My Anthem

Friday, May 04, 2012

Timely Look at the State of Media in Malaysia

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day – Timely to Check on the State of the Media in Malaysia

***By YL Chong

I have been a practising journalist for 30-plus years, both in the much disdained mainstream media (MSM) closely associated with the incumbent Government for the first two decades, and then the past 10 years in the less maligned Online media thanks to the dawn of the Internet and the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).

It’s timely to check on the state of affairs of both the 4th estate, and as companion development, the Blogosphere now acknowledged worldwide as the Fifth Estate.

May 3 is celebrated as World Press Freedom Day, and this year, it’s timely as the Bersih3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur focused intensely of both the MSM and the alternative online press as well as the residents of the local Bloggers’ universe  some of whom have had a journalistic background, and hence file reports as both wearing two hats of journalist-blogger (Desi considers himself privileged to fall into this last group, as does my counterpart Rockybru aka Datuk Ahirudin Attan. I mention Rockybru in passing because he has in his blog right hand column listing the socio-political journo-bloggers.)

MSM credibility in question in consistently low estimates of crowd size

My chief observation is that it’s remarkable that the MSM reported numbers who particvipated in the nation’s biggest-ever peaceful assembly  only in the region of 10,000 to 25,000, if you wish to follow national news agency’s Bernama and New Staris Times’ reports. One thing I can say of them, they had been CONSISTENT, as they always dropped a “zero” from the numbers, even when covering the first and second Bersih rallies, also the famous Hindraf rally whose participants had claimed playing that PIVOTAL role in the hugely successful  from the standpoint of “Change” in the 2008 General Elections. Now commonly referred to the 308 GE, it saw the Barisan Nasional losing its two-thirs control of the federal Parliament, and losing five state assemblkies to the Pakatan Rakyar coalition.

As I said earlier, despite the hundreds of pictures filed independently by online news portals and bloggers and participants who just wanted to feature them on Facebook and Twitter, the MSM reported the 428 gatherings as attended by some 25,000 at the most, just a mere 10percent contrasted with the figures noted by the online reporters, ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 while the Bersih organisers officially claimed 250,000.

The MSM like the NST chose to highlight the incidents, enhanced by photographs taken from angles to tell the stories their editors had instrcuted them to, where the protesters were seen to be attacking the police. The MSM ignorely or barely reported in their first day’s reports (April 29) any of the protesters, as well as reporters and cameramen, who were being assautlted bthe police.

These misleading low figures the NST and Bernama used confirmed the truth in several online reports that Home Minister Hishamuddin Tun Hussein had given the MSM editors a “pet talk” earlier related to reporting on 428, with instruction also to play down any police brutalities but highlight those committed by the protesters.

I say again Malaysians are lucky for the arrival of the Internet, and Dr Mahathir’s establishment of the MSC, which contains a Bill of Guarantee that there would be NO CENSORSHIP of the Internet.


Here I would like to extract an article featured yesterday in the Malaysian Insider totled “Tech-fuelled political awakening” in which the writer A Asohan wrote, quoting him verbatim:

KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — On Monday night, I was at a barbecue dinner attended by stolid, solid tech industry types of various generations. You had the old guard, the hardware guys, the software chaps, the new wave of so-called “overnight” dotcom successes, and the like.

Of the first 10 people who turned up, it appeared that at least five of us were at the Bersih 3.0 rally for free and fair elections over the weekend.

At Monday’s barbecue, I spoke to an “uncle” type who had been tear-gassed on Saturday. His wife was at his side shaking her head at his incorrigibility. The two of them were from that generation who were told in no uncertain terms that only with “political stability” would come development.

That was in the past.

“We couldn’t deny the things happening around us any longer. With today’s technology, you can’t hide the truth anymore,” he said.

Two things struck me at the time: First, that despite their increasing use of the Internet and social media in particular, the government still does not get it.

