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Response to Election Monitors’ Diary entry on MalaysiaVotes

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Helen Ang responds to an entry in the Election Media Monitors’ Diary on 4 March 2008 about the MalaysiaVotes.com website.


to address the inherent anomaly in the Diary entry’s allusion to
The People’s Parliament. It says: “People’s Parliament can
plaster its site with ‘Don’t Vote BN’ logos — that’s
acceptable, as it is not claiming to be a source of news. But if
MalaysiaVotes were to do the same, it would be no better than the
mainstream media.”

do beg to differ with the entry’s cheerleading for MalaysiaVotes,
and on the same note I find it strange that while acknowledging
People’s Parliament — which is an advocacy and cyber activism
blog — “does not claim to be a source of news”, i.e. media
outlet, yet People’s Parliament is consistently ‘monitored’ in
an initiative which is tagged ‘Malaysian “Media” Monitors’

haven’t the time to check how often People’s Parliament has been
featured in Diary but I am aware we’ve been monitored since Feb 18,
as early as two days after the Press statement issued on the launch
of this Election Monitor.

here’s another mention in Diary of People’s Parliament:
“Ironically, the diversity found in this particular shared online
space [in The Star] outweighed the other political blogs — like
Malaysia Today, Rocky’s Bru, and People’s Parliament — all of
which contain an overwhelmingly pro-opposition reader contribution”.
I will not deny the anti-BN slant in as far as it concerns People’s
Parliament but I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘overwhelmingly’
so. But please visit for yourselves.

return to MalaysiaVotes on which Diary lavished a 1,162-word
write-up, I find it again anomalous that while the writer devoted
more than a thousand words to vindicating Danny Lim’s second essay
on Khairy Jamaluddin, all that he or she was willing to personally
say about Danny’s first piece amounted to this: “[it] was rather
short and offered little critical insight thus, deserving of its
critical comments” – only just a little more than a dozen words
of assessment.


remedy his or her remiss, I shall give Danny’s ‘A tempered view’
my quick once-over as our People’s Parliament readers had
complained about it – this point also cited in Diary.

I start, I believe an explanation of the word ‘tempered’ is in
order. In the context of Danny’s presentation of Khairy and his
electioneering, it means to adjust or to moderate readers’ opinion
of the Umno Youth deputy head. That is, to make him come across as
less extreme or severe, and more acceptable.

article headline may well have been prompted by Khairy’s statement
“At heart I think I’m a moderate Malaysian politician”
(‘tempered’ by the experiences of his self-claimed nine years in
politics). Khairy had made a statement that by right ought to have
been strenuously challenged; Danny did not rise to the occasion. Nor
did he question Khairy’s declaration that “the greatest value or
virtue that Malaysians need going forward” is empathy. This coming
from the PM’s infamous son-in-law is truly rich.

for the questions posed by Danny, they are passé and PR: ‘What
kind of issues would you like to push if you win the election and
become a parliamentarian?’ and ‘How do you propose to do that?’

replies are quite frankly pap. “I’d like to have a clear
discussion on inter-ethnic relations and where we’re going in the
future … talk about places of worship for non-Muslims, talk about
the whole issue of how non-Muslims feel.” Indeed.

been challenged once before in Diary (and even possibly by the very
same writer whose positive views of MalaysiaVotes versus People’s
Parliament were set forth in the 4 March entry) to list out my
‘verifiable’ proofs. In the case of Khairy, I don’t see that
it’s necessary given his long and wide notoriety. In that sense,
MalaysiaVotes had got it right when it elected to title Danny’s
essay ‘tempered’.

the onus is indeed on the MSM info disseminators to convince us that
Khairy possesses the ‘empathy’ for “how non-Muslims feel” and
of his other positive attributes. After all, it is his party and
specifically the wing he heads which have Gertak (intimidated) the
minorities, his chief that Gasak (threatened) brandishing the
movement’s emblematic keris, and the Umno lot that condones if not
altogether egg on Little Mullah Napoleons (LMNs) who make life a
Hindraf bed of roses for the rest of us ‘nons’.

you’ll go to MalaysiaVotes, please linger a moment on Danny’s
photo of the Khairy entourage – sleek fleet of SUVs, all of a make
and a colour, and one vehicle even bearing a ‘KJ100’ licence
plate, and pause to admire the ‘KJ’ and dacing designs painted on
their sides.

tempered view’ of Khairy elicited 23 comments. Sad to say,
thereafter, the website has been registering few and in many cases
zero comments for the rest of their articles … its initial readers
seem to have progressively shied away. One blogger Bernard Khoo,
better known as Zorro, said he had commented on ‘A tempered view’
and it took days before his brief but unfavorable comment was
moderated and uploaded. So no wonder few readers now bother.

