Sunday, November 28

‘No’ to blogging dogs and other liars

1

A country’s media is really in a mess when lies become truths, fiction becomes fact and the people in authority reiterate and reinforce these lies, making many suspect that the lies originate from them.

And this certainly appears to be the case right now.

First, there’s been the clearly lopsided coverage of the Trial, followed, second, by the insane media coverage of the preposterous sex tape, the three stooges and the wretched scenarios since.

And, right now, with the latest ‘my-religion-and-race-are-under-threat’ agenda, linked to the ‘let’s-kill-off-the-DAP/opposition-even-at-the-cost-of-other-innocent-non-political-groups’ strategy, much of the country’s media teeters on the brink of farce.

I mean, come on, what kind of a media organisation allows baseless allegations by a blogger of no credibility whatsoever and another who hides behind a pseudonym, to be treated as fact?

And this without prior investigation, without any substantiation?

The sad answer to that would be a Malay(sian) media organisation.

This Malay language national daily had a line just above its front-page headline that read ‘Dua laman blog dedah ikrar paderi seluruh negara’ (‘Two blogs expose oath by nation’s pastors/clerics’), as if these blogs were credible ones (which they are not) and that the bloggers concerned had provided irrefutable evidence (which they had not) for their allegations.

Sure, the line by itself, while contentious, was not misleading or inflammatory. But juxtaposed with the page headline, ‘Kristian agama rasmi?’, and a photograph of anti-opposition demonstrators, it is quite clear what the paper was driving at.

And based on this — the allegation by the blogs, reiterated by the paper — suddenly, the onus was on the innocent people who were being accused (the pastors, the opposition politician) to defend themselves.

Indeed, no less than two senior ministers — who really should have known better, but didn’t — instead of, rightly, demanding that the bloggers and newspaper produce evidence, virtually turned the whole non-issue around.

Their responses were clearly the knee-jerk kind unbecoming of their status of senior ministers. Indeed, they had made up their minds that there was some conspiracy simply based on the allegations of the bloggers which, in turn, had been front-paged and sensationalised by the Malay daily.

Subsequently, without an iota of evidence being offered, the innocent pastors, clearly on the defensive though they didn’t have to be, had to come up with an official explanation.

What kind of stupidity is this? And why are we condoning this?

Indeed, at this rate, it would seem that anyone can make a baseless allegation or hurl a wild accusation at a person or organisation and, according to Malaysian (in)justice, the accused then has to prove her/his innocence.

Worse, every prayer meeting — organised by any religion — could now come under scrutiny. Indeed, remember those imbeciles trespassing into a church a couple of years back, taking communion and violating the beliefs of the congregation, and then having the gall to write about it? Remember also how they virtually got off scot-free?

This is utter nonsense. It’s a sad reflection of the society we’ve let ourselves become. And we really must say so. We owe it to our kids at least to do that.

Earlier this week, the English language media highlighted YouTube images of a Malaysian secondary schoolgirl who had been physically and verbally bullied.

Now ask yourself, how different from the actions of these schoolyard bullies are the current acts and assertions of groups like Perkasa and the media that backs them?

And while the authorities are quick to ‘resolve’ the schoolgirl issue, why are these idiotic bullies still allowed free rein?

Indeed, the most recent disingenuous allegation by Ibrahim Ali that ‘the communists’ are the ones behind all these alleged ‘conspiracies’ by minority Malaysians reflects the stupidity and desperation of the groups he represents.

Again, no evidence is offered to back this allegation. What is instead evident is that he and his not-so-merry men (and women) are now attempting to further scare the Malay masses with the Cold War rhetoric of ‘reds under the bed’.

It was in this regard that a friend and former student who now works for a media monitoring and press freedom advocacy group phoned me earlier this week.

She was wondering aloud how we ever got into this mess and, indeed, how we can try to get ourselves — and our media — out.

My response was that it is hopeless waiting for our political leaders to resolve this when, often enough, they are the ones doing the manipulating.

Instead, I said, first, journalists and broadcasters themselves need to speak up. They need to express their anger and disgust at the way their vocation has been hijacked, ravaged and cheapened by politicians, the extreme, fascist groups that they champion, and big business.

Second, the media organisations themselves must have the courage to speak out against competitors who continuously tarnish the vocation. By that, I mean newspapers coming up with editorials that condemn this type of trashy reporting and clearly distancing themselves from the perpetrators. To its credit, theSun did so through one of its columnists earlier in the week.

Third, readers and viewers themselves must actively speak out against the garbage that’s being spewed by these outfits.

Simply ignoring or boycotting them is not going to change things much, since these outfits normally are part of bigger politically-connected businesses with very deep pockets. Their circulation may drop, especially if there’s a big enough consumer boycott, but as long as they are bailed out by political and economic interests — as they tend to be in this blessed land of ours — boycotts would be the least of their worries.

And they would be even less worried, indeed, if the boycotts are conducted by the urban middle class, when they have a large enough consumer base in the Malay hinterland.

Indeed, I’m a fervent believer in civil society. And a vocal civil society that responds through the numerous channels still available is immeasurably more valuable than a quiet, accepting one (no matter how reluctantly).

As theSun columnist put it, “now is the time to stand up and say ‘no’ to those who choose to divide and conquer instead of winning the hearts and minds of all Malaysians”.

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