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?


Dancing around the issue

These couple of days, there has been an issue that’s been making some rather fine ripples around here. No, I’m not talking about the Bersih 3.0 announcement, to which I went. I’ll keep that for next week.

What I’m pointing at is the news that a Singaporean ballet company has been allegedly “banned” from performing this upcoming weekend at KLPac. While I hold no warm feelings towards our southern neighbour, I was, to understate it, very disturbed that a dance troupe could be banned from performing in our country. And I’m not even talking about pole-dancing. Ballet has got to be one of the oldest forms of dance, barring traditional dances from Asia.

Back tracking a little, though, our country doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to allowing foreign artists to perform in  Malaysia. Or rather, the authorities have made it quite clear that they are slowly, but surely, taking on a more conventional, if not medieval, stance when it comes to deciding what the general public can or can’t watch.

So here I thought it was yet another instance of the government making an over-protective decision by barring the ballet performance, said (then) to be due to the “indecent” attire, which happens to be the classical ballet tutu.

But then the Ministry decides to give us a surprise this time around. On the very next day, the minister himself comes out to make a statement saying he “loves ballet”, that the ministry made no such decision, and that the organisers should “go ahead with the performance”.

Before I even go on with more recent events surrounding this issue, I’d like to ask one question. The agency in charge (Puspal) of actually approving or rejecting the permit is, no doubt, under the purview of the ministry. But surely we are not to believe that the ministry should be involved in this decision at all, much less the minister himself! That’s all the reason there is for there to be agencies like Puspal set up in the first place – to make decisions on the part of the ministry, on matters that are not so big as to require the attention of the minister.

But there you have it, the Minister himself coming out to make a declaration that no such ban has been made, and that the organisers should “continue” with the performance, knowing full well that if there is no permit, the organisers cannot have this performance at all!

So now we go into KLPac’s reaction, claiming that they did, indeed, receive a rejection from Puspal. Otherwise, why would they have refunded the ticket holders? And really, why would they have done it, if not for the fact that the performance could not be held? There is just no sense in doing so.

Now, in this instance, Puspal says that they have never received any application about any Singaporean ballet troupe coming to KLPac for a performance. None at all. So what they are implying here, is that KLPac organised the performance, sold tickets, arranged for the dancers to come, and then decided that they were not going to go ahead with it, canceled the performance, refunded the people who paid to come watch the dance, told the Singaporean ballet company that they had been barred, and blamed everything on Puspal.

KLPac then showed them evidence that the application was made, and the rejection was received. If you thought this was the end of it, and that Puspal would quietly slunk into a dark corner, you are dead wrong. They surprise us yet again, saying that the documents KLPac produced as “proof”, might be forged after all!

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, this has just gone on for too long. No matter what the outcome of this debacle (an extremely embarrassing one at that), it remains that the Singaporean dancers will not be able to make their performance at KLPac this time around.

What should really be addressed here is the fact that no matter how shockingly unbelievable it is that the Malaysian authorities would ban a classical dance troupe from performing in the country, it is at the same time, shockingly believable. There have been too many such incidences when our ministry showed us just how irrational they can be.

They’ve dictated the kinds of clothes performers should wear during their shows so as not to “offend” the sensibilities of our citizens, when we know full well that the only people who will be seeing them in their “indecent” costumes are the people who pay for their tickets, and already know what they’re in for.

They’ve banned entire performances, no matter that the artiste is already in the country, because they reckon that a tattoo will “offend” a particular creed of people.

They’ve banned books, children’s books, for being “offensive”, because they use the “actual names of the male and female sexual organs”, forgetting that it’s a book on sex education, and they are all drawn cartoons.

They’ve shown us time and time again that they can make the most idiotic decisions, and defend those decisions like as if they were made with our interest in mind. So really, is it so odd that almost no one believes them when they now say that they did not reject the application, or that they suspect the documents to be forged?

The ministry, and its agencies, should really ponder on this, and rethink their public relations strategies. They are starting to make us look like a nation of backward, uncultured people who have no interest in the world’s art, except for our own. And really, if they continue with what they are doing, we might just end up the way they envision it.

Unconstitutional to be homosexual?

