Thursday, November 30

And here’s the news…

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An imam, having lost his appeal against being evicted, hurls his shoes at the three judges who heard his appeal. For this, he is then charged for contempt of court and sentenced to a year’s jail.

That he should have been charged for contempt is not an issue for most people. But what many now find shocking, indeed, unnecessary, is the one-year jail sentence imposed on him. A sentence that seems terribly excessive, given the nature of his ‘crime’. But, hey, he’s only an imam, with a wife and seven young children … and is an opposition member to boot.

Elsewhere, prominent in the Internet press but tucked away safely even more these days by the mainstream peninsular media, are fresh revelations about the NFC. And, yet again, they come backed by authentic-looking documents.

The latest one, about the agreement to help the Kazakhs to raise cattle and the purchase of an apartment there, really would be a hoot, were it not for the fact that this was all evidently being done using the people’s – our – money.

The plot of this twisted, horribly-scripted, ineptly acted, RM250 million drama is certainly getting thicker. How the protagonists, especially the family members – I mean actors – crawl out of all that manure, without possibly dragging some of their influential friends in as well, is the stuff even the best soap opera writers wouldn’t be able to think of, let alone write about.

And before this tale has even had a commercial break, a fresh new drama seems to be unfolding. This too involves a senior public official. However, the money involved is actually a pittance – less than RM1 million, as compared to the above ‘Cowgate’ – so perhaps this tale off a dream engagement party will probably simply fizzle out and not pick up any major acting awards.

But it’s not all bad news, of course.

One English daily, despite being under pressure recently for a photographic boo-boo – “or maybe because of it”, says a cynical friend – has been feeding us front-page news of new investments, new projects, thousands of jobs created, and billions of (anticipated) returns.

I’m all for believing that we’re in the midst of a ‘golden age’ of transformation, especially when the minister at the center of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) says that “the country’s total KPI (Key Performance Index) achievement had hit 129 per cent.”

Alas, when the actual facts and figures are not revealed at the same time, then such belief needs to be suspended. After all, many such statements of success were released sometime ago regarding a number of our corporations, yet they are suffering now.

And I’d really like to know how, for example, when it’s asserted that “crime has been reduced”, the term ‘crime’ itself is defined and categorised, how the statistics are gathered, who gathers them, and how accurate the data gathering is.

Indeed, I’ve seen some of these statistics myself and, really, they can be rather crude, with questionable methods employed for their collection. Which leads me to the long comment on the online newspaper, Malaysiakini, a couple of days ago, titled ‘The press gangs of Malaysia’.

Written by a former officer in the Royal Malaysian Navy, it is, yet again, a critique of (political) reporting in Malaysia. More specifically, it could be read as a critique of political journalists in particular and mainstream Malaysian journalism as a whole.

Many of us, academics as well as activists, have been equally critical. But really, as long as the condition, the environment, for more honest reporting, more courageous reporting, is not there, it would be grossly unfair to criticise journalists alone.

Granted, there are consciously partisan writers and reporters and they seem to be increasing by the day. And all they seem to do is spin.

But, really there are those others who are simply jaded by years of self-censorship, believing that the parameters remain firmly set.  Especially, since early in their careers, they have had their media owners and the newsroom controllers constantly remind them so and spike their stories when they did resist.

And then, there are others, fresh in the business (yes, it is a business) who do want to avoid controversy and get a foothold in the industry.

So, it’s never a simple case of the whole profession conspiring to tell half-truths and vicious lies. It’s more than that. And it’ll certainly take more than just a wholesale critique of Malaysian mainstream journalists to change all that.

Indeed, as one respected ex-journalist put it to me, we need to ‘lay firm foundations for honest journalism’.

And this would require changes in terms of ownership, legal and extra-legal controls and, indeed, alternative approaches to journalism education. All of which, of course, requiring changes, reforms at the wider societal level.

Failing which, we – and the media – will invariably remain where we are and have little time to think about how, on the whole, the imam and his shoes are related to ‘Cowgate’ and a dream engagement party.