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) and Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.

The agreement allows news exchange and news coverage between both entities, as well as other mutually beneficial arrangements.

According to Musa, in the early days Bernama had also established an arrangement with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the French news agency to train its reporters. Mervin Nambiar, who later joined AFP was the first to undergo training in Paris under the arrangement, Musa recalled.

Bernama also has a bilateral cooperation arrangement with Brunei's Information Department that allowed the latter's writers, photographers and officers to undergo attachment with Bernama.

In February 2017, Bernama signed a cooperation agreement with the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on news exchange to boost cooperation and strengthen understanding between the peoples and governments of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

At the signing ceremony, Bernama General Manager Zulkefli Salleh said news from Saudi Arabia and the Arab world was much sought after as thousands of Malaysians descend on Saudi Arabia for the haj and umrah annually while many others also visit the other Arab countries.

Even before the recent cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, Bernama has been providing news in Arabic to make its presence felt in the Arab world. Bernama's Arabic Desk, headed by Muhamad Razee Hasan, provides the Arabic translation of major stories of interest to the Middle East. A total of 18 news organisations in the Middle East has been subscribing to Bernama’s Arabic news.

The Arabic news has been well received as can be seen from the desk's impact report. Out of the 168 translated pieces transmitted by the Arabic Desk in March 2017, 167 were picked up by the Arab media.


GETTING THE ASEAN NEWS EXCHANGE MOVING

The ASEAN news agencies have been meeting periodically since the 1970s to renew cooperation and camaraderie but the changing ASEAN landscape has brought about new challenges.

As the regional grouping moves towards a single market with free flow of goods and people across borders in the future, Bernama and its ASEAN counterparts have envisioned the need for a free flow of information as well through a centralised news pool.

In April 2016, Bernama hosted the ASEAN Editors Dialogue where Malaysian Minister of Communications and Multimedia Datuk Seri Salleh Syed Keruak in his opening remarks proposed the setting up of an ASEAN News Exchange.

Subsequently, Bernama and ANTARA started discussions on the proposal.

Due to the intricacies involved, including the fact that some ASEAN members do not have a news agency, Bernama is ready to start the ball rolling for the ASEAN News Exchange as it already has the expertise and the platform, like the one used for NNN. However, there appear to be delays as funding is not forthcoming.


FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS

Apart from working through multilateral and bilateral platforms in exchanging news, Bernama also opened bureaus in other countries with its foreign correspondents playing a part in news gathering and establishing cooperation with their counterparts in the host country.

Bernama’s first foreign bureau was opened in Jakarta in 1970 and its first foreign correspondent was Ahmad Rejal Arbee, who later became BERNAMA'S Chief Editor. A little later, the Bangkok bureau was opened with S.N Rajan being the first correspondent there. The Bangkok bureau was considered crucial then, considering the developments in Indochina, particularly Vietnam.

Soon after, Bernama opened bureaus in Manila and Singapore. Among the Bernama correspondents were Syed Jamil Jaafar (Jakarta), Gauldin Miranda (Bangkok), Mervin Nambiar (Bangkok), Louis Donald Baptist (Bangkok), Leong Khoon Choy (Bangkok), Jamaludin Ali (Jakarta), Jaafar Hussein (Jakarta), Abdul Karim Shukor (Singapore), Sulaiman Pateh Akhir (Jakarta), Abdul Rahman Sulaiman (Jakarta), Tai Sing On (Manila) and Kuah Guan Oo (Manila). Only former Bernama executive editor Zainoor Sulaiman had the honour of being the correspondent in Jakarta and Manila.

However, due to the high cost of maintaining the Manila and Bangkok bureaus, they were eventually shut down. In the late 1990s, Bernama reopened the Bangkok and Singapore bureaus and even opened two new bureaus – in New Delhi and Beijing.

In 2016, the New Delhi and Beijing bureaus were closed to save costs.

By working with its media counterparts from all over the world for over the last 50 years, Bernama has succeeded in providing its audience and subscribers with a more comprehensive news coverage, as well as portraying Malaysia's stand on issues of common interest to the outside world.
-- NNN-BERNAMA




















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