readers’ feedback on the fresh-off-the-block 23 Feb Khairy article
was pertinent. They asked: Isn’t the heavily tinted windscreen and
windows of Khairy’s (seven, did Danny say?) 4 X 4 s flouting the
law? Isn’t Khairy’s expenditure on the four-wheel drive alone
exceeding the amount permissible for a candidate’s election
campaign? Sadly, Danny failed to pose these same questions to his
interviewee, or if he did, failed to publish Khairy’s replies. And
your Media Monitor similarly failed to notice the lack.

has enthused that MalaysiaVotes is “making a solid attempt to
provide balanced and fair coverage and has produced content that is a
drastic improvement from the mainstream”. I don’t intend to go
into the rest of their articles (my time is precious, I’ve got a
‘Boycott the newspapers!’ project to run) but just allow me a few
words of rebuttal to Diary’s ‘fair and balanced’ puff vis-à-vis
the coverage on Khairy’s PKR opponent, Chegubard.

noted in a tone of praise that “While hanging around the convoy on
nomination day, [Danny] Lim overheard a story — denied by the party
— about Dax and Umno members sabotaging opponents’ flags”. What
Diary omitted to elaborate on [ref. ‘denied’] was that in the
correction, MalaysiaVotes also published this retraction: “Dax has
categorically denied that the incident took place, and the writer
apologises for not verifying the context or the accuracy of the
conversation that he overheard. MalaysiaVotes.com apologises for not
being more stringent in our fact-checking before we published.”

MalaysiaVotes did not take the trouble either to contact Chegubard to
hear his side. On the other hand, Malaysiakini reported that the PKR
contestant had claimed the whole period of campaign in Rembau was
marred by BN hooliganism. Chegubard said: “There were various
instances where our posters, banners [were vandalised and stolen] and
supporters were harassed by Khairy’s supporters,” adding he and
his people had lodged more than 20 police reports on the incidents of
BN aggression.

8 March, MalaysiaVotes abruptly failed to update its website. Today,
20 March, following a ‘Click here’ button, I’m redirected to
presumably fresh pages containing a few sporadic entries mostly by
contributors, including one pseudonymous writer. In explanation,
MalaysiaVotes states that it is ‘winding down’ to return later;
its exit as sudden as its entry into cyberspace a mere two-and-a-half
weeks before polling day. Pity that the site and its founders were so
evasive when earlier asked about their sources of funding.

couple of weeks’ operation is no track record, and in this light
Diary’s question “how successful was MalaysiaVotes in reaching
its aim?” is clearly seen as only a rhetorical flourish.

MalaysiaVotes avowed aims were to provide “news on the elections
that would not gain either the attention of or fair coverage from the
traditional media in Malaysia”. Consider this then: In addition to
‘A tempered view’, Diary tallied at 2,763 words Danny’s second
essay on Khairy, titled ‘The “Moderate” Mischief of the BN’.

contrast, there was only one write-up for Chegubard and his Q & A
amounted to all of some 400 words. I should think a total of
3,000-plus words on an Umno candidate (the PM’s surrogate Big Ears
and Big Mouth no less, who was getting all the exposure in the world
from the myriad government channels) would tip the ‘balance’
tremendously when weighed against the PKR man naturally receiving
little positive attention in MSM.

MalaysiaVotes succeed in bridging the yawning gaps left by MSM, for
instance, through its Rembau reports? One would think, hardly! Yet
the Diary notation very kindly gave this ringing endorsement:
“MalaysiaVotes has attempted to provide content ‘that is written
and edited according to the journalistic standards of fairness,
accuracy, balance and accountability’.” He or she also opined
Malaysiavotes “has produced content that is a drastic improvement
from the mainstream”.

mainstream is languishing at Ground Zero, anything else would be a
drastic improvement, I reckon.

The original Diary entry:

Malaysiavotes.com stirs controversy in blogosphere


A new election news website, Malaysiavotes.com,
has created controversy within the blogosphere due to the sites’
presumed “alternative” nature which some readers find questionable.
According to its
‘About Us’ page, the site aims “to
provide news about the main issues that the nation is grappling with as
we go to the polls, as well as news on the elections that would not
gain either the attention of or fair coverage from the traditional
media in Malaysia”.

some readers have complained that content featured on the site does not
qualify as news “that would not gain either the attention of or fair
coverage from the traditional media”. In particular, contributors on
People’s Parliament have been critical of MalaysiaVotes for two entries, both of which feature Deputy Umno Youth chief, Khairy Jamaluddin, as the headliner (2 Mar: The ‘Moderate’ Mischief of the BN; 23 Feb: A Tempered View).
On the decision to cover the Umno politician who already has a
prominent presence in mainstream media coverage, one reader commented:
“one must really be blind to think Khairy wasn’t given any/fair
coverage”. Other readers expressed their disappointment by commenting
on the article, “A Tempered View”.

