Friday, December 21, 2007

Malaysian mainstream press derails legitimate grievances of minorities

Here's is a perceptive report on how Malaysian mainstream press is distorting truth by indulging in suppressio veri and suggestio falsi. The press will do well to remember Lalang I and stand up as the fourth estate guarding protection of human rights in Malaysia. Sure, express contrary opinions, but do not distort reporting on legitimate grievances of Malaysian citizens. If the fence eats away the field, who will guard the crop?


Hindraf rally: Mainstream press spins to dizzying heights
Saturday, 01 December 2007

Very much informed and persuaded by the government’s illiberal stand on citizens’ right to public assembly such as the recent Hindraf and Bersih rallies, the major newspapers, in particular The Star, the New Straits Times and theSun, predictably went to town yesterday with the speech given by the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah, at the opening of the 160th Perak Malay Customs and Islamic Religious Council conference. Raja Nazrin reportedly called on Malaysians, among other things, to “respect the law and enforcement agencies and be civilised and courteous in their approaches and actions” as well as to reject the “foreign culture of violence”.

Predictably, the NST graced its front-page with a banner headline, “Show respect for the law”; theSun came up with a front-page headline, “Respect law, order: Nazrin”; and The Star placed a relatively smaller headline, “Nazrin: Obey the law” next to its masthead to remind readers that this important story could be found in the inside pages.

Contrast this story to Raja Nazrin’s speech on 28 November, which was carried by the mainstream dailies the following day. This speech, which was delivered at the National Economic Outlook Conference 2008/2009 in Kuala Lumpur, focussed on the important issue of development and nationhood in Malaysia, and it was instead relegated to their inside pages.

Now back to yesterday’s report of Raja Nazrin’s speech. One would think that his speech would have generated interest, concern and discussions. After all, civilised societies cater to discourses of national import. So it will be interesting to see whether these papers will carry the responses of concerned Malaysians. For one thing, there are certain quarters in our society who rightly believe that the Federal Constitution does provide for the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly. Also, they would argue that while laws must be respected, unjust and undemocratic laws should also be questioned conscientiously. As regards the ‘culture of violence’, yes, ordinary citizens should avoid that; but the enforcement agencies should also refrain from resorting to undue force especially when dealing with a crowd that is peaceful in nature.

Hot line, cold story

Apart from Raja Nazrin’s speech, The Star yesterday front-paged a story, headlined “Open lines”, about MIC’s plan to set up a hotline “to handle all problems faced by the Indian community”. The daily also duly reported MIC president Samy Vellu’s response to the question whether this move was a direct response to the Hindraf protest: “MIC always submitted a report to the Prime Minister every six months.”

The paper could have asked a subsequent question such as: is Samy trying to push the buck to the Prime Minister by implying that no action has been taken regarding problems of the Indian community even though periodic reports had been submitted to Abdullah? Surely the Hindraf group in particular and the Indian community as a whole would not have wasted their precious time on staging a public rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur if their legitimate grievances had indeed been taken care of?
Whatever the case may be, this report is an indirect admission that the Hindraf rally had some effect on the government and that something is indeed amiss in the Indian community.

What choice?

Then there was the report in The Star, headlined “IGP: We gave them choices”, which told the reader of IGP Musa Hassan’s rather belated revelation that: “Organisers of the recent illegal gatherings were offered stadiums and other alternative venues to hold peaceful demonstrations but they rejected them.” Were the Hindraf organisers given these options? We wouldn’t know, would we - because the paper didn’t bother to ask the organisers for verification and clarification.

Below this report is one titled “Gerakan: Differing opinions allowed” about Gerakan president Dr Koh Tsu Koon’s response to Penang (Gerakan) state executive councillor Dr Toh Kin Woon’s principled stand on the Hindraf issue and his disagreement with the BN leadership’s position on the rally. Koh dismissed Toh’s comment as “merely expressing his personal views”. Wouldn’t the People’s Paper be interested to know from Toh himself what he felt about Koh’s swift assertion? After all, the former actually wrote a strongly worded letter about this issue which was published in Malaysiakini?

The blame game

In another page of the same newspaper, another report headlined, “Hisham: Don’t blame the Indians”, recorded what Umno Youth leader Hishamuddin Hussein had said about the Hindraf incident. He reportedly urged the people “not to blame the Indian community for the illegal gathering organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) last Sunday”. The report however was not specific about who had actually put the “blame” on "the Indian community", which then begs the question whether Hishamuddin was indirectly or otherwise trying to pit the Hindraf organisers against the “Indian community”. Would the Hindraf folk be given their right of reply by the said daily?

The Queen... and breaking ranks

As if all this isn’t enough, in the same report, readers were informed by none other than (mis)Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin that “several groups of students” he met in Cairo were angry “over the Hindraf leaders’ move to ask Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II to intervene in Malaysia’s internal affars”. This is one way to create an impression that "the majority" are very much against the Hindraf rally.
In the last page of the Hindraf-related issue, the daily carried a report, headlined “Hindraf applies to have rally ban order set aside”. Essentially, this report reported the Hindraf leaders as asking the High Court to rescind the 22 November order, which barred them from holding the 25 November rally.

On the same day, the NST carried in the inside pages headlines such as “Hishammuddin: No need to get emotional over Hindraf”; “PM open to MIC proposals”; “Toh didn’t break ranks with BN, says Koh”; and “Hindraf rally: Six more charged”.

And is if not to be outdone by its competitors, the NST also carried a column (“Off to London to see the queen”) by its writer Rehman Rashid in his rambling about the Hindraf move to send a petition to Queen Elizabeth II. In a sense, the writer was trying to trivialise the Hindraf’s objective, but given the long and winding way it’s written one is made to wonder whether he himself would be granted Her Majesty's audience at all.

Derailing grievances

Last, but not least, another commentary titled “When personal agendas can derail everything” by seasoned NST columnist Hardev Kaur put the blame on “some Malaysians”, presumably the Hindraf people, for having destroyed the “image, reputation and credibility of the nation” by resorting to “unlawful means to promote their own individual agendas when there are official, peaceful and civilised channels available”.

Strangely, she didn’t find it disgraceful and unjust that the legitimate grievances of the country’s minorities have not been properly addressed. And she didn’t think that this gross negligence would mar the international image of our country. Did she really think that the country’s leadership had been accountable to ordinary citizens, particularly the marginalised and the poor? Is it so unpatriotic to speak truth to power?

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