The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) refers to an article published in The Star on 16 June 2021 titled, “Residents voice out their thoughts on Rohingya living among them“.
We are highly concerned that the article in question articulates xenophobic and racist rhetoric against Rohingya refugees and perpetuates harmful stereotypes that could lead to hatred, discrimination and violence against a marginalised and vulnerable community.
The article, quoting the residents, paints the Rohingya refugees living in the Terubok flats in stereotypical terms, depicting them as drug pushers and addicts, as well as uncivilised and violent.
In depicting the Rohingya residents in this negative light, the article only quoted Malaysian residents and gave no opportunity for any Rohingya residents to comment.
Given the rise in hate speech towards minorities and refugees in Malaysia, this article failed to provide fair representation and would, in fact, contribute towards more fear-mongering and hate speech directed towards Rohingyas.
It is also troubling to note there was no reflection of the position nor comment from the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, included in the report although Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin stated the ministry could not track these refugees because the UNHCR allegedly did not provide the ministry with relevant details.
The aim of the media is not to serve the government of the day, nor its political masters – it is to serve the public interest. And it is not in the public interest for a media organisation to contribute to discourse that could lead to hatred and violence against a marginalised community. It is also not in the public interest for the media to be used as a political tool to whip up sentiment against a vulnerable group to distract the public from the government’s shortcomings.
What is in the public interest for the media, on the other hand, is to interrogate the reasons for refugees and asylum seekers being in Malaysia, their practical difficulties and the legal and structural impediments they face as they flee their homes. They should help Malaysians unpack the complex issues involved so that long-term structural solutions can be suggested and taken.
As stereotypes, prejudices, bias and hate speech proliferate across Malaysia, balanced and responsible reporting is crucial in ensuring that the media are analytical, generate and disseminate healthy discourse and debate, and lend their voice and power to fight discrimination and inequality.
Media and journalists have a fundamental role in advocating for human rights and informing both policy and societal opinion regarding migrant workers and refugees. It follows they should refrain from and prevent the perpetuation of information that could lead to further discrimination and injustices against marginalised and vulnerable communities.
Thus, it is disturbing to see an article such as this being published at a sensitive and trying time and which is likely to heighten prevailing tensions and hate towards migrant and refugee communities.
We call on The Star, as a key media outlet of repute and broad outreach, to act with strong leadership and ethics, and to:
- Withdraw the article or offer a counter-narrative
- Capitalise on the print and online platforms to speak out in support of the elimination of all forms of racial and xenophobic discrimination, alienation and marginalisation of migrant workers and refugees
- Promote and support your team of journalists to challenge false or discriminatory narratives and be unequivocal in condemning biased, prejudicial and hate speech against minority and vulnerable groups
We urge all news outlets to speak out in support of migrants and refugees’ right to be treated as human beings. We encourage The Star and other media outlet, instead of publishing such stories, to invest in further training and resources to promote dialogue and to be part of the solution, rather than adding fuel to the fire.
There is a high expectation that The Star must be reliable, avoid partisan narratives, be fact-based, responsible, balanced and ethical in their reporting. We have issued a letter to The Star and we look forward to constructive engagement with the publication in addressing this concern promptly. – CIJ
Wathshlah G Naidu is executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism