Tuesday 28 July 2009

Depressing Yet Pressing Issue; Using The Press To Oppress?

Years ago, a veteran told me that Malaysian politics is mainly about the politics of issues. It was because the rakyat mentality was immature politically that issues could be created or blown out of proportion to rally the masses in whichever direction the propaganda machinery deemed fit.

With the advent of Mahathirism, issues were created and publicized only when Mahathir dictated so; major cases in point being the 1988 Constitutional Crisis that resulted in the emasculation of the Judiciary and the 1993 Monarchy crisis that did the Royals in.

The rakyat was still willing to vote Barisan Nasional in with more than 2/3 majority, GE in and GE out because the economy was thriving; the NEP was in full bloom and no one was going without. The non-Malays were resigned to the effects of affirmative action and had all but given up at the ballot box.

I suppose abuses were not as blatant then although corruption and cronyism were already big concerns...the massive privatization and corporatizing exercises of government institutions, the IPPs, the toll hikes, the prime land conversions, the Daim machinations, etc. all affected our pockets without commensurating increase in service levels nor benefits. But we could at least see signs of development as in the Twin Towers, KLIA, Putrajaya, and other monuments. While most people dared only whisper about their displeasure, none had the guts nor to be fair, the platform to shout too loud and long.

There was a pervading fear of litigation and the partiality of the judiciary. As organizations go, Aliran led by Chandra Muzzafar seemed to be the only one which dared to voice out and it had its publishing permit yanked a few times. The Aliran Monthly was a sort of Malaysiakini in the way that no issue was too hot for it to report.

Two individuals stood out and both were journalists; the late K. Das and that forerunner of our Raja Petra Kamarudin, the late MGG Pillai. Yes! RPK had a predecessor! Neither lawsuit nor harassment could stop MGG Pillai and in the aftermath of the Correct! Correct! Correct! fiasco we now know he had no chance with the defamation suits he faced. I am glad MGG Pillai discovered the Internet before he passed away in 2006. His blog mggpillai.com was the Malaysia Today of its day!

There were plenty of issues too in those days but apart from being fearful, the Malaysian public was naive, amnesiac and blindsided by the mainstream media. There was a perpetual news brown-out and when the Government faced any major controversy, there were total news blackouts or the media would spin to sway the rakyat. Back in those days, no Opposition politician ever appeared on TV or radio let alone was quoted or reported in the newspapers. Conversely, all we ever got to hear or read were that things were dandy and as they should be (and therefore fine). Each successive PM had his own Goebbels, starting with Mahathir who had Kadir Jasin and Dollah Ahmad; the infamous Kalimullah was there for the Preacher Man while Kamal Khalid did the hatchet work; now Najib has Johan Jaafar and his very own publicist in Azmi Anshar.

The nature of media control had perceptible difference from one PM to another. In the case of Mahathir, it was more of misinformation and lack of information; this was extenuated by the fact that Mahathir made no bones about his dogmatic nature or his policies.

Though his successor, Badawi was less Machiavellian he was in many ways worse. He took over on a media fanfare of promises; liberalization, tranparency, meritocracy and accountability. The very media tools that were deployed to blow his trumpet soon became tools to gloss over his abject incompetency. When his outright bumbling and the abuses by his coterie became too obvious, his propaganda team resorted to plain disinformation. Ultimately, his spinmeisters could not prevent his self-proclaimed nice, clean and pious guy image from rotting into plain "nasty, corrupt" and stupid. His “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang" quickly became "Cemarkan, Gemar-wang, Terbayang"...Temberang.

Why did it take 22 years to expose Mahathir's transgressions and only 5 for Badawi? Was it because Badawi was more liberal? Apparently not; it was because he could not stop the information communication juggernaut called the Internet. He was caught by his own "K-Economy" bull and could not rein in the bloggers and internet news portals until it was too late. He did however try at the end though.

In the last decade, the proliferation of internet users coupled with the intrinsic need to boost bandwith enabled the Internet to power the "Fifth Estate" in Malaysia as with the rest of the developed/developing world. Mainstream media (MSM) began to have an alternative and I dare say now during Najib's watch, the MSM is fast becoming THE alternative media to most educated Malaysians. The difference has been about censorship or lack of.

