Going by recent performances, there have been many, many days of infamy for Malaysian journalism, observes Zaharom Nain.
When Franklin D Roosevelt delivered his presidential address to Congress on 8 December 1941, in the first line of his speech he referred to the previous day as “a date which will live in infamy”.
The previous day, of course, was the day Japan attacked the American naval base in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. This address, widely regarded as “one of the most famous American political speeches of the 20th century”, is also known as the ‘Day of Infamy’ speech.
Such has been the impact of the speech and the term ‘day of infamy’ that the latter has been used time and again by politicians and others to describe moments, instances, dates when something absolutely scandalous, disgraceful, even outrageous has occurred.
Veteran Malaysian opposition parliamentarian, Lim Kit Siang, is no slouch either when it comes to fiery speeches and coming up with dramatic gems. After all, he was, I’m sure, the first Malaysian politician and commentator to come up with the term ‘political tsunami’ to describe the unexpected outcome of the 8 March 2008 general election.
However, when he wrote less than a week ago that “Today (July 14) is a day of infamy for Malaysian journalism”, I believe he was giving Malaysian journalism too much credit for its performances before that ‘fateful’ day.
Indeed, to declare that 14 July 2012 was a day of infamy for 1Malaysia Boleh journalism is to imply that it had been doing (at least) ‘okay’ before then.
And this, according to Kit Siang, was all shattered, ruined, totally destroyed on 14 July because … because the deputy chief editor of Utusan Malaysia, our country’s Sun without breasts, came out of his transparent closet and declared that it was perfectly okay for journalists to spin. At least for Utusan’s journalists.
But, of course, he was merely stating the obvious, proudly admitting something that we’ve all known for quite some time. He was more than implying that even that oh-so-thin line between ‘spinning’ and ‘lying’ may be crossed, albeit by ‘accident’.
In the hope, perhaps, that the perpetrators won’t get caught.
Indeed, going by recent performances, there have been many, many days of infamy for Malaysian journalism.
To mention just two, first, there was that false report – no prizes for guessing by which newspapers – about Australian senator, Nick Xenophon.
Yes, the one just a few days after the Bersih 3.0 rally that quoted from Xenophon’s 2009 speech – but substituted the word “Scientology” with “Islam”.
As a result, it depicted Xenophon as being anti-Islam when he wasn’t.
That seemed to be the intended aim of the rags, of course, given that Xenophon had been an observer at Bersih 3.0 and is a friend of opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim.
Then, there was the report, for want of a better word, which accused Kit Siang’s son, Lim Guan Eng, of having played a part in the riots of 13 May 1969.
On 13 May 1969, like many of his age at that time, Guan Eng was probably blissfully unaware of what was going on.
After all, he was hardly nine years old then.
Apologists may well be correct
Of course, some have come to the defence of these ‘journalists’ who write these trash-masquerading-as-reports.
They assert that it is probably the editors who change the words and meaning of the report. And these editors, they argue, do this primarily to cater to the demands of their political masters and the newspaper’s owners, both of whom, often enough, are cut of the same cloth.
And these apologists may well be correct.
But that, then, unfortunately, doesn’t speak very well of the standards of journalism in this country and the amount of control exerted, especially by the BN parties, like Umno and MCA, on these mainstream media.
Indeed, when it is quite obvious that they openly control – legally, politically and economically – much of the mainstream media, it is rather far-fetched to suggest, as the deputy prime minister did even more recently, that the Malaysian media is not ‘muzzled’.
He is reported to have said that the government had pledged to “always help create a conducive climate to allow journalists and media to continue playing their role in a democracy”.
Such a statement evidently can only come from someone who has very little understanding – and, perhaps, cares very little – about the damage that has been continuously inflicted on the Malaysian media by this very government since, at least, the mid-1980s.
A ‘conducive climate’ is not created by enjoining newspapers to apply for – and have – a printing licence. But, unfortunately, that has been the rule of the game in Malaysia for a long, long time.
Even if such a licence needs to applied for just once under the ‘new’ act, the fact that the licence can still be revoked at any time does make the ‘climate’ far from ‘conducive’.
Online media harassed
Even the online media, which the DPM implies is unfettered, have constantly been harassed and intimidated. The ‘scars’ that Malaysiakini can show – from raids by the authorities to warnings by government-controlled commissions, the confiscation of equipment and, of course, the ongoing refusal by the government to grant this news portal a printing licence – bear testament to this.
And, of course, this ‘conducive climate’ that is the stuff of the DPM’s dreams will certainly be enhanced if more invidious proposals, such as the amendment to the Evidence Act and, equally vile, the setting up of the government-regulated media council, go ahead as planned by this BN government.
Indeed, these new controls will certainly provide a ‘conducive climate’ for the growth of ‘cue’, even ‘junk’ journalism.
And they will definitely provide us with more days of infamy from the Malaysian mainstream media.
This piece first appeared in Malaysiakini.com