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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"And Now For A Word From Our Sponsors..."

The People’s Parliament campaign against main-stream media (MSM) is something to seriously consider. Its most recent postings on the subject, by Helen Ang (here and here), focus on the manner in which the HINDRAF cause had been characterized by MSM and also the “smear” campaign against Haris Ibrahim for his having voiced concerns about the manner in which the HINDRAF cause was being espoused. Significantly, Haris’ post "Was a plan being hatched and, if so, what and how?" shows that there may have been basis for concern. Take the time to read these posts.

As I see it, the core issue in the MSM debate is whether Malaysians considers MSM to be so valueless, either for not carrying material and topical information or for presenting such information in a manner skewed to a particular end (spin-doctoring). The People’s Parliament appears to think so, inviting Malaysians to reject the MSM and to turn to alternative sources exclusively, as many of us already do.

An adjunct issue is whether in light of MSM being government linked, Malaysians should condone this alleged manipulation, seeing as how responsibility for the same, if any, must rest with the government. The People’s Parliament thinks that we should not and invites us to register our displeasure by a rejection of the policies underlying the corralling of the media by the governments.

It may have a point.

There are two interlocking facets that require consideration, to do so requiring our assuming that MSM is either valueless or skewed or both. Firstly, bearing in mind that media houses are privately, as opposed to state, owned, we ought consider to what extent, if at all, the ideology of their owners be permitted to manifest.

A discerning reader will readily see that even where there are no media controls (in the way we understand such controls), as is the case in the United States, some newspapers or journals are conservative, more often than not taking a pro-status quo line. Others lean the opposite direction whereas yet others stay somewhere in the middle.

In the absence of media controls, the “position” taken by a particular newspaper or journal could be viewed as being reflective of the policy of the particular media house. Media being influential, I think it would be safe to say that in presenting a position on a particular issue, a manifestation of the governing policy in content would reflect the “agenda”, political or otherwise, of the owners.

Absent such controls, there is nothing necessarily wrong with this subject to journalistic responsibility being fulfilled. Media is obliged to report matters truthfully and fairly, no matter the perspective adopted in the reporting. This responsibility arises not only by reason of laws requiring responsible, accurate and truthful reporting so as to prevent injury to reputation and misinformation but also, I suggest, by reason of the special relationship that media enjoys with the reading public.

Put another way, the truth cannot be jettisoned in favour of an agenda. The boycott MSM campaign suggests that the MSM has jettisoned truth in favour of an agenda and the argument advanced in support is persuasive.

Significantly, in their claim against Rocky and Jeff Ooi, the NST and key management figures of the newspaper have claimed that by suggesting that the newspapers was involved in spin-doctoring, the two bloggers had defamed them. Defamation proceedings being what they are, it is highly likely that the issue of whether the NST does in fact spin doctor will become a central issue in the ongoing proceedings.

Whatever the case, in considering the MSM campaign, we will have to decide whether MSM does report fairly and accurately, no matter the slant.

The second aspect relates to the question of media control. In conceding the right of owners of media houses to manifest their particular policy positions and drive their particular agendas, as I have above, I limit myself to scenarios where media is not regulated in the way public media in Malaysia is. The Malaysian regulatory process commences with the requirement of hard-won permits or licences, the granting of which is wholly subjective to the Minister concerned. As things stand, the number of non-government linked media houses, and consequently the available news sources, is limited. This is true also of television, whether terrestrial, cable or satellite. The regulatory process continues throughout the lifespan of the media enterprise concerned, with the threat of revocation or suspension constantly hanging over it. The regulatory process is so subjectively stringent, apparently skewed to a political end, it has come to be a commonly accepted truth that the media is not free in Malaysia.