Najib has his work cut out for him. It is now coming to his 4th month in the hot seat and he has not only to hit the ground running (after years of Badawi "slumber") but also be seen to do the right things. He has after all come onboard with considerable baggage.

How will he make the rakyat see? Will he try to make us blind? Or will he turn out to be the ultimate magician dealing with illusory perceptions? Will it be misinformation or disinformation or both? Or can he surprise us all with absolute transparency? After his first 100 days, the latter seems a bridge too far or far fetched bridge whichever way one looks at it. After GE12, whatever the spin there is only one way for him and that is to deliver what is deemed good for the nation. Brickbats can turn to bouquets...and vice versa.

But what can we expect? Well, for one, Najib or his handlers have obviously learnt about the power of the Internet judging from the increased number of pro-establishment blogs and cyber commentators. Many Barisan politicians are also setting up their own blogs/websites but because most are not self-administered, they do not attract traffic. While Badawi and Barisan were caught with their pants down pre-GE12, now more than a year later, things in the Malaysian cyberspace have indeed changed. Established pro-government bloggers and "information" portals now routinely rebut anything they feel worth rebutting.

The following are a few generally pro-establishment blogs; Another Brick In The Wall, Barking Magpie, Demi Negara, OutSyedTheBox. Rocky's Bru, Mat Cendana, CanYouSeeIt...etc. Socio-political bloggers seem to fall exclusively only into 3 categories: pro-establishment, anti-establishment and middle-of-the-road observers. When a particular blogger shifts his loyalties or stance (as it is known to happen), it is all too obvious. One thing is clear though, not much can be kept hidden in the ultimate battle for voters and no matter what the spin, the Barisan government has to deliver or perish.

The MSM still retains relevance amongst large numbers of Malaysians and one only has to turn on the TV or flip the newspapers to know what the MSM is trying to sell these days (as in the previous days?). Perhaps we shouldn't buy.
The Teoh Beng Hock death is the latest controversial issue and it has seen unprecedented thrusts and counter-thrusts in both the MSM and cyberspace. After Utusan's infamous article which reeked of racism, in the TBH case it was Berita Harian's turn with the lead but if the following article by Azmi Anshar is any indication, we are in for very long ride. That is why it is a must read because the rebuttles by steadyaku47 and sincerely, malaysian heart are even more interesting. You be the judge:

They got their Royal Commission of Inquiry but will they stop their lynching? Online Exclusive 2009/07/22 by Azmi Anshar

IN ordering the formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry today to probe the chary death of Teoh Boon Hock, the young DAP cadre whose body was found sprawled outside Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Shah Alam headquarters last week, the Cabinet committed the most pragmatic decision it could make in light of the over-the-top outrage generated, mostly by Pakatan Rakyat leaders and its band of noxious supporters.

The MACC wobbled daily from the toxic Pakatan demonstrations, from the defiant rants at the MACC’s office immediately after the death was discovered to Teoh’s funeral that literally accused the agency of murder, negligence or brutality, whichever contention was convenient, when police have NOT concluded their investigations as to how and why Teoh died. No other plausible causes of death and motive were entertained by this mob. It fact, they emphatically dismissed alternative speculations, no matter how reasonable it sounded.

To cap the week of rage and antagonism that literally criminalised the MACC, Pakatan launched an online petition calling for the RCI’s formation. They were almost certain of getting a favourable Cabinet response but the hyperboles and sly pre-emption that senior Pakatan leaders discharged seemed to have given the appearance that the goading provoked the Cabinet into agreeing to the RCI.

The Cabinet would surely have gone ahead with the RCI initiative without the Pakatan’s instigation, seeing that senior coalition leaders within the Barisan Nasional ranks had strongly endorsed the setting up of the RCI, some even before DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang could parrot his all-time favourite bellowing. But let’s not be surprised that Pakatan would claim credit for their RCI ingenuity.

But the Pakatan leaders’ pressing for a RCI had a disingenuous purpose: several of their Selangor assemblymen, one of whom was accused of maintaining links with gangsters, were under scrutiny for alleged misuse of public funds, in which Teoh was sought by the MACC to provide helpful insights and vital documents as to how the abuse was being put into action. Now that the RCI on Teoh’s death is going to be institutionalised, how will this affect the investigations into the misuse of public funds?

