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Fair comment – or personal opinion?

Photograph: Carol Yong, Kuala Lumpur, March 2018

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The media need to indicate clearly if an article is an opinion piece so that readers are aware that they may need to do further checking and research before making a decision, J Jeyasingam writes. 

I came across a recent report (The Star, Metro News, 11 April 2020) titled “Property market expected to be affected by Covid-19”.

Reading it gives rise to the question whether it was based on facts or on the personal opinions expressed by the personalities who were quoted. Fair comment is entirely acceptable because that is by definition based on accurate information or observation. However, personal opinions must be clearly stated as such; they are anecdotal, sometimes without any facts or research to back them up.

A cursory examination of the article reveals statements made in the report such as those that follow, which bear some explanation.

“expect the full impact from Covid-19 and the movement control order (MCO) to be felt in the next 6 to 12 months”

Unless the individual who said this has:

  • data to back this up, such as how long the movement control order will last, either fully or partially
  • which sectors of the workforce will be affected and by how much 
  • the corresponding impact on their spending power and patterns

– then this is merely an opinion.

“anticipate that there would be more cases of property owners selling their properties as early as 3 months after the 6-month bank moratorium ends”

Again, this is anecdotal evidence unless there is data to back it up. There are tools that may be available to mitigate against fire sales of property due to a cashflow crunch, perhaps even some novel ones to match this novel coronavirus. Market rumours may swirl over cups of coffee, but these are precisely rumours and have no real credence. Things can change in a short time and, as the saying goes, “There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.”  

“property owners were willing to sell their property at lower prices and buyers could get good deals” … “there are also buyers who are willing to forfeit the 10% deposit for the bookings made before Covid-19 and the MCO as they expect prices of properties to drop further”… “prices of primary properties could go down between 10% and 15% and about 15% to 20% in the secondary market”

These are all statements of opinion, unless data is available to lend weight to them. State them to be so rather than risk readers swallowing all of this hook, line and sinker, and unnecessarily spooking the property market. Kicking away the crutches of a badly limping man is not helpful under any circumstances.

Now if an ordinary person were to say things like “I expect” and “I anticipate” about matters affecting the property market, that would be acceptable. However, if a professional property company represented by a qualified professional were to make the same statements, that may potentially have a profound impact on decisions made by readers who scan reports and articles for information that would assist them in making a property investment or divestment decision.

Further to this, what or whose interests if any would be served by making these public statements that may influence demand and supply? Professional property companies and their representatives who gain exposure through the media may have an advantage over others in their field, which is why aggrandisement is a definite no-no in this or any other professional field.

There should be protocols or guidelines in place by the media to ensure that statements or viewpoints from property professionals – or any other professional in any field – are supported by research data or officially published sources, before being reported and published as news. The news media, which are influential and widely read, should adopt this as the norm for responsible reporting, because their credibility is as just as much at stake.

No one is saying that opinions must not be published, as these are also valuable in highlighting points of view from professionals in the field. However, please state it clearly to be just that, an opinion.

News media, whether printed or online or in whatever form, are a powerful tool. They are perceived to be vetted or filtered to ensure veracity and accuracy as much as is possible within the realm of control of the reporter or journalist.

At the very least, state clearly if a report or article is an opinion piece so that readers are aware that any decision to be made based on it needs further checking and analysis. In this report, which is on the property market, there should have been some form of analysis done and published as supporting material.

Property has been and will continue to be a sector of the economy with a huge attraction for all types of buyers, speculators included. Statements by influencers made through the media can create perceptions that may spiral out of control and spook the property market, and that cannot be helpful to ensure an efficient property market.

In conclusion, I wish to state that what I have written is my opinion and that I have no other interests other than the interests of fair comment and journalistic integrity.
J Jeyasingam is a stockbroker by profession – but these days mostly just taking stock of where we are going as a people in this beloved nation of ours. With a wife and a son to remind him that no person is an island, he believes we must all stand shoulder to shoulder as a nation and rise to every challenge 

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
20 Apr 2020 11.33am

I agree with the views experessed by the writer whose views may be personal opinions but may have been based on what is reported. It is reported that
# economies are down and expected to go down further with expansion of virus infections;
# people have lost or are losing their jobs and with little possibility of income levels coming to pre-COVID 19 levels and thus inability to buy property of go for holidays;
# people may realise the importance of savings and and dangers of liiving on debts and thus may be more concerned in future and give priority to savings and avoiding other expenses;

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