The practical reality is that there being minimal space for alternate viewpoints or perspectives, there is only one agenda being promoted; that of the owners of MSM, in this case the government through its links to MSM. While in an unrestricted environment there would be nothing objectionable in this, the Malaysian scenario makes it so. Citizens are not given meaningful access to fair and balanced reporting nor a broader range of views. They are as a result denied the basis upon which they can make informed decisions on particular issues. Such alternatives as there are do not redress this due to their limited reach, either by design or circumstance. Permits for the publication of newspapers published by opposition political parties carry conditions heavily restricting circulation. The Sun is distributed only in the Klang Valley. Internet penetration, though increasing, has still not allowed for significant access to heartland areas and limits access to online media such as

In these circumstances, even if this was no intended by the government, MSM has come to more closely resemble propaganda. This process has been propelled by legitimate concerns on the part of the managements of newspapers that they will be shut down if they do not cooperate, to the extent that a desire to publish independently does exist. The thunderous silence that followed the shutting down of the printing presses at The Star in 1987 still resonates for many a senior newspaper person, enough for editors to be on guard for the unwanted consequences of the enthusiastic journalism of many a quality journalist in MSM.

Journalism paid the price in 1987. It continues to do so, just as the citizenry does. The continued denial of the legitimacy of critical analysis and opinion by the government has helped shaped the straight-jacketed, uninspired, un-innovative mindset that has driven investors in search of human resources elsewhere and Malaysia into an uncertain future. The government has quite correctly emphasized the need to improve the quality of our human capital. The media plays a vital role in this process, a fact the government will have to recognize if it is serious about becoming globally competitive in the not too distant future. How do we aim for the stars when we lack the imagination to reach for them in the first place?

There is a further dimension to the question of regulation. By virtue of it being linked to media houses, the government is in no position to oversee regulatory functions. There is a clear conflict of interest, both economic - the requirement for permits being utilized in aid of creating monopolies - and political. This is both morally and legally unacceptable.

When viewed from this perspective, the People’s Parliament has a point. The boycott MSM campaign is aimed at nothing more than a fair and free press. The government appears to have recognised the need for such a press in the rhetoric surrounding its tentative steps towards the establishment of a press council. While it is reasonable to argue that the need for developments can only be actuated progressively, it is nonetheless vital for the government to recognize that media regulation impedes the development of the government’s vision of Malaysia as much as it hampers the progress of the nation.

The government needs to cement its support for the ideal by seriously considering concerns expressed about the fundamentals of the proposed Press Council bill in particular the call for providing for full de-regulation and a disassociation of the government from the press.

In the meanwhile, the government must reconsider the position it has taken, and continues to take, in the granting of permits. There is a sufficiently comprehensive legal framework to take offenders to task in existence, one that render the barriers unnecessary.



Anonymous said...

MSM is a must for the communication among Government and civil parties!
Independency, Reliability and Truth are pillars for them to stand!
Regulations to control is a must
but cannot go out of this scope!
Who should chase after who depends
on the liabilities of parties involved.

Government has no fair Council or Committee to provide permit and regulations to MSM is their fault.
If MSM not reporting independent and reliable news are MSM's.
People and readers (can be two parties) have Rights to act on both.
To act on Advertisers, I believe is over done!!
Unless they have alternative way of advertising.
To provide more network terminals to increase Cyber-population is one.
But MSM cannot be out!
Their fault are remained to be taken and re-dressed only WHEN TIME COME!!

Many should be done on Legal Ground
Going movement after movement will become more Political than Legally it should.

The judiciary system is not working that is the basis of ALL.
A root to solve many shortfalls!

Shortfalls are a long list to go
Hindraf and others ISA, Accountability and transparency are Priorities to go.
Boycott cannot rectify judiciary
Boycott cannot save Hindraf's lawyers
(Hungry Strike from Jan 25 onward!!)
Boycotts cannot push Government to Transparency and accountability

BN can do a lot of lips services
if they cannot be binded on their account.
Screw them on their account!
so they have to be busy with answer to the account and no more fancy talk or plan out of the Blue!!
EPF is another important topics to investigate!!

If EC cannot even provide a complete Electoral Roll to check
Should this one be spared but Boycott MSM instead?

With Rivers of Resources and Cup of Teas to make
MSM Boycotts can be delicacy to take!!

Pratamad said...

