When media is not free

It’s World Press Freedom Day today – 3rd May 2012.

Also, it has become a very sad day for me, as I read news about how one of our mainstream newspapers in Malaysia, the New Straits Times, has allegedly fabricated news, to benefit one side of the political divide.

I say fabricated news, because according to damning evidence, the report as published by NST is, blatantly, a lie.

It is one thing that we get lopsided news and coverage, from both the mainstream or the alternative (read=online) newspapers or newsportals. Print newspapers in Malaysia are generally known to print only news that are favourable to the political parties who own them.

NST is owned by UMNO. This is no secret. Most other print papers are owned by other political parties of the coalition in power. This alone shows that there is no way that the media in Malaysia forms the fourth pillar of democracy, which we so direly need, considering how the other three pillars of democracy in our country have been breached.

Today, I read on the internet that NST published an article claiming Nick Xenophon, Australian Senator, to be anti-Islam, picking a “statement” he made in Parliament in 2009. The article, as a whole, questions Xenophon’s credibility to have any opinions of our country because he is deemed “anti-Islam” by the “statement” he made.

The quoted “statement”, has Xenophon saying: “Islam is not a religious organisation. It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs.”

To be honest, us Malaysians have gotten so used to our local media using skewed news and statements taken out of context, that something like this doesn’t even make us raise our eyebrows anymore. To us, it is NST trying to put Xenophon under bad light, so that what he says about our electoral reforms and Bersih 3.0 would not hold water.

But this time, NST has really upped their game. Instead of giving us the usual “statement out of context”, they have went even further, replacing a word in the statement to make it something else completely.

The original statement made by Xenophon was: ” Scientology is not a religious organisation. It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs.”

Is this how low our local media has gotten? Is this what they call “reporting”? Because if it is, I really mourn for the journalists and reporters of our country. Despite the largely biased reports we get, somehow I am more than willing to believe that reporters and journalists themselves abhor this kind of behaviour – it goes against everything that reporters and journalists should stand for.

It is World Press Freedom Day today.

By “press freedom”, it does not mean that the press should be free to print whatever they want, regardless of the truth. They should know that better than anyone else. World Press Freedom Day is about freedom for the press to publish the truth, regardless of who it might hurt, without fear or favour.

On this day, what our country has shown us, and to the whole world, is that our press is anything but free.

In the reports I read, it is stated that NST has since taken the offensive article down from its website, but there is no indication of whether the offensive article was also published in its print version. If there is, I can safely say that the damage has been done, regardless of what measures are taken after this.

I cannot help but say this again: the fact that NST’s editors found it fit to print/publish an article like this with such erroneous information that could not possibly be by mere accident, it signifies the death of this fourth pillar of democracy. Instead of being the voice that holds the powers-that-be under scrutiny, it has now completely become one more channel through which the authorities can play with our minds.

There is no World Press Freedom Day. Not in Malaysia. Not today.


Articles for reference:
Cached version of NST article: HERE
The Malaysian Insider article: HERE
Sydney Morning Herald article: HERE


Bersih Weekend

Since the announcement that Bersih 3.0 will be happening this weekend at Dataran Merdeka, I’ve been wondering how the government would react this time around.

Given that the way they handled themselves in Bersih 2.0, and the amount of backlash they received for the harsh clampdown of a city that really cannot be closed off entirely, one would assume that they might, this time, be a little wiser, and allow Bersih to happen without hiccups.

The way I see it, the initial reaction to Bersih 3.0 was not as “hot” as anticipated. When the Minister said, sure you can go ahead with Bersih 3.0, there was a calm in the online media – no one was sure how to react to such a statement, we’re all just so used to the government telling us no.

And to be quite honest, if matters were allowed to just flow, and if the government didn’t suddenly decide that they’re going to be against Bersih 3.0 after all, it might have garnered less participants than Bersih 2.0!

