The role of journalism in eradicating urban child poverty

One of the finalist essays for the urban poverty essay competition

Syazwan Bahri (UITM Shah Alam)
Teenager playing in a sport's field
21 April 2019

Journalism is one of the pillars of society. This has been proven since the early 19th century by the writer Walter Lippmann. He believed that journalists fulfilled the role of mediator between the general public and the elites. The general consensus among the people is that the journalists provide a window for the people who are boxed in to see the world and understand those beyond their former comprehension. It is considered their raison d'être to seek information and to inform. Hence, one would expect to be an informed person when journalists are present in the society. The reality is far from sweet.

Let’s be honest: headlines laced with the notion of poverty do not move newspapers. Headlines usually relate to the readers’ interests, as it is one of the elements of news. There is no argument to that statement as proven by the uses and gratification theory as early as the 1940s. Since the unfortunate cannot afford simple necessities such as a newspaper, the media does not take a step to cover stories that reflect these people. This is simple supply-and-demand. Hence, any stories in regards to the topic of poverty are left in the dark, untouched by society. That is the bitter fact of modern media.

Urban settings and poverty – this composition in duality is the unforgiving axiom which reality presents. The two elements create a paradox woven into the fabrics of society for mankind to solve. In order to iron out poverty, numerous stakeholders must pitch in to bring light on to the issue such as the government, the media, and most importantly the people. One of the strongest solving tools in history is the use of media as a proponent to spread an idea. This was a solid proposition when the media worked in tandem with the nation’s upper echelon in catalysing policy change. It worked well with the New Economic Policy, why couldn’t it work now? It is, after all, an agent of social change. This is simply because of the idea of urban poverty, let alone poverty, is inconsequential to the majority of the people. This might be because of lack of exposure, or it has no direct effect on people, or due to desensitization. The people do not realise the domino effect brought by urban poverty. To solve a problem, one needs to acknowledge and realise the existence of the problem.

In Malaysia, urban poverty among children is around 11%. This means that these children are not getting basic human rights such as nutritious food, shelter, education, healthcare, and these children are unfortunate to grow up in that condition and become adults. How so? Imagine growing up in conditions where opportunity is barren and second-chances are close to none. These children are not even home-schooled. How does the family sustain themselves in such environment and the economy? They resort to odd jobs, and even worse, crime. To make matters severe, women have it harder in times of crisis. In an urban setting, these people are surrounded by the haves and the have-nots take every route possible to make ends meet. What if all these unfortunate people were given opportunities and second chances? Would that change these people to a better life?

It all begins with education and the opportunities that lie therein. Education is the most potent weapon in changing the world. As for the children, they should be able to attend school and educational institutions as a stepping stone to a better future. It is not the parent's fault that they could not afford to send their children to school, but it is the parent's fault for not knowing, much less exercising their rights. Then again, we could not put the blame on parents as they are not well-versed with their rights. This brings back to the topic of exposure. The press has the potential to shed the light to the general public about the issue of urban poverty, and it also has the potential to improve the general wellbeing of the unfortunate. Astro Kasih has taken the initiative to contribute education, community development and such in Sabah. In fact, more than 5.1 million students and 419,000 teachers have access to Astro Kasih’s Learning channels and thanks to that, SK Magandai recorded 100% pass in BM (Comprehension) and Science, SK Sungai Paku recorded more than 80% passing rate for all subjects while SK Malinsau recorded 2 students with 4As. This verifies that these people could do better if given the opportunity. It boils down to giving them opportunities and second chances. Why do people provide food to the homeless yet nothing is done to the people living in slums? When you think about it, there’s not much difference between the two. They are in the same boat, only the other one is on the sinking end. It is high time for the media to pick up on the issue and uncover it for the society to act upon. It is one of the ways to bridge between the haves and the have-nots. However, what are the fates of the senior citizen who are trapped in urban poverty? Some might argue from a practical standpoint that giving opportunities to the elderly would be a waste of resources. Hence, in this unsolvable jigsaw puzzle, where do we fit the last piece?

It is worth to note that even with all the help given, change does not happen conveniently. One must change the mindset in order to change. We could give all the monetary help in the world to abolish poverty, but what guarantee is there that these people would not relapse? A genuine change must first come from within the individual, only then can he or she attempt to make a significant contribution to humanity, said by Dalai Lama. Again, the media has to play its role here to form a new mindset within the society.

Passing through an area of urban poverty is not uncommon, but no one seems to bat an eye. Probably it is because that the window set by the media is not pointed in that direction. Only when the entirety of the nation realises the problem can we begin to eradicate urban poverty on a larger scale.

Muhamad Syazwan Shamsul Bahri is a passionate young journalist who formerly published stories in his blog before moving on to minor publications. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication (Hons) Public Relations in UITM Shah Alam. Previously, he was the appointed Head Journalist of the Malay College Editorial Board in the year 2012 where the team published the alma mater’s annual magazine as well as multiple minor publications.