Dying for Enforcement


OUR journalists and broadcasters, unfortunately, are a predictable lot.

Just a couple of weeks back, for example, when more than 50 kilometres of the Rajang, Malaysia’s longest river, was jammed with logs and debris, there was a brief flurry of news.

It was front-page news in Sarawak. Even the Peninsular papers covered this incident in the inside pages (of course), proclaiming it to be a disaster, but, insensitively, a non-event nonetheless.

‘Hey’, they must have told themselves, ‘this is happening so far away in Sarawak, not at our doorstep on the Peninsula, so why bother?’

And, really, after the initial accusations and finger-pointing and demands for an open enquiry — even by senior politicians, mind you — the lack of further coverage of the incident by the Malaysian media, while disappointing, implies that it’s back to business as usual.

But shouldn’t we be asking where is the continuous call for a full and transparent probe, a call often mounted by journalists? They, after all, are the ones in a position to look deeper, ask questions, and, invariably, write about incidents such as this, thus informing the people and, hopefully, conscientising them?

Also, wasn’t it a minister who came out, guns blazing, demanding a thorough investigation? Shouldn’t that then give the journalists the perfect excuse to conduct follow-up coverage?

Wouldn’t that be the most natural way of practising the type of journalism Malaysia is most famous for — cue journalism?

Yes, that peculiar form of journalism — coined by a friend and former colleague of mine, Dr Mustafa K Anuar, not so long ago — where our journalists only write on often ‘sensitive’ topics based on the cues provided by their political masters.

Alas, public outrage and journalistic responsibility, it would seem, does have a limited shelf life.

Indeed, as we recoil at yesterday’s tragic report about the seven young men who lost their lives in the Karak Highway bus accident, let us think back to quite a number of very similar tragedies that have taken place involving express buses on our highways not that long ago.

Next, listen to the comments made by our politicians in the immediate aftermath of this latest tragedy.

The Youth and Sports Minister, for one, ‘told reporters that the ministry wanted a thorough investigation to be carried out by the police.’

Hot on his heels, the Health Minister was reported to have said that ‘stern measures have to be taken to reduce accidents especially in ensuring that drivers adhere to the speed limit.’

Predictable, indeed vacuous, comments that, I’m sure, would mean little to the families of the seven departed, the oldest  of whom being a mere 28 years old, while the youngest was just 13.

It transpires now that the bus driver did not have a valid driving  licence. Déjà vu indeed. I certainly recall a couple of similar accidents over the years where the drivers were similarly handicapped and blatantly breaking the law.

The question this begs is: why are clearly avoidable tragedies like this still happening?

And, perhaps more importantly, why are our journalists, as in the case of the Rajang logjam, not going — or are not allowed by their editors  to go — beyond merely reporting such incidents, and for a short period at that?

Often I get the feeling that this is simply because the ones who perish are virtually faceless names, depicted as just statistics, unfortunate enough to be caught in such accidents, but, evidently, not important enough to deserve some retribution, some justice.

Retribution in the form of the authorities actually walking the talk at least.

Indeed, how difficult really would it be for bus or coach companies to determine that their bus drivers have valid licences? And how complicated   would it be for enforcement agencies, like the JPJ,           to keep tabs on these records?

And for other agencies, like the highway police, to monitor the movement of these vehicles? Indeed, Friday’s tragedy occurred  at 7.50 in the evening — not exactly an ungodly hour for the highway authorities to be out monitoring traffic.

Of course, pointing fingers — often rightly enough at our complacent law enforcers and politicians — is fine. But really, the aim should be to make sure     that tragedies of this nature — and, of course, of the nature of the Rajang     logjam — do not repeat themselves.

This, really, is where our journalists need to come in; to understand and to explain to the wider population that often these are not discrete, random events.

That, instead, many of these events are linked by common threads — of abuse of power, of corruption, of the culture of cutting corners in order to maximize profits in a system that encourages, even demands, the practice. Threads that invariably lead to the reasons behind the lack of enforcement and the failure to come up with preventive measures.

Indeed, in a country that persistently — and irritatingly — talks about having achieved (or nearly achieved) ‘developed’ status, surely our journalists and,   of course, legislators,     ought to be making these vehicles install speed limiting devices, at the very least?

I am told by my learned colleague, Dr. Sean Matthews, that the technology is there. But I guess getting it installed would be a tall order, given that even driving licences — or the lack of — evidently can’t be monitored here in 1Malaysia.

All of which leaves me mulling over a poser set by Dr Matthews in relation to this recent bus tragedy: ‘aside from enforcement and statutory controls, where is personal and corporate morality and responsibility in this all?’

This is perhaps a poser which Malaysian journalists, law enforcers and Malaysians as a whole should also mull over as the 13th Malaysian General Election approaches.

The writer can be contacted via [email protected].