It is good for all Malaysians that the Article 11-Bar Council forum held in Johor Baru on 22 July did not end up with any “ugly” scenes despite a strong protest mounted against it – so unlike what happened on 14 May in Penang, where protestors managed to disrupt a perfectly legal forum.
The police in JB appeared well prepared to do their job this time, and, by all media accounts, they acted professionally, even admirably, in protecting the forum organisers’ legal right to carry out the forum amidst the very tense situation stirred by the protestors who had assembled outside. Kudos to the police, for what they did amounted to an illustration of democracy in action.
On the other hand, media coverage was somewhat confusing and a letdown.
The JB forum started at 9 am (as scheduled) and ended at around 11:15 am, instead of 1 pm as scheduled. Malaysiakini and The Star did not think it unusual because the organisers were apparently not being pressured to cut short the forum. Even though the police told them about the tense atmosphere outside the forum venue, the organisers said that all the speakers made their presentations and fielded questions during the Q&A before the forum ended slightly less than two hours ahead of schedule.
The New Straits Times, however, offered something else. Under the headline “Article 11 forum disrupted again,” the first paragraph of its report states:
Support the struggle to build a Malaysia based on Justice, Freedom, Solidarity:
A forum organised by the Article 11 Coalition here yesterday was cut short on the advice of the police as some 400 demonstrators gathered outside the forum venue.
The report went on to say that forum chairman Ramdas Tikamdas took the police advice as a “friendly recommendation”. He also added that before the forum ended, it managed to include the presentations of all the speakers as well as a Q&A session. Well, if so, how then was the forum “disrupted”?
As to what was chosen for coverage, all the media (including Malaysiakini) were a letdown. They focused on only what went on outside the forum venue. Hardly anything was reported on what was said or discussed inside.
The media were of course right to cover the protest and how the police handled it. But, surely, they should also have reported on the key points brought up by the 200-odd participants of the forum. Could it be that they didn’t have reporters inside the venue to follow the proceedings?
It could thus be argued that the protestors succeeded in creating another “disruption”. This time, their presence somehow prevented the media from reporting what was said at the forum to the wider public. The media are solely to be blamed here. They were drawn to the dramatic or sensational story and lost sight of the essense of the forum itself and what it was all about. What a shame.