Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When Will Real Press and Journalism Be Restored?

PUTRAJAYA: Lembah Pantai Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah has applied for a publishing permit from the Home Ministry for a new weekly newspaper.

Nurul Izzah, who is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter, said the Malay-language publication would be titled Utusan Rakyat and she promised it would be bipartisan and fair in its reporting.

She said the editorial advisory board helmed by herself and Bersih 2.0 chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan would name National Union of Journalist president Hata Wahari as its founding editor when it receives its publishing permit.

Nurul Izzah also stressed that the weekly would not be a Pakatan Rakyat organ but would take into account the opinions of all parties.

“This can be done under the editorial advisory board’s leadership who can give an overall view of current issues,” she told reporters after applying for the permit under Hata’s name on Friday.

This was what the original plan - to have a newspaper that clearly demonstrates the real press in Malaysia, all until if the permit for the weekly newspaper is given the seal of approval by the publication department. So far, there have been several online news portals up, for example Free Malaysia Today, Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider, etc.. all of these what is interesting is that they have a fair spread of news from both sides of the political front. The problem is right now there is a notice of bias in the form of the major newspapers.

Cost wise, it costs less in terms of upkeep and printing as you need to spend a lot of money on ink and paper in printing news daily. We are talking about having a few million copies of papers for 360 days per year (this excludes public holidays where papers are not printed) . On the other hand, running an online news portal costs half of that, which you means you need a content-based website and a high capacity server to store all the stuff that you'd put on the website. And it is very efficient, easier to manage.

But the real problem in Malaysian journalism is the problem of self-censorship and constant interference from the Home Ministry. Basically, what the big boss wants is a feel-good news about the current government and whack the opposition  - which is what papers like Utusan would love to do at anything. The key point here is that the Home Ministry bullies major newspapers into submission by reprimanding them with warning letters, thus it also forces them to withhold certain key information that would alter the nature and the atmosphere of the story. What's worse is that it is very identical to school scenario - the shut up and listen scenario. Or if it's not the case, it is also meant to get or entice newspaper editors to support the government official line at all costs, even if it is bad. Sometimes, what is noted that it is meant to manufacture consent from the public.

You made me look bad — so now I’m going to shut you up. That’s what KDN is saying.

Sometimes, if you write something that is factually true, the Home Ministry will "declare" that what you say is a lie, even though you are convinced of its factual accuracy. In other words, a lie becomes a truth and vice-versa.  And consequently you are branded a person with subversive elements or a "commie" in short. 

Summary in terms:
  1. The Truth” lies is whatever the KDN says. It is “the only truth”
  2. If someone says something not in line with the KDN view, the media is held liable for reporting “false news”
  3. “The truth” about what the KDN does can only be found in what the KDN says it does
  4. If what others say about KDN does not follow the KDN version, the media are reporting “false news”
This has been happening over the last 25 years or so, in the aftermath of the Operasi Lalang 1987 so real press and journalism has been stamped to the gutter. And so, today, when Malaysiakini reported of the Hata Wahari-led Harian Malaysia coming in as the new kid on the block after Free Malaysia Today and other news portals, I must say that it is about time to have a more bi-partisan newspapers coming up as the mainstream press is still under the influence of politicians and red-tape that demands them to write local news in a pre-defined angle way.

Note: It reminded me of the statement by Utusan chairman saying about following UMNO's line at all costs. 

I still do look forward to seeing the first few issues of Utusan Rakyat to see whether if it lives up to the billing of the first new bi-partisan newspaper of the century. But until then, I would definitely agree that to have another online news portal that would be among the process of restoring real journalism in Malaysia.

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