“Anwar as Interim PM”: How a Draft Report Fooled a Whole Country

At 4.53PM, 22nd November 2022, online news agency, Free Malaysia Today, released a short piece of news, stating that Anwar Ibrahim has been appointed as Interim Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Spoiler alert: that’s not what actually happened.

This was followed by a tweet by TheVibes, which would later go viral, gaining over 15,000 retweets in less than 10 minutes.

This was briefly followed by tweet from Free Malaysia Today at 5.24PM apologising for “erroneously publishing” the draft story, and that they have since deleted the story on their site.

Despite this, the news continued to spread like wildfire, to the point even the renowned Melissa Goh, Malaysia Bureau Chief for Singapore’s Channel News Asia would publish the ‘news’ on her Twitter account.

This would later be picked up by Berita Harian citing Channel News Asia, and even New Straits Times would later publish a news article whereby a “party source” stated that it “looks like it [that Anwar is appointed Interim PM.”

The reality, as explained by Anwar himself after that, was that he was merely told by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong that the King has yet to make any decision, and so there is no appointment for any Prime Minister or Interim Prime Minister.

But why did this problem even started? Why would FMT write a draft article if such is not to happen to begin with?

Media agencies are always competing with each other in staying relevant and being the first to publish a news – and so they would need to reduce the time between the news happening and the news being published.

The solution? Write drafts for all anticipated news early on and only fill in the minute details once the thing is confirmed to happen. Oftentimes the draft consists of one or two paragraphs to reduce the amount of edits needed to be made for factual correction, and once everything is out you can be the first, or one of the first to talk about it.

This is a common practice in reporting. Even I myself have done that in the past in publishing articles on my blog when reporting of a certain situation. An example would be the dissolution of Parliament, expected to happen in February 2020 and announced by Mahathir, and then again in 2021 by Muhyiddin, and then in 2022 by Ismail Sabri.

In the end, out of the many draft articles I wrote, only one was ever published when Ismail Sabri dissolved the Parliament for real.

This time, the word that spread seemed consistent – ‘Anwar has been named interim prime minister and needed to work in building his majority.’ Interestingly, that was not even how the news began.

The draft by FMT simply wrote, in Malay:

“Anwar Ibrahim is appointed as interim prime minister.

MORE NEWS TO FOLLOW

But when the news reached other sources including Melissa Goh from CNA, it was later interpreted as being about how he’s now looking to build his majority, and a bunch of other details which wasn’t even mentioned in the initial ‘report’.

This case is interesting to observe as an example of how fast a fake news can spread, and how fragile journalism is.

Despite seemingly small for the public, this misreport brings a big impact as it involves ‘claiming’ His Majesty did something he did not do.

Whoever who becomes the next Prime Minister, we just hope for the best for our country.

Author: Ahmad Ali Karim

Blogger. Official Ambassador at Muafakat Pendidikan Johor (MPJ). Columnist at Utusan Malaysia. Secretary at Pertubuhan Permuafakatan Pendidikan Malaysia (ME'DIDIK).

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