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Covering Malaysian politics, warts and all


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The recent much-awaited Umno general assembly ended with resolutions that jolted the ruling pact, particularly regarding the party’s decisions to part ways with Bersatu and give Pas an ultimatum to choose with whom it faithfully wishes to work.

That mainly explains why the congress attracted so much attention from the media, as well as political observers and onlookers in society.

The suspense of it all initially brought about an allegation that the country’s news agency Bernama had been directed to ‘shape’ its coverage of the assembly so that Bersatu, the party that’s gingerly holding the ruling pact together, was not cast in a bad light. The allegation was reported by the Getaran news portal.

No less than the agency’s editor-in-chief, Abdul Rahman Ahmad, responded swiftly to say that Bernama strove to provide balanced reporting of the assembly. In an attempt to assure the agency’s commitment to providing comprehensive coverage of the assembly, he had assigned a large contingent of 20 reporters, camera crew, photographers, and TV and radio broadcast journalists. The team was always instructed to be professional in its coverage of politicians and politics, he added.

Such an assurance is welcome, especially by parties that have been seldom or inadequately covered by the media, including Bernama, in the past. Parti Sosialis Malaysia, among other parties, comes to mind as a political party that has been marginalised by the media in general.

Party congresses are a crucial avenue for party members to deliberate on important issues of the day, such as corruption, the economy, water and food security, and climate change, and to eventually make resolutions.

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These are some of the things that deserve to be covered fairly and adequately by the media so that ordinary people can have a better understanding of the political parties that exist in our society. Such information can also help to inform the voters’ decisions at the ballot box.

Media organisations should cover parties in the government and those outside the corridors of power in a democracy.

In fact, Bernama has the resources to cover party congresses and other issues of importance in Malaysian daily life, which would then be picked up by other media outlets, many of which are financially stretched to provide such widespread coverage.

While it is appreciated that Abdul Rahman assures us of Bernama’s supposed balanced reporting, the fact that the news organisation comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia should be a cause for caution.

This is because whatever autonomy that Bernama professes to possess is by and large prescribed by the ministry that has the interests and concerns of the government in mind. Put another way, there is bound to be a government slant in Bernama’s reporting for as long as it is placed as part of government machinery.

That is why if, for example, the cutting remark made by Umno secretary general Ahmad Maslan that the Perikatan Nasional administration is “the most unstable government in the world”, was omitted in Bernama’s reporting of the party’s recent assembly, we should not be surprised or unduly upset.

This reporting bias happened under Barisan Nasional as well as Pakatan Harapan. If there’s a difference of slant between the two, it’s only a matter of degree.

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It is crucial that Malaysians are still served by a variety of news outlets – despite these outlets’ lack of capacity due to limited resources and legal constraints as well as ownership issues – to ensure a diversity of news and information from various perspectives.

The independence of these outlets is important, as it indicates the degree of their integrity and professionalism in the field, which has consequences for journalistic credibility and democracy. – The Malaysian Insight

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