It’s a sign of the times when political leaders, government functionaries and, lo and behold, certain journalists consciously blur the line between the ethical and the unethical, the legal and the illegal, in a desperate attempt to win the hearts and minds of voters in the run-up to the Ijok by-election.
In his so-called analysis of news pertaining to the electoral campaign in Ijok, New Sunday Times’ Wan Hamidi Hamid posed this question, nay challenge, l 22, 2007) in the first paragraph of his piece on 22 April 2007, titled ‘Projects are BN’s ace on the table’, as if ridiculing the ‘power-less’ Opposition: “How do you fight a power that can deliver development projects in an instant?” And in the third paragraph he continued, “For the Ijok by-election, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, in a straight fight against the BN’s MIC, will have a hard time persuading voters to ignore the roads, mosques and community service buildings being built in the course of the campaign.”
This piece generally gives the impression that development goodies handed out by government leaders in the run-up to a by-election is not problematic and not illegal. Wan Hamidi obviously wants readers to accept this practice as a matter of fact and justified this stance by quoting Election Commission chairperson Abdul Rashid Rahman, who declared, rather curiously, that “development promises could not be construed as vote-buying”. Such an ‘assurance’ is quite disturbing in the light of what Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang alleged recently (Malaysiakini, 23 April): “the amount of money the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is pouring into this Saturday’s Ijok by-election could ‘easily touch RM100 million’.”
As if to strengthen his argument, Wan Hamidi also alleged that the offer of goodies was not confined to the BN. He alleged that “the Kelantan Pas government made similar pledges during the Pengkalan Pasir by-election in December 2005, such as promising to build a bridge and a market”. In an apparent attempt to ensure that this point sinks in deeply in the psyche of readers and voters in Ijok, he also quoted Samy Vellu who is said to have remarked, “I learnt (about pouring in development projects) from Anwar when he was deputy prime minister. He’s a good teacher and I learnt well from him.” Even if the two cases (of Pas and Anwar Ibrahim) that he mentioned in his piece were true, surely two wrongs don’t make a right. Or, is he suggesting that this is a case of, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?
It is in murky times such as these that conscientious journalists are expected to help society recover its moral anchor. Otherwise, one would still come across news stories such as the following being reported in a nonchalant and undisturbed manner: the Menteri Besar of Selangor handing out land titles for more than 400 lots in four villages in Ijok (NST, 22 April, p. 8); some 1,000 residents of Taman Suria in Kuala Selangor receiving certificates of fitness for the 180 houses in the estate after waiting for 15 years (The Star, 23 April, p. N10); and, Mathematics and Science textbooks being given to rural primary and secondary schools in Ijok (The Star, 23 April 23, p. N10).O
Or are we expecting too much of many of our mainstream newspapers to play a socially responsible role at a time when the ethical comes in ‘close proximity’ with the unethical, when corruption has become a way of life, when integrity is in danger of becoming obsolete?