Since Sexualiti Merdeka was organised and celebrated earlier this month, homosexuality has been a very hot topic. The event was talked about when the police declared Sexualiti Merdeka unlawful, and went on to ban it entirely, and later even questioned the organisers, despite Sexualiti Merdeka having been in existence since 2008, with no glitches.

It was talked about again when Marina Mahathir came out to defend the organisers, guns a-blazing, saying that Sexualiti Merdeka is about educating the public and especially those who are homosexuals about their rights. Mainstream media reporters were given warnings not to call the Sexualiti Merdeka a “free sex” event, or face the possibility of prosecution.

There is no shortage of articles and comments about homosexuality and whether or not it is acceptable. In Malaysia, one’s sexuality is slowly but surely becoming an issue that people talk about. Whether the opinions are for or against, we cannot deny that this issue is finally being talked about openly, which surely can’t be a bad thing altogether.

Some say that homosexual or not, one’s sexual preference should not be made an issue. After all, what your neighbour does in bed should not concern you. Others argue that homosexuality would spell the end of society and the family unit as we know it. We know religion is no stranger to this ageless debate, where people generously pepper their opinions with quotations and interpretations from holy books.

Now, though, instead of taking a religious standpoint, we have a federal minister coming at the issue from the side of law. He says that being homosexual is “unconstitutional”.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom was quoted to have said, “In reality, in the country’s constitution it is not allowed, including sections 377(a), (b), (c) and (d) which prohibit sexual relations between two men.”

I believe, from what I’ve read of the Federal Constitution, that there are no provisions that prohibit homosexuality. In fact, if I remember rightly, there is nothing in the constitution that says anything about one’s sexuality, or how one’s sexual preference should be.

Perhaps he has confused himself with what the Federal Constitution is, and what the Penal Code is, which is where sections 377 (a), (b), (c) and (d), which he quoted, can be found. So if we were to go by his argument, homosexuality can only be unlawful, but definitely not unconstitutional.

However, being homosexual, whether you like it or not, is not confined to just the bedroom, or wherever one might find carnal desire. Being homosexual, just like being bisexual and heterosexual, is how a person lives, and loves. It’s like a girl wanting to make another girl happy, just as a husband should want to make his wife happy. It’s about a guy wanting to share his life with another guy, just as a wife would want to share her life with her husband.

Being homosexual, and admitting it, in a society that is heavily bound in heterosexual chains, can be a toughie. In a country like ours where social “norms” are almost sacrosanct, it gets even tougher. This combined with prejudices that have taken root for so long, changing mindsets is not something that can be done overnight.

However, as I mentioned, we seem to be making a start. At the very least, it’s out in the open. People are talking about this issue. It’s no longer stuck in the closet, hidden as if it doesn’t exist. Although what’s being said in the public arena has so far been of little substance, I’m hopeful that with time, change will come.

But while we continue to strive for freedom and equality for homosexuals in our country, perhaps we’d also like to ponder on the same bits of law that our federal minister quoted. He found it sensible to say that homosexuality is unconstitutional because sections 377 (a), (b), (c) and (d), which in effect, forbids the “introduction of the penis into the anus or the mouth of the other person.”

Only males have penises. What about our ladies?

Police shoot dead yet another individual

Some time end of last year, I posted a short note about how the police force shot dead suspected robbers. The IGP was then quoted to have said that people should support the police, and if we question the shooting, we are supporting the criminals. He was also quoted to have said:

They should surrender if they do not want to die.

We are not a country suffering from war. Our police force should not be shooting to kill.

Today, I read yet another news article about how a ‘suspect’ was shot dead, this time a 15-year-old boy. Article can be found on Malaysiakini HERE. It is said that Aminulrasyid was ‘attempting to ram into the police’. But to quote his mother:

She also questioned why the police could not merely stop the car her son was driving, as “there was no proper reason why the police had to shoot.”

Was there a need to shoot at the driver? Are our police so ill-trained that they do not know how to stop a car without harming the driver?

To put a hypothetical question across: What if the police are chasing down a car which brakes are malfunctioning? Do they also shoot the driver because they think he/she is ‘dangerous’?

How many more lives are we going to lose to such ridiculous circumstances?