Providing fair access to the media is more than just being concerned about fairness. It is also about ensuring diversity in media content so that it reflects the rich diversity that we have in our multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious society. says Mustafa K Anuar.
Certain ministers and government functionaries have been known particularly in the last few years to have the knack for providing “infotainment”, an uneasy concoction between information and entertainment, to information-hungry Malaysians.
And most of the time this infotainment is the result of the mental diarrhoea that these bunch of people think fit to share with fellow Malaysians.
The latest offering came from the indefatigable Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim (whose comment was transmitted via his special duties officer Mohd Nazri Abdullah) who urged the Broadcasting Department, among other government agencies, “to provide fair coverage for all Barisan Nasional (BN) state and parliamentary representatives in the state (of Sabah)”.
Of concern to Rais was that “representatives in many areas in Sabah, such as the islands and interior, did not get much coverage although they too were working hard for the people”.
The principle of fairness is noble and all-encompassing indeed, and which is why it should be applied not only to BN representatives in Sabah but also those from the opposition parties for they too represent a portion of the populace in the state.
In other words, selective fairness is, if I may employ an oxymoronic terminology for this occasion, unfair fairness. A truly warped notion of even-handedness.
What is paramount here is that the work of all elected representatives in Sabah must be covered by the Broadcasting Department, if it is to ensure fair journalism as it should be practised by an institution funded by taxpayers’ money.
Furthermore, this concern for fair coverage in Sabah should not be given emphasis only prior to a general election but for all times. Politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, must be made accountable all the time via the media, among other institutions.
Incidentally, talking of pre-election media coverage reminds us of images of Sabah and Sarawak natives in yesteryears that “graced” the front pages of the mainstream newspapers before the nation went to the poll in a way that can only be construed as being cynical on the part of the KL (Kuala Lumpur)-centric editors concerned.
This brings me to the next related point: the Broadcasting Department and RTM owe it to the people, especially taxpayers, to give fair and comprehensive coverage of not only politicians from both sides of the political divide, but also and especially the ordinary people who cry out for easy and equal access to the mainstream media.
For one thing, the news bulletins on RTM (Radio Television Malaysia), if they were to aim for higher standards of journalism, must not be about (often grisly) stuff that comes out from the gaping mouths of Cabinet ministers and ruling politicians only, but also commentaries and feedback from other stakeholders such as professionals, social activists, villagers, the poor and the marginalised.
More importantly, democracy demands that people be given their voice in such important matters as public policies and economic measures taken by the authorities which impinge upon their day-to-day existence. This is participatory democracy at its best — apart from the normal routine of the people exercising their democratic right to vote every four or five years at the end of a parliamentary term.
Besides, opening up the media to the ordinary people beats meeting with a select group of youngsters at a fancy coffee shop in, say, upmarket Bangsar in the professed desire on the part of the political leadership to intently seek out their opinions. Attentive and genuine listening to a wider audience doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive and exclusive endeavour.
But providing fair access to the media is more than just being concerned about fairness. It is also about ensuring diversity in media content so that it reflects the rich diversity that we have in our multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious society.
Is it any wonder then, why, for instance, after so many years since the formation of Malaysia, many Malaysians in the peninsula are still less knowledgeable, if not ignorant, about their cousins in east Malaysia and vice versa?
Moreover, diversity shouldn’t be limited to only offering news bulletins in vernacular languages on television and radio as well. Obviously, it involves much more than that.
In concrete terms, it means that the broadcasting stations, apart from the print media, have to liberate themselves so that they offer programmes and content not only to cater to the political and cultural needs of the dominant groups of society, but also and especially those of the minorities as well.
In this way, Malaysians from various walks of life, i.e. the diverse stakeholders, can be made to feel a sense of belonging to the constructed nation called Malaysia.
Only then can we Malaysians be proud of media content that is not only informative, but also entertaining and intellectually challenging at the same time.
Dr Mustafa K Anuar is honorary secretary of Aliran.
This piece first appeared in The Malaysian Insider