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Forum disruption, media evasion

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The controversy generated by the disruption of Sunday’s forum in Penang on the supremacy of the Federal Constitution continued to be reported today.

The New Straits Times today front-paged a story headlined ‘A stupid act’, which carried an angry response from Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz. He was incensed, and rightly so, by the action of an unruly mob who disrupted a peaceful and legitimate meeting of concerned but distressed Malaysians.

While it is commendable of the NST to highlight this issue today, the daily however appears to have done so only after a government minister responded to the disruption. Most likely, this pro-establishment paper would not have given prominence to this vital issue if a government politician had not commented on it. Put simply, it was another case of ‘cue journalism’ – that is, taking the cue from officialdom – at work.

In a sense, the minister’s reported comments also suggest that the attempt by certain media organisations to evade this burning issue is anything but intelligent, especially for those dailies that frequently pretend to reflect the pulse of the common people. 

theSun, having correctly judged this issue to be an important one, not only carried the story of Nazri’s anger today, but also ran an editorial that stressed the citizens’ right to freedom of expression and the role of the police in ensuring that this right is adequately protected. In fact, theSun was the only English language newspaper on Monday to report the disruption of the forum.

The Malay language newspapers, namely Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian, also covered the disruption, but with a certain slant that somehow suggested, rather incorrectly, that the forum was about promoting the controversial Inter-faith Commission. In contrast, the major Chinese newspapers provided excellent coverage of the events.

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At the press conference that was convened soon after the abrupt end of the forum, representatives of most of the major media organisations, including RTM, Bernama and Astro, were present to raise questions with the speakers and organisers of the forum.

It must be clarified that the forum was actually organised by Aliran in collaboration with the Article 11 coalition. Almost all the media reports gave the impression that the forum was solely organised by Article 11.

There was also some confusion in the media about the speakers at this forum. Prof Johan Saravanamuttu was the chair of the forum. The three panellists who spoke were AWAM Executive Director Honey Tan, constitutional law professor Shad Saleem Faruqi and HAKAM Deputy President Malik Imtiaz – but each was only able to speak for about five minutes instead of the planned 15-20 minutes.

Two other speakers, Aliran President P Ramakrishnan and Kota Bahru Member of Parliament Datuk Zaid Ibrahim of UMNO, were denied their right to speak. Also cancelled was a scheduled Q and A session.

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