Here’s how the script might flow: the Pakatan people will be nudged aside from the glare of suspicion by the elephantine centre of attention that steamrolls with a RCI examination. And there is no guarantee that investigations will resume once the RCI completes its business.
The only way to hold the momentum of the investigations into the Pakatan Rakyat assemblymen is that the RCI, in establishing its terms and references, embraces the MACC-Teoh element. This means all interview files, documents, statements, and that includes audio and video recordings, will be possessed and scrutinised by the RCI to surmise whether the misuse of funds had anything to do with Teoh’s death.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak had just announced that this element will be present. Now anticipate the howls of protest, even if it makes sense to expand the scope of the RCI’s inquiry to include all possibilities. An inquest headed by a magistrate is also imminent to establish the forensics of his death.

The next phase of the RCI’s formation will assure a major disputation: the composition of RCI members. There are already demands that representatives from the Opposition be included. A name with a sagacious reputation cropped up - Tunku Abdul Aziz, the 75-year-old ex-Transparency International Malaysia’s founder. Too bad he can’t be in the RCI let alone chair it, simply because he is now a partisan party sycophant like any other party man or woman.
Again, sly pre-empts had been deployed. Then there’s the call that the composition of the RCI must consult Pakatan Rakyat. Another sly pre-empting ploy. All the Government need to do is put together a neutral team that has the consent of the King. That’s all.

Even before Najib had a chance to weigh in his options before today’s Cabinet meeting, he was already handed a “lost cause”, primarily from Lim Kit Siang who claimed the PM will lose credibility and wipe out his 65 percent approval rating if he does not authorise a RCI.

Fine. Now that Najib has announced the RCI’s formation, will Kit re-stamp the credibility factor back into Najib? Probably not. The last thing Kit wants to do is further inflate Najib’s approval rating. Kit will find other specious means to further pile the burden of attestation on Najib to prove that the RCI is “absolutely independent” and will do their job fearlessly.

This new RCI will be the third this decade, breaking a precedence of sorts when RCIs had been limited to two the most every 10 years since its advent in 1965. When it was first conceptualised, a RCI is supposed to look into issues of governance and administration - the 1965 RCI in reviewed public services salaries and conditions of service, then it looked into workings of local authorities in 1968 and explored the teaching services in 1971. But in 1988, the RCI’s character transformed as it began probing “unsavoury” aspects of life - accidents, deaths, catastrophe and tragedy, from the collapse of the Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal in Butterworth (1988) to the religious school blaze that killed students in Yan, Kedah (1989) and Sungai Buloh’s Bright Sparklers factory explosion (1991).

Then the RCI went up close and personal in 1999, investigating the black eye suffered by Anwar Ibrahim while in police custody, which then Inspector-General of Police Rahim Noor took the rap for unleashing a blow on Anwar’s eye that triggered a profound consequence for the nation to last a generation.

The RCI returned to governance in 2004, the study of police reforms that invited a string of determined protests by the police themselves that seemed to scuttle the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission promised by the Abdullah administration in 2006.
Then the RCI opted for a form of “surrealism”: the infamous Lingam Video Clip commission in 2007 that became one of the many impetuses that tore down the fabric of Barisan Nasional state governments and bore a hole into the coalition’s ability to govern federally in March 2008.
What was that old cliché about being careful on what you wish for because it might come true? Pakatan Rakyat, the DAP especially, might be feeling too euphoric at the moment to think of this RCI’s implications but let’s play the devil’s advocate here: will Kit Siang and Co accept the verdict of the RCI no matter what kinds of findings surface?

If you are to base last week’s rampage of putting the blame solely on the MACC and implicating senior Government leaders, Pakatan Rakyat minions will insist no less than a guilty verdict, that some MACC perp pushed Teoh Beng Hock out of the 14th floor to his death for no reason other than wanting to torture the young man. But what if the RCI finds a less gruesome result, that Teoh died other than all the claims of murder and brutality put together? Will the Opposition swallow their brutish smugness and leave it at that?