Second, that while we go on about the younger generation and how they are finding their voices, we ignore the sea change sweeping across the older generations, too.
(extract from MI ends)

Indeed, Desi agrees that the Internet is a great leveller, and news coverage from both sides of the divide of the Old versus New Media, has goiven readers the benefit of the BIGGER picture istaed of mere propaganda from one-side by Establishment agencies. It is only in the far-flung rural areas such as in the villages and kampong in Sabah and Sarawak where new media and Internet are not easily accessible that the people are continued to be misled by government propaganda, but thanks to the growing Inrernet penetration rate growing by the day, Malaysians are increadingly better informed, and they make efforts to seek out alternative to MSM news coverage, especially foreign ones from the likes of CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.

Censorship incurs protests from international news ssources

By now, many would have read that besides British Broadcasting World News, Al Jazeera have offically sought clarification from Astro about the censorhsip of their news reports on the April 28 Bersih gathering in Kuala Lumpur.  For those who rely only on the local television stations like RTM and TV3 would only know it’s totally one-sided propaganda telling what the minsiter of information and UMNO masters would like the public to hear.

Quoting from a report from malaysiakini relating to Astro-Al Jazeera issue: “In a statement emailed to Malaysiakini from Al Jazeera English's head office in Doha, Qatar, the network said Astro has to date not informed them about the possible cuts made to its news programmes.

toh ching hong tigongkia at bersih rally 3.0"Our news report was a factual account of eventsthat day, and intrusion in our editorial process is unwarranted. We have not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world," it said.

The network adds that it will also be demanding that Astro spell out how its correspondent HarryFawcett's report on the day had breached "local content regulations".

"(Astro) would need to outline exactly what these alleged breaches were and how they arrived at theirdecision," it said.

It is still unclear which parts of Fawcett's report on Bersih were tampered with, as claimed by whistleblower website Sarawak Report.

Stopped from filming police assault

Fawcett had reported on police violence on the day, describing police as "extremely heavy handed" and that they had "busted" al Jazeera's camera.

NONEHe later toldMalaysiakini that Al Jazeera cameraman Ray Jones was punched at the head while Fawcett was grabbed by police who were stopping them from filming other officers who were assaulting the protestors. (ends Mkini extract)

The minsiter overseeing this area of multimedia communications, one Rais Yatim in gist countered that the local TV channels have a right to edit the foreign sourced reports the way they deemed fit for local consumption. And we all know how this same UMNO strongman once left UMNO (along with Semangat 46 chief Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah) vowing he “has burnt his bridges with UMNO”. Years later, he bought himself a new lease of life, but had not kept up with changing times, especailly with new media – he was made himself a laughing stock stating with authority that Facebook and Twitter are tools of the western imperialists, and therefore, Malaysians should shun their use!

Some MSM reporters do practise their news etics, let’s give them credit

The fact that a dozen of the MSM reports and photographers were also victim of the police highhandedness and assaults with a few needing hspitalisation shows there are still some among the journalism world who cvarry out their duties professionally. My experience tells me it’s back at the newsroom where the top editors call the shots, and manipulate the reports to suit the nespapers-owners’ and HIS MASTER’S VOICE.

To its credit too, there are many online commentaries – including in ne3ws portals owned or controlled by UMNO-friendly parties – which did put the government agencies like the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) under critical scrutiny. I believe there is HOPE Yet for the fourth estate yet, because the fifth estaters are around to provide a check and balance.

*** NOTE:  YL Chong, aka Desiderata. has served in both mainstream and online media plus 13 years in diplomatic press, for some three decades. Now a freelance write, Chong also runs a blog named; he has served as Organising Chairman for Bl;oggers’ Universe Malaysia (BUM) for four years consecutively organising an annual gathering of socio-political bloggers. Desi is sad to inform the BUM series has to "take a break" this year as several Org Com members I approached to take over the Chair baton had declined to take over the rickety chair. Maaf ia, YL, Desi, knottyaSsusual

3 May 2012

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