Let me offer a perspective derived from the Chinese newspapers. I read Sin Chew occassionally, but my mother and sister do regularly. For them to support the boycott is completely illogical. This is because the paper does serve them well, of which I can appreciate why. To them, who are not highly educated and therefore could hardly appreciate the importance free press should play, the paper has been providing news and information they need. And I think they represent majority of Chinese paper readers. Furthermore, the paper does an especially good job in their regional editions, where local news, which many readers can directly relate to, is reported. And in this spectrum, less self-imposed control seems to be applied by the editorial, hence the reporting of serious crime situations. To the readers, the paper has been very truthful.

I think this added dimension would make the MSM discussion even more difficult to dissect.

Anonymous said...

the smear campaign against Haris ibrahim is truly unethical.. we have not had a free press for at least 20 years now..and it will continue to be so until the BN component parties relinquish their stakes in the respetive medias..

the current administration, system and the organization of the government needs a total revamp.
meaning, just by improvising the current practise merely is not enough. we need a new change. i believe we, the people, have the power to vote for a change. some may argue that it could be for the worse. i for one, believe that no government should be in the helm of a country for 50 years. this mushrooms, corruption,absolute power and control in all segments of the composition of a government. a change is a blessing when it is long overdue. lets exercise our rights for a better future.

Anonymous said...

The media and it being the window of the world. What world? Or rather should it be called a window to the half truths and cover ups. It is said that truthfulness is the foundation to all human virtues. Guess in the advent of technology when the blind will be able to see and the deaf hear, MSM will be the cause of the downfall of the very people they are trying to potray as saintly.

Anonymous said...

Have been away for a while so not really clued in to happenings.
What is the smear campaign against Harris Ibrahim that you are referring to?
I read his latest posting but am not quite sure what to make of it.
Elucidate pls.

Anonymous said...

The Media is a political beast, any media owners take up stake in a media company for profit as well as political influence. Like you said media slant and will be present anywhere, even int eh united states.
in the US they work with a two party system so if FOX is republican, then CBS could well be Democrat. With these two strong pillars defining the left adn right, everyone else can feel free to stray.
What malaysia needs is a strong two-party system to help define our mainstream thoughts.
Most advanced economies have a substantial middle class and this is a crucial bulwark against any radical thoughts. This is why we see many radical elements in the US and Europe (Remember that they are the fringe and clear minority but the media always love to pick up human drama, the more absurd the better) and yet their societies remain stable. In fact many radical elements come from middle-class families, they are rebelling against the system but after a while these radicals cut their hair put on a tie and become productive members of society.
Boycotting the Mainstream media for a day may or may not have the desired impact on the but it is an interesting exercise.
Before we do stop ourselves from buying a newspaper we must understand that there is no such thing as a free media, at the very least the Media is held on financial leash that is held by multinationals and large corporations tend to have a chummy working relationship with the Government of the day (how else do you explain how Arabica Gum continues to escape economic sanctions and continues to be imported into the US from 'troubled' Middle east countries. Arabica Gum is of course an essential component of chewing gum.
This change will take time (unless if we want a revlution in which case it may take less time but cost more in terms of life and human suffering) and will only resolve itself if we can provide a believable alternative to the BN.
Just remember that in most of modern democracies in Europe and the US, the opposing sides form the grey middle.
Whatever we do, the mainstream is always going to be the conservative middle.

WY said...

Dear Malik,

Reading your posting, albeit long for an engineer like myself, is always a joy. It brings much hope and comfort to a fellow Malaysian, that rational and objective-thinking fellow Malaysian actually exists! Thank you and God bless you.


Anonymous said...

Read somewhere Haris in the tearing picture mode ,not unlike the Pakistan and Palestine demonstrators. This is an act of desperation. Hopefully he won't immitate the effigy burning next? Let's find another credible person as this chap has no class for us to be associated with

Anonymous said...

Hi Malik,

Upset and disappointed with what have happened so far?
Upset for the vanish of law or morality but only politics even in the air?

I stand firm even I could be the only person to say
GE is a Joke if declaration of Original Bersih is not landed anywhere in the coming GE!!
I am alone and cold but my warm heart keep me stand and yell to keep reminding I am a man!

The Rallies had gone for nothing?
Or, any further rally be "Wolf is coming"!

Boycott is not loosing but keeping Dignity as this could be the only thing that People could maintain in this Bolehland!

Have a clear vision for Peace of Mind!