As it stands now, it’s very likely that because of all the protest of Bersih 3.0 using Dataran Merdeka (which I still do not understand why that piece of land is not public property that allows for peaceable assemblies by civil society), more and more people are now geared up and ready to go there this Saturday, guns ablaze.

Had it not been for the hoo-hah over the venue, there might not have been walks organised to start from various places in the city centre, all ending at Dataran Merdeka at 2pm.

The government should really start to learn how to take hints from history. Something as recent as July last year should still remain quite vivid in their memories. Which part of the way they handled Bersih 2.0, and the subsequent consequences, did they think they were satisfied with?

Declaring a movement like this, which already has so much history behind it, an illegal rally, is really just trying to shut the audio down on a silent movie – there’s really no point, because it won’t make a difference. The legality of Bersih 3.0 does not lie in a sheet of paper from the authorities – it lies with the people. If the general public deem it a legal movement, and one worthy of their participation, it’s going to take more than the authorities barking their disapproval to convince them otherwise.

It’s a general feeling these days that the elections will be called pretty soon. There’s nothing concrete to base this on, of course, but most analysts seem to agree that June is the time. So really, the authorities don’t have much time to “bersih” up their act, if they intend to at all, prior to the next elections.

And that’s what worries the people behind Bersih 3.0, and the people who will be attending the sit-in this Saturday.

So far, Najib hasn’t said anything about the Bersih weekend. Why has he chosen to remain mum about this? It’s anyone’s guess. But perhaps this is the right chance for him to try and prove to the people who are still willing to give him a chance, that he’s serious about reforms, and serious about getting them implemented. Ambiga has indicated as much, that if the Prime Minister is willing to promise reforms before elections, they might consider calling off the sit-in.

It’s Wednesday today. He’s basically got two more days to make a public statement about his stand on Bersih 3.0. If I were him, I’d allow Bersih 3.0 their sit-in at Dataran Merdeka. After all, what can a bunch of people in yellow, sitting around at a big open space, do to him and his government?


Najib on Chinese airwaves

The way the politics in our country is structured, a politician of a particular race would address an audience of the same race. Except for when elections are near, politicians hardly step outside of this comfort zone.

So when I saw an advertisement on TV today, showing that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak would be appearing on ntv7 for an interview session with two of the station’s top Mandarin newscasters/emcees, it immediately piqued my interest.

A few weeks ago, Najib had also went live on a Chinese language radio station, 988, addressing issues and questions that the deejays had collected from their listeners throughout the week. That session was a little awkward, given that the deejays themselves weren’t very well-versed in English, and the time spent on translating the questions and answers from English back into Cantonese.

However, that radio interview session was an eye-opener, because as far as I can remember, we’ve never had something like this on Chinese language radio stations before. 988 is known for addressing national politics, more than most other Chinese language radio stations, and so they have invited quite a few political figures on air before. But definitely not someone as high profile as the Prime Minister of the country.

Turning back to this live TV interview, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at how much they managed to squeeze out of the one and a half hour session. The interviewers were very experienced, and most of the interview was very well-conducted. They even managed to include video snippets of candid interviews with the people on the ground, which was quite all-rounded, and covered a lot of the main concerns of the general public.

Halfway through the interview, my friend mentioned in passing, “Ah, all this is a lie. I’m sure that the TV station would have sent him a list of the questions they would be asking. So right now, he’s basically just reading from a prepared answer sheet.” Which could, for all we know, be true. And honestly, what’s stopping them from doing so?

Of course, idealistic as we all are, we’d love to hear the Prime Minister answer questions as they come, and not be so prepared for them already that he sounds almost like a machine. We’d love to hear what he really thinks, what he really has to say, and not what his advisors and strategists think is the best thing to tell us. We’d love to have a candid session with him, the same way the candid interviews were carried out on the streets.

The interview wasn’t a perfect one. Though the hosts managed to get quite a good number of questions and issues in, most of the answers sounded like a pre-emptive attempt to pull in votes for the upcoming general elections, that most people are speculating will be held in June. It sounded like a rehearsed advertisement for Barisan Nasional.

