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Appalling standards in Malaysian newspapers

It's often been argued that one reason for the popularity of blogs in Malaysia is the restrictions on the mainstream media (MSM) by the government, which uses laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, and ownership by political parties to ensure a compliant fourth estate.

That seems straightforward enough. But an interviewee (a popular blogger) surprised me by saying that she also thought that the poor quality of women's magazines explained why some blogs that talk about fashion, makeup, etc. are popular. There's no political reason why a woman's magazine should be mediocre: that's only explainable by poor management and/or insufficiently trained manpower.

Anyway - thanks to a tweet by @kruel74, I have come across one of the worst examples of journalism I can remember. Inspired no doubt by the sensationalist potential, The Star online announced "Boob-staring good for men" (click here for a screenshot)
Both Sin Chew Daily and China Press reported that a German research published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that men ogling at breasts for 10 minutes a day was equivalent to a 30-minute gym workout.

Perhaps they were a bit dubious about this patently ridiculous claim, so they made a pitiful attempt to cover their butts
However, it was reported that reporters had attempted to search the article in the journal’s website but failed. Thus, there were doubts whether there was indeed such an article in the journal.

First of all, if there are doubts that it is true, why the heck publish it? The only journalistic reason to do so would be if it was deemed to be of major importance to the public. Is a puerile booby-joke worth infringing basic journalistic fact-checking ethics? I don't think so!

Second. GOOGLE! Within two minutes, I found it on Snopes - the primary source for debunking c**p like this: this particular "Important if true" snippet has been circulating since 1997.

It's not surprising that readership numbers for newspapers are constantly slipping! THREE newspapers managed to print this rubbish!

As a lecturer, I find these kind of poor standards a real barrier to convincing bright, eager and willing students to uphold the highest standards, to not copy and paste, and to look for examples of good practice to follow. For their own self-worth, and to represent Malaysia to the world.

Anyway, I guess the silver lining is that they won't have to try very hard to be better than those they will hopefully replace... :-)

**Edit**: Another blogger Chang Yang who commented (below) found a very similar piece of shoddy journalism in The Star a month ago, it was (probably not coincidentally) also about women's boobs: "Women with bigger breasts found to be smarter" sigh... (click here for a screenshot) He was more responsible than me, and emailed the editor - but to no avail apparently, the article is still online, and being recirculated and requoted by other people (most of whom, including bloggers, haven't bothered to check either - but then again, they're not paid to provide reliable information).

**Edit 07/12/09**: more evidence supplied by Bintulu.org
This 'story' was also apparently picked up by Asian News International, and republished in DailyIndia.com; and asiaone via Asia News Network. My feeling for the two 'wire' services (ANI and ANN), is that they have automatic RSS feeds that come directly from The Star. Anyway, now this story has been given credence (for the credulous) by a leading Malaysian newspaper, cited in each occasion as the source of this story.