A. Ananthalakshmi on the exclusive reporting EU risks 'trade war' with Malaysia over palm oil
Last month, in an exclusive interview with Reuters, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad said that the European Union risks opening up a trade war with Malaysia over its “grossly unfair” policies aimed at reducing the use of palm oil. Mahathir also said he would hand over power to former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim before his five-year term ends in 2023. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Deputy Bureau Chief for Malaysia and Brunel A. Ananthalakshmi gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the team reported the story.
Q: How did you get started on this story?
A: We first interviewed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad soon after the 93-year-old’s historic election win in May 2018, but since then a lot of questions had risen over the new government’s policies and a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal that had ensnared a former premier and Goldman Sachs. We wanted another opportunity to talk to him, but the Prime Minister had gone quiet on media interviews. We stayed in touch with his office and got a confirmation on the interview almost five months after we had put in the first request in what would be his first major interview in months.
Q: What types of reporting were involved?
A: Much of the reporting happened before we sat down with the Prime Minister, with a focus on how we should frame our questions. We knew PM Mahathir was someone who wouldn’t shy away from tough questions, but the veteran politician also had a knack for evading certain topics. While we wanted to cover a lot of ground with him, we were also conscious of the 40-minute slot allocated for us. So the interview team – Joseph Sipalan, Joe Brock and I – spent time prioritizing topics and questions we wanted to discuss with the premier.
Q: Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A: Mahathir had surprised everyone last May by winning the national elections. But ten months since the win, there were lingering questions about the new government’s investment policies, economic plans and whether he would hand over power as promised to Anwar Ibrahim next year. An upcoming European Union legislation limiting use of palm oil – a critical export commodity for the country – had also become a big issue in Malaysia, which as Mahathir told us, was considering retaliatory trade actions.
Q: What makes you passionate about journalism?
A: Uncovering stories in the public interest and being able to shine light on issues that would typically go unnoticed.
Q: What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A: As deputy bureau chief in one of Reuters smaller bureaus, I have the rare opportunity to work across various beats – be it politics, commodities or human rights stories. I also enjoy guiding the team and working together to crack challenging projects.
Q: Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A: I cannot! I have always wanted to be a journalist.