The portentous inference to come out of Teoh’s RCI is that the inquiry serves to be an overkill that trivialises the institution and the causes it was constructed to oversee, primarily because it drags down the pride of law enforcement, making it harder for them to patrol the streets and maintain law and order. This, however, is not to excuse the law enforcement agencies, whose reputation has taken a severe flagellation in the past years over perceived incompetence so terrible that confidence in their ability to do their job is a hard sell.

What is entrenched now is the disturbing culture of being declared guilty first, more so for law enforcement agencies caught in the wrong side of public perception, before innocence has to be strenuously proven. And this crushes every basic principle of human rights in the face of mob fury. It gives a new meaning to lynching, Malaysian-style.


The following is Steadyaku47's rebuttal:

Online exclusive - NST

It is now 9.49pm and as is my habit - after the day is almost done – and with ‘Desperate Housewife’ on TV that means that I will have to go to my PC for alternative entertainment. After having a look through The Vision – Uganda’s leading website – I then went to NSTP online just so that I will not miss any earth shattering news and happenings that UMNO wants me to know. An online exclusive caught my eye.

DAILY DISPATCHES: They got their Royal Commission of Inquiry but will they stop their lynching?

IN ordering the formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry today to probe the chary death of Teoh Boon Hock, the young DAP cadre whose body was found sprawled outside Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Shah Alam headquarters last week, the Cabinet committed the most pragmatic decision it could make in light of the over-the-top outrage generated, mostly by Pakatan Rakyat leaders and its band of noxious supporters.

Immedietly I had to go to the dictionary when I came across ‘chary’ in the very first paragraph. It meant ‘sorrowful’. Impressed I press on – this reporter can almost be mistaken for a writer!

The next sentence contained another ambigious word (to me) ‘cadre’ which according to Webster means ‘Cadre (pronounced /'kaːdre/, from the French) is the backbone of an organization, usually a political or military organization. Generally it is applied to a small core of committed and experienced people who are capable of providing leadership and of training newer members’
Again I am impressed. This reporter must be worth his weight in gold to his Editor. He has used ‘chary’ and ‘cadre’ in the very first paragraph of this online inclusive. Must have gone to the same learning instituition as that Ketua Pemuda fellow – aisehman I mean during his primary years lah.

Next came ‘pragmatic’ which I was quite familiar with having had to salute many a PDRM mata mata with a ‘boleh selesai encik’ – not because I want to but I had to be pragmatic.
A few seconds later I came across another hard one ‘noxious’ – morally harmful; corrupting; pernicious:

Morally harmful and corrupting being the operative word – words that this reporter should be familiar with when working for Political Masters who are not from Pakatan Rakyat.
Suffice to say that at this juncture I said enough. Who is he trying to impress? Chary, cadre, pragmatic and noxious ..and we are not even past the first paragraph. Sheesh (as my late fellow blogger The Ancient Mariner would say)…I have other things to do then go on reading this pretentious idiot piece. I rather go torture myself and watch ‘Desperate Housewife’ ….with one eye open and one eye close of course.


...and perhaps a more eloquent response from sincerely, malaysian heart which does make for a sort of "ABC of Journalism" and left the NST rather naked by tearing Azmi Anshar's "exclusive" to shreds:
Is This the Standard of Journalism Practiced by the New Straits Times?
(Disclosure: I am a member of Hartal MSM*, an advocacy group that calls for a Paper-free Tuesday -- "No buy, No lies")

  • Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
  • Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  • Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  • Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  • It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  • It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  • It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  • It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  • Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

From "The Elements of Journalism": What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect

When a news organization's editorial policy is dictated by its owners, the quality of its journalism is often the first thing to go out the window (followed closely by its credibility, reputation and circulation figures). The general level of integrity and professionalism in our news media notwithstanding, I have to say that this "online exclusive" op-ed piece from the New Straits Times (22/7/09), entitled "They got their Royal Commission of Inquiry but will they stop their lynching?", is as egregious a case of journalistic misconduct as I have ever come across. Lest I be accused of making that claim just because I disagree with the article in question, please allow me share with you my reasons for saying so:


tupingera said...

Tabik, Tuan.

A refreshing and honest piece.

Anonymous said...

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