Still, one can’t say that Najib failed completely at the end. Because say what we will, this was advertised as the first time our Prime Minister has appeared on Chinese airwaves. And at such a sensitive period, something like this can be very important. It can be used as an indication that perhaps this Prime Minister is truly more in touch with the Chinese community compared to his predecessors.

It could still be too little, too late. Too much damage has been done, too much Chinese trust has been lost. If the video snippets are any indication, many think Najib might be a good man in the wrong government. But is he a good enough man whom they are willing to trust and vote for, given the type of political party he leads?

Surau attacked

From Malaysiakini:

Two surau in Muar came under arson attack early this morning, with one sustaining serious damage.

From The Malaysian Insider:

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 21 — Two suraus in Muar, Johor were damaged in suspected arson attacks early this morning, weeks after similar attacks against churches, believed to be linked to the controversial “Allah” ruling.

Police found traces of kerosene in the Sirratulrahim Surau in Kampung Sabak Awor, Jalan Ismail which had a window and curtains burnt, while the Parit Beting surau suffered worse damage.

I have nothing more to say. What can be said here in response to what is happening, I’ve already said in my past few posts.

This is ridiculous. This is wrong. Completely wrong.

Sikh temple gets stoned

From the Malaysian Insider HERE:

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 13 — A sliding glass door to the entrance of a Sikh Temple in Sentul here was found cracked late yesterday by a barrage of stones, making it the first non-Christian house of worship hit since the controversial landmark “Allah” ruling.

During the incident, he said, several volunteers who were busy cleaning the temple witnessed stones flying into its main entrance and immediately alerted the police.

Some 20 stones were thrown from outside the temple compound, he said, adding that police had retrieved the stones and were carrying out further investigations.

I don’t know how this is related to the Allah controversy. Or the church burnings. Or that incident with the convent school.

But one thing I do know is this. The situation is becoming increasingly ridiculous.

Fo all we know, the stones could have been hurled by random people who have nothing to do with any of the political nonsense, and who didn’t know any better. But we must ask this question: If it really were just an isolated incident, why did the ‘stone-throwers’ feel it right for them to do that? (This is only assuming it was isolated. I don’t want to speculate if it were organised with some more sinister motive, like instigate racial/ religious hatred and segregation…)

If we were to look back during the past couple of years, we would see news reports of molotov cocktails being thrown into houses because of some ‘political issue’. Pray ask, what has happened to those investigations? And pray ask, what did our leaders do when those incidents occured?

The lack of action, the lack of a united condemnation by ALL of our country’s top people, when incidents such as this happen is leading us further and further away from the harmony and togetherness that we seek as fellow countrymen.

We get statements that go, “This was an isolated incident”. And then what? It has nothing to do with so-and-so incident, so there’s nothing to worry about?

Does the incident being an ‘isolated’, ‘one-off’ incident take away from the fact that it was a malice? That it is completely wrong? I certainly hope not. Isolated or not, when acts of violence happen, there should be no doubt, no passing the buck around. Everyone should take a solid stand against it. Our leaders should know better than to say, “It’s an isolated incident, and by the way, don’t blame it on us.”

What is increasingly disturbing is that these acts of malice and violence, (by people, it seems, who are bent on destroying things) have now extended to attacking places of worship. Places where people congregate to give praise to their Lord(s), where they are supposed to share harmony and love and all the good things in life. People, it seems, are getting ever more daring, and not even in a good way.

Isolated or not, acts like this are increasing the tension in a society that is already stretched. At a time like this, statements like this:

He (Hishammuddin) also vowed to use the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial, against those who stoke religious tension.

do not help. I’d be more worried than relieved if the ISA is the only act we have that protects the people from harm.

Is it too much to ask that the leaders take a common stand against any sort of violence, that they not make excuses for why these have occured, and that they find a way in which a resolution can be reached?