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McCarthyism in Malaysia?


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If we really want to get to the bottom of the 1MDB issue, the investigating authorities must be given the power to investigate 1MDB without fear or favour, says Choo Sing Chye.

Seriously, reading Arul Kanda’s interview with the pro-government media and the account of his closed talk-sessions with MCA and Umno members, gives me bad vibes.

It is like the replay of the heydays of the 1950s and 1960s BBC’s boring ‘airport interviews’ and the ‘jolly good fellow’ stuff that had no news value and amounted to government propaganda.

I wonder why are we still trapped within this vicious vortex of trying to discern government propaganda after all these years? We should have arrived at the stage where the journalists write and politicians do the sweating. But sadly, it is the reverse here.

It is all because our democracy is still rigidly guided (guided democracy) by the all-powerful elites of the Barisan Nasional.

In the West, where liberal democracy prevails, investigative journalism is the norm. And in the West, the journalists act as a voice of the people and not the government nor the opposition. They will do a critical review of government policies and debates in Parliament without fear or favour.

For this reason, ordinary citizens in the West tend to believe the media more than the politicians from the government or the opposition. Consequently, they are more inclined to vote for leaders of their choice based on these reviews.

But in Malaysia, the main purpose of investigative journalism is to dig out sludge from opposition leaders and not from the government.

Not that opposition leaders do not have them, but when journalists do a critical piece on an issue, it must be equal in intensity for both sides, the government and the opposition.

But in reality, when they find any sludge about government leaders, they will invariably, with all their effort, try and hush it up. Or they would, at their customary best, blame the opposition for making up stories to remove ‘democratic’ government leaders.

Balanced news is thus never the norm nor does it appeal to the pro-government media because whatever they write is prone to one side of the views – the government’s views.

The attitude of the many print media in Malaysia is reminiscent of what happened in the age of McCarthyism where the right-wingers had seemingly gone mad.

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Nevertheless, evoking the actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s in America is to offer us a clear comparison between false accusations and the truth.

Apparently, there wasn’t a need for McCarthy to provide any proof; he just had to intercedein the any hearing with his famous “point of order”, and whatever being said after this became the gospel truth.

Hence many were indicted based on flimsy or false accusations. And those who were accused by McCarthy’s fearsome committee of being communist or homosexual faced instant dismissal and blacklisting.

Television and newspapers editors knew about this, but chose to stand at the side-lines, and sadly, the majority of them threw their self-respect away and supported McCarthy’s witch hunt.

They were seemingly doped with fear of the mad right-wingers in the government, and they knew pretty well what would happen to them if they did not toe the line.

Nobody dared to utter unkind words about the government. Those who questioned the government or were found to be not toeing the official line were bullied and destroyed.

Two men stood against all these: Edward R Murrow and Fred Friendly. Murrow, a journalist with the CBS and his producer, Friendly, decided to do a critical examination of Senator McCarthy.

They examined nearly a million feet of film on McCarthy’s fearsome committee hearings and every speech that McCarthy had made.

They found out from their research that McCarthy was guilty of false accusations, bullying and character assassinations, which had led the Americans to believe that there were communist agents under their bed.

The stage was set when McCarthy wrongly accused the army chief counsel, Joseph Welsh, of having a communist, a 19-year-old boy, in his law firm.

Murrow and Friendly bought a quarter-page advertisement in the papers for this crucial broadcast with money from their own pockets because CBS was afraid to attack McCarthy.

The climax came when Joseph Welsh, in front of 20 million television viewers, demolished McCarthy with these words:

“Little did I dream that you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is I regret that to say equally true that I fear that he shall always bear the scar, needlessly inflicted by you.

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“If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I will do so. Let us not assassinate this lad further… have you no sense of decency? You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency?

“Sir… Mr McCarthy… I will not discuss with you further. You, Mr Chairman may as you will, call the next witness.”

McCarthy stood there, humiliated, destroyed by a simple truth obtained from the, “million feet of film” by two men of integrity.

The witch-hunt was over.

Ed Marrow concluded at the end of the broadcast:

“… the action of the junior Senator from Wisconsin of course, have caused alarm and dismay among our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. Whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear. He merely exploited it and rather successfully.”

It was a historic broadcast which gave birth to investigative journalism.

1MDB public relations exercise

Now coming back to our own back yard…

On the sacking of the main critics of 1MDB, notably, the deputy prime minister, coupled with an avalanche of documents out there in the open, Arul Kanda, had this to say: “We need to base ourselves on facts. We cannot rely on hearsay, allegations and other unsubstantiated statements without due evidence and due proof.”

Predictably, the pro-government media columnists and journalists could not even pick up one teeny-weeny piece of incriminating evidence from this avalanche of documents. They instead vehemently defended the position of the government.

Further, Arul Kanda was reported as saying (in the sub-headline of a Bernama report, published in Malay Mail Online, 28 October 2015) that 1MDB takes especially seriously the views of the Malay rulers.

According to the report, “1Malaysia Development Berhad says it takes seriously the opinions of all parties, especially the Malay rulers, on the controversies surrounding the state-owned company.”

This, apparently, falls short of being good manners. It is not good manners to trivialise the Council of Malay Rulers’ royal statement as mere “views” or “opinions”.

We must not forget the fact that the Malay Rulers have access to the country’s intelligence, and so it is not proper to imply that the royal statement is just “opinions” or “views”.

If we read the statement carefully, it is not directed at Arul Kanda, but at HM’s government, notably the prime minister, Polis DiRaja Malaysia, the MACC and Bank Negara, calling for a thorough investigation to resolve the 1MDB controversy as soon as possible, without fear or favour.

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1MDB/Arul Kanda’s role is not to respond to the royal statement, but to answer directly to the authorities investigating 1MDB.

To Arul Kanda, resolution of the whole 1MDB episode is hinged on how he plans to restructure 1MDB instead of addressing the issue of alleged mismanagement and the leakages so that there can never be a 1MDB mark II. All these controversies happened before his time, and to him these are all unsubstantiated statements and evidence.

This is a dreary PR exercise. If we really want to get to the bottom of this issue, the investigating authorities must be given the power without fear or favour to investigate 1MDB.

This is what the royal statement is all about. It is as simple as that.

If it is not done, then it is another typical run-of-the-mill patch-up-and-repair job with huge collateral damage – us.

In sum, the significance of the Rulers’ statement was expressed eloquently by HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah*:

“Let me end by way of a brief summary. The monarchy in Malaysia is more than a symbolic and ceremonial institution. In saying this, I recognise the tremendous social significance of national symbols. It does have discretionary powers that are set out in the Constitution, but responsibilities that go beyond what is written to what is intended. The Rulers also are not, nor can they be, deaf, blind and dumb to the critical issues on which the nation is hinged. Theirs are the voices of impartiality, fairness and reason when such are necessary. The Rulers must speak with clarity and firmness for those who cannot.”

(Google definition of McCarthyism: It is the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence. It also means “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.”)

(1) Paragraph 25 of the address, Role of the Malaysian Monarchy, by DYMM Raja Nazrin Shah (now Sultan), Regent of Perak, to the Oxford and Cambridge Society, Malaysia on 27 June 2008.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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