In response to the criticism, MalaysiaVotes posted excerpts from critical letters they received in the “Letters to the Editor”
section, followed by a lengthy explanation. The editors pointed out
that the critics, while focusing on the “news…that would not gain
either the attention of or fair coverage from the traditional media”
part of their decree, ignored the initial aim: “to provide news about
the main issues”. They explained that, as outlined in their ‘About Us’
section, focusing on “hot seats” was one of their approaches to media
coverage. As Khairy Jamaluddin is a high profile candidate, he “has
made the Rembau parliamentary seat he is contesting a hot seat that
people are watching”. Thus, it is important that citizens have access
to balanced coverage of candidates from news sources other than the
mainstream publications, where biased agendas and limited space prevent
stories from delivering much insight to the reader.

In contrast, MalaysiaVotes
has attempted to provide content “that is written and edited according
to the journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy, balance and
accountability”. The editors acknowledged that this entails giving
space to all parties and presenting information in a fair, balanced,
and objective manner—not blacklisting certain candidates because they
do not agree with their political stance. Such a practice would negate
their status as a fair and accountable news source, aligning them with
the mainstream sources which have appeared to enforce “black-outs” of
certain candidates.

The fact remains that Malaysiavotes.com
is first and foremost a news website—not a personal or political
blog—and “didn’t set out to be a site which was partisan or which
wanted to promote one particular view only”. Such an expectation from
an online information source in Malaysia is understandable—since the
mainstream media is the instrument of the ruling coalition, online
avenues have become the turf of the opposition.
MalaysiaVotes, however,
has separated itself from the pro-opposition environment of the
Malaysian blogosphere and is attempting to be a model of balance and
objectivity that mainstream media should strive for.

That said, how successful was MalaysiaVotes
in reaching its aim? While the first Khairy interview, “A Temperate
View”, was rather short and offered little critical insight (thus,
deserving of its critical comments), the site redeemed itself with the
second Khairy offering, Danny Lim’s “The Moderate Mischief of the BN”.
To begin with, the 2,763-word report provides Lim with sufficient space
to embellish on his personal experience with Khairy and his Umno
entourage during the nomination day and the campaign. Like a ‘fly on
the wall’, Lim provided insights not only about Khairy but also “his
most trusted lieutenants”, who tell a lot about Khairy himself, Lim
observed. Indeed, Lim procured much information from one of Khairy’s
“sentries”, Firmansyah Muhammad a.k.a. Dax, as Lim spent the majority
of his time with Dax when he was not interviewing Khairy. Garnishing
natural, conversational responses, Lim questioned the “motor mouthing”
Dax about what Khairy had been up to, about inter-party troubles and
about “backstabbing” Umno members who weren’t chosen to contest.

hanging around the convoy on nomination day, Lim overheard a
story—denied by the party—about Dax and Umno members sabotaging
opponents’ flags. While driving with the entourage, Lim was there to
experience the party’s reaction to a PKR vehicle trying to disturb
their seven-car convoy. On the nomination day ruckus, Lim observed how
Pas supporters, though outnumbered, drowned out the other supporters as
they screamed for two hours.

interview itself revealed interesting statements and perspectives from
Khairy. Lim was not shy to ask critical questions, and received this
response from Khairy on the apparent unquestioning nature of the BN
parliamentary members: “The role of a backbencher is one that not only
supports the government but also questions certain government policies
and ministers if they feel the policies and legislation is questionable
as far as the people’s welfare is concerned. Of course at the end of
the day, party discipline must trump any other consideration and when
it comes to a vote there must be a whip on discipline and you must fall
in line.”

The revealing
statement put forth a not-so-ideal picture of the BN camp, congruent
with many criticisms found on opposition blogs concerning the silencing
of BN members who are vocally critical of policies. In addition, Lim
got Khairy to indulge in his criticism of the New Economic Policy and
give his opinion on market regulation—which he apparently does not
support—stating a need for government intervention for social
programmes which some readers might find surprising.

short, the statements drawn from Khairy in this interview were
drastically different than the blanket fanfare generally trumpeted by
the mainstream media publications. The amount of time and space given
to the story allows for an in-depth and personal look at the party and
the candidate, and readers take away a feeling that they know Khairy,
his perspective, and the nature of his party a bit better. If you
actually take the time to read this article—without dismissing it from
the headline—you realise that you would never find it in a mainstream

critical commentary of any news source is always important for the
health of the news contained therein, it should be recognised that
is making a solid attempt to provide balanced and fair coverage and has
produced content that is a drastic improvement from the mainstream. A
look at the other entries on the site (from 3 Mar) showed a wide range
of topics, views, and parties covered.
People’s Parliament can plaster its site with “Don’t Vote BN” logos—that’s acceptable, as it is not claiming to be a source of news. But if MalaysiaVotes were to do the same, it would be no better than the mainstream media.


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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