The peaceful demonstration against unfair elections in Kuala Lumpur organised by Bersih on Saturday, 10 Nov 2007 once again exposed the utter complicity and compliance of Malaysia’s mainstream media acting in line with the government's desire to demonise the 50,000 citizens who participated in the event.
On Sunday and in the days that followed, media reports were crafted in such a fashion as to put these protesters a most negative light. For instance, the protesters, who came from all walks of life, all ethnic backgrounds and various political hues, were blamed for the traffic snarls that ensued. The media, of course, appeared reluctant to reveal that the traffic nightmare was essentially the result of the massive police operations and checkpoints across the city.
The media also highlighted the ‘losses’ suffered by certain businesses in the city as a result of the peaceful street demonstration. While the protest might have caused a certain degree of ‘hardship’ to the business community as a whole, the indiscriminate use of tear gas and water cannons probably contributed to much of the ‘hardship’ as shops were forced to draw down their shutters. (But what about the extra collection netted by the light rail transit operators who enjoyed roaring business due to the gridlock on the streets? Moreover, 50,000 people would have needed snacks and drinks and meals and transport. That couldn't have been bad for business!)
Of course, in all this brouhaha the organising committee of Bersih, the Opposition and participants of the demonstration were not sought by the mainstream media for their views on why the protest was staged. They were not allowed space to respond adequately to the accusations hurled against them by the government officials in the wake of the rally.
The ‘hardship’ or inconvenience experienced by certain segments of the public was also highlighted. For instance, in the Letters’ column of The Star, a reader wrote in to complain that he or she missed the favourite ‘ Chicago the Musical’ because those demonstrators clogged the otherwise safe route to the targeted venue.
Then, the media reported PM Abdullah’s warning to the Opposition not ‘to drag the monarchy into politics’, possibly with the intention of casting aspersions on the Opposition as a group of people who had no qualms about tarnishing the good public image of the institution of the monarchy. But the media of course did not seek the response of those critical of Abdullah who asked whether his statement was in effect belittling the intelligence of the Agong.
As if this wasn’t enough to tar the image of the Bersih folks, the media reported that the police and the Education Ministry were concerned that children ‘were used’ by certain quarters including their parents and the Opposition during the rally. They reported that these children, if found involved in this rally, would be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation is, of course, meant for people who have lost their true path, their moral compass, their marbles even.
So you see, it’s important to demonise these ‘troublemaking’, ‘peace-breaking’, and ‘security-risk’ citizens who dared to brave the rain and defy the warnings of the Prime Minister, his son-in-law and the police. It doesn’t matter, really, if peaceful demonstrations are part and parcel of the democratic process. It is simply not ‘the Malaysian way’ – so says the government-controlled mainstream media. Sad, isn’t it?