Malaysians should be shown the entire BBC video footage of Bersih 3.0 — apart from other video clips by other parties — before they can make an informed judgment, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
The massive participation by ordinary Malaysians in the recent Bersih 3.0 sit-in rally in Kuala Lumpur (and elsewhere in the country and globally) was triggered by frustration, anxiety, anger and hope.
These emotions have developed over the years, in response to the reportedly sullied electoral roll and other undemocratic practices and developments such as gerrymandering, unequal access to the media, weakening democratic institutions and a short campaigning period.
Many have been generally aghast and annoyed at being treated as if they’re incurably stupid and clueless time and again – what with the nonsensical antics and silly excuses of certain bureaucrats and politicians that make a mockery of the notion of good governance, transparency and accountability.
Recent developments since the KL protest haven’t been soothing either. In particular, the controversy over the snipping of parts of the news coverage by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (and apparently also Al Jazeera’s) by their local partner Astro rubs salt into the wound, metaphorically or otherwise.
When questioned by the BBC over the claim that local satellite pay TV provider Astro had unilaterally cut the “unpleasant bits” of the BBC’s coverage of Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur, Astro retorted that the BBC video clip was cut “in accordance with national content regulations”.
The BBC was rightly incensed that its coverage was snipped so that its reportage appeared unbalanced and unfair to the parties concerned in the rally, namely Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and certain protesters who had voiced their anger about unclean electoral rolls and what they alleged to be the police force’s disproportionate response to the breaching of the barricades at Dataran Merdeka.
In other words, the BBC is concerned that the cut footage adversely affects the quality and credibility of its reportage as well as the professionalism that the British institution strives to achieve. If this isn’t clear enough to Astro, this means that journalistic professionalism, which is a standard operating procedure for any news organisation worth its salt, demands that reporting be fair and balanced.
As if this editorial intervention wasn’t enough of a problem, Communication, Information and Culture Minister Rais Yatim came to the defence of Astro, further insulting our collective intelligence. He insisted that Astro should instead be given credit for having shown the “best parts” that were newsworthy. Besides, he added, “each broadcasting house is at liberty to exercise its own style of eliciting the best news items for its station”.
Informed Malaysians know that the mainstream media, and these include TV stations that are owned or controlled by people close to the powers-that-be, do not have enough room to manoeuvre so that biased reporting (in favour of the ruling party and the federal government) becomes a rule rather than the exception. It is sheer (if one could borrow a word used by well-known writer Kee Thuan Chye in his latest popular book) “bulls…” to suggest that the mainstream media are free to decide on their own, especially at a time when the hegemony of the ruling elite is under threat from ordinary people and other social forces.
To cut to the chase, what happened at Astro was a crude application of censorship procedures based on some questionable guidelines crafted by the authorities. This is to say, it was the kind of censorship meant to conceal things that may cause eventual shame and culpability to the parties concerned especially the authorities — and consequent indignation among members of the public.
As intimated earlier, this state of the Malaysian mainstream media underscores one of the demands of the Bersih 3.0 steering committee and of other concerned Malaysians: the need for fair and balanced reporting as well as independent and accountable media.
It is not for Rais and his merry men to decide what is “good” for ordinary Malaysians especially in an era where, as Prime Minister Najib Razak himself once asserted, the government no longer knows best. In this case, Malaysians should be shown the entire BBC video footage of Bersih 3.0 — apart from other video clips by other parties — before they can make an informed jugdment.
Only then would we know who got themselves dirty.