Wednesday, November 29

Politics and the toothless tigers


WHEN the school-going son of a senior politician was defamed by a vile and vicious blogger accusing the boy of molesting a female classmate who really did not exist, this particular English daily kept very quiet.

Like other peninsula mainstream media, it chose not to expose, let alone criticise, the blogger and his gang of cybertroopers for attacking the innocent boy with the lies they were churning out.

Months later, this same rag clearly distorted the words of the same politician. It asserted that he had been disrespectful to a senior activist by dismissing him as an “old man”.

The paper also alleged that the politician had said that the activist was “losing his memory” when, clearly, he had said nothing of the sort.

Indeed, it was later clarified – not by the rag, mind you – that what the politician had said was that the activist is “an old man and a respected figure”.

Clearly, in this instance, the term “old man” was used to express respect. Quite the opposite of what the paper had implied.

Granted, the media, like politicians, other groups and institutions in Malaysia, are gearing up for the 13th General Election.

Hence, it is not surprising that now, more than many instances before, we are faced with one barrage after another of disinformation, distortion, and plain silliness that many news organisations try to pass off as ‘facts’.

And it is surely at a time like this that Malaysia’s much-maligned, though perhaps well-meaning, National Union of Journalists (NUJ), starts doing just a wee bit more than it normally does.

To be fair, it has been making the right noises about the need for ethical reporting during the election campaign.

What it evidently does not understand – or perhaps does not wish to understand – is that the campaign is already well underway in the media.

The depiction of the protagonists by the media started eons ago. The Malaysian media has never really waited for the official declaration of the campaign period before providing ‘preferred messages’. Or, if you are a media analyst, ‘preferred readings’.

I’m sure the NUJ and its members (who actually are in the mainstream peninsula media) are well aware of this.

So, really, if the NUJ is going to be useful leading up to the elections, as it says it wants to be, perhaps it should make consistent and continuing press statements regarding all the ‘dirty tricks’ employed by the mainstream media. And possibly criticise them.

Such tricks, after all, are quite unethical, no?

Indeed, apart from designing grand guidelines for election reporting, perhaps it would be a good thing for the NUJ to also chastise its members – and also the media organisations they work for –  for any distortions and/or production of disinformation.

Isn’t that what self-regulation boils down to?

And while they – and we – are at it, perhaps they could look at the statements made by politicians and condemn them for their inanity if nothing else.

Like the recent statement made by the Tourism Minister, which I’m sure many of you would have missed if you depend on the mainstream peninsula media for your news.

The minister, in trying to explain the failure of the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme, reportedly put the blame on street demonstrations.

One news report stated that she “had said that street demonstrations are the root cause for the failure of promotional efforts undertaken by the ministry to promote the programme”.

Street demonstrations? And how many street demonstrations, pray tell, have been held in KL, let alone in other cities and towns in Malaysia, over the past year?

Clearly such an excuse makes no sense and does not even begin to address the reasons for this failure.

And, really, it is excuses like this that need to be addressed and roundly criticised by the media.

More so when they are made up by representatives who need to be more responsible.

And if the media doesn’t do that, then the NUJ, if it is really serious about better (election) reporting, perhaps ought to get into the picture.

Or risk being called a toothless tiger.