Journalism — a heart-wrenching job, sometimes

Peranak Rumah Usek Sumpit ngumbuk siku orang indu ti nyabakka rumah diri ti angus di Niah kena 24 November, 2018.

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By Nancy Nais

IF you think it is thrilling to be at the scene of a fire, recording the happenings on video, taking pictures and interviewing the victims in order to give the yet-to-be-written story a “human face”, then you are wrong.

As a journalist, my work requires me to do to all the above, but it is anything but “thrilling”.

I have been to many crime and other heartbreaking scenes over the years in the course of my work, and I can tell you one thing — it is no walk in the park. It is extremely painful to see folks crying or wailing upon witnessing the horror of their homes turned to ashes right in front of their own eyes. They are so distraught that they have to be consoled by relatives, friends or even strangers, sometimes.

Last Saturday, a fire gutted Usek Sumpit longhouse at Sungai Keriok in Niah, Miri. The morning blaze left over 300 residents homeless. That very same day, I was on an assignment to cover a “happier event” in Miri, where the state Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) Miri Zone was to hand over two newly repaired houses to two less fortunate families under the National Blue Ocean Strategy initiative.

When news of the fire in Niah broke, Miri Bomba chief Law Poh Kiong, who picked me up from Miri Airport, drove me to the fire scene like he was Lewis Hamilton. Upon reaching the scene, my instinct was to get down to work quickly, including taking out my mobile phone and to start recording whatever was happening on the ground then.

Although the fire was brought under control by 11.30am, I observed how the firefighters and volunteers meticulously went through the whole affected area to ensure that the fire has been completely doused.

The overall scene was very heartbreaking, though. Some affected villagers were salvaging whatever was left of their belongings, a few stood forlornly at a distance from the burning structure while others openly cried and yelled over what used to be their 37-bilek (units) longhouse.

There was another row of longhouse with only 12 bileks about 10-feet away, but it was not affected by the fire.

As I was recording ‘live’ for DayakDaily, I was overwhelmed by my emotions, so much so that I turned off the video recording and just stood there — watching the sea of human sufferings that the villagers had to endure.

I asked myself: What if it was my own house or my own village? How will I feel? I certainly would not want nosy journalists to make recordings of me or of my neighbours in such a calamity. And the last thing I would want is to be “interviewed”.

Hence, I did not interview any of the fire victims as I did not want to heap more distress or burden upon them. I also stayed out of the way of the brave firefighters and volunteers as I respect their professionalism.

So, as you can imagine, “news value” can sometimes conflict with the victims’ priorities. Some of the values that journalists hold dear can pose problems for the victims, their families, their friends and even those who are there to assist the victims.

Yes, journalists often look for the odd or unusual to include in their stories to make them “stand out” from the crowd, but this often entails reporting grisly, unique or intimate facts about the crime that can make the victims feel “re-victimized”. So I chose not to, in this instance.

It is going to be a bleak Christmas for the fire victims of Usek Sumpit longhouse, but I pray that immediate help will be channelled to them as soon as possible. — DayakDaily