Visualize this: 300 to 500 of the world’s media — from Malaysian journalists to American producers, French photographers to Hong Kong editors — personally camped out across two rooms in Sama-Sama Hotel at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
The main conference room is always tightly packed. I count the seats and think, they never meant for more than a hundred people to be in here. More journalists than I have ever seen in a single place are concentrated in this small auditorium.
Every single one of them is there for the same reason: getting more information about the MH370 missing plane situation.
The scene spills out into the corridors outside the Boeing 3 & 4 — poignantly relevant, given that the American manufacturer built the 777-200 that operated MH370 — with more people and expensive equipment, traipsing over the trails and trails of cables running along the carpeted floor that’s now an uneven surface, just like the investigation.
Now you’d think strength in numbers would mean something. You’d think having so many journalists present, along with a veritable legion of media officers from each of the various agencies represented in the search and rescue (SAR) effort for the missing jetliner, would mean a clear, concise and comprehensive unraveling of the mystery that is MH370.
Sadly, it isn’t. If anything, the numbers only serve to amplify the noise of speculation. We read the headlines and we know the noise ranges from informed opinion all the way to wild, conspiratorial guesses.
In the quest for editorial scoops — although, let’s be real, there’s nothing scoop-like about a quick reblog — news outlets have very frequently dropped the ball in the last five days. Hoaxes get rebroadcast as truth. Articles with little in the way of credibility are treated as if they were gospel. What has happened to fact-checking?
Sometimes good intentions and the desperate need for hope waylays journalistic ethics. Hours after the plane first vanished on Saturday, thousands of people shared the “good news” that the plane actually diverted and landed safely in Nanning, China. This despite the best-sourced reports, both local and international, coming out at the time verifying that China denied MH370 had ever entered their airspace.
Multiple reports of oil slicks, plane sightings and supposed debris fields have littered the headlines in the days since, possibly distracting the SAR effort with pointless detours fueled by the media.
What’s worse, we’ve even had government officials contradicting themselves to the point of nonsense! In the wake of news that at least two passengers boarded the flight with stolen passports, Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi lambasted Immigration Department officers for not noticing “European names with Asian faces”, yet in the subsequent media storm, Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman (Director-General of the Department of Civil Aviation), ended up suggesting these mystery passengers were African. Finally, the police — an organisation under the Home Ministry, might I add — revealed that the both suspects were Iranian yesterday.
Between irresponsible “official” statements and hurried media reports, it’s gotten so bad that I felt a need to join forces with a fellow Twitter myth-debunker to start a website on debunking MH370-related myths: WhereIsMH370.com — and in the two days since we launched it, we’ve been fielding questions about secret radar GIFs, North Korean hijackers, Italian footballer doppelgangers, phone connectivity and more.
It’s only going to get more and more confusing, I fear: the longer we search for MH370, the wider the net of our theories will we cast. I hope we find something soon. Anything. Just let it be real.
Amirul Ruslan is a news journalist with BFM89.9. He previously wrote for newspapers, web portals, magazines and more. He is the co-editor of WhereIsMH370.com, a site dedicated to providing clarity on the media coverage surrounding the missing MH370 plane.
CORRECTION: The original article referred to Boeing is a French manufacturer. It is in fact American. (12/03/2014)