One event, many ‘truths’

By Eric Loo
Jul 15, 11 | MalaysiaKini

Being clean is good. Being clean in government is best. So, the people walked the streets of KL for a clean cause. But when the government and its media played dirty on the discontented multitudes who flooded the streets of Jalan Tun Perak, Jalan Petaling and Jalan Pudu on July 9, it makes me very angry. I was there.

Right-wing threats against Bersih, splashed across the mainstream papers and screened on television, had ironically mobilised to the public square the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians and other usually ‘invisible’ minority groups. The people gathered and chanted as one body in front of Menara Maybank. ‘Hidup Bersih! Hidup Rakyat! Hancur Bersih! Hancur Rakyat!’

Local reporters – some looked like they were fresh out of university – and a few older ones from the foreign press scampered for photos and sound bites. Some anticipated bloody violence. None came. Except for the chaotic chase and inevitable scuffles between citizens and riot police in a street protest standoff.

I left Dataran Merdeka as the azan maghrib from Masjid Jamek brought a calming close to a day of strife. The FRU and police rested along Jalan Raja in front of Sultan Abdul Samad Building. As they, the enforcers, dug into their nasi bungkus, I felt like I had been served the entrée but denied the main course – until the next ‘yellow’ mobilisation for a good clean cause.

Then, I wondered how Malaysia had fallen into such a dismal state. It gets worse at this time with the Home Ministry witch-hunting for pro-Bersih writers, bloggers, Chinese newspaper editors, and poring over police video and YouTube clips to nab public servants and students who dared to march on July 9.

What you don’t get to feel and see from the mainstream media version of the Bersih assembly you get it on YouTube. The 12-minute clip is visually compelling with its cinematic narrative dramatised by sombre background music, fade-in white-on-black subheads, gunshots of tear gas, frenzied cries from the people, out-takes of the young and old chased down, punched, kicked, strapped and hauled away by plainclothes police personnel.

The clip titled ‘Truth that cannot be covered’ essentially kills whatever credibility the government and its scribes may have left in the public mind.

Contest for the public mind

Indeed, ‘truth’ is a fluid concept in times like these when citizen-generated clips contest with government-controlled media for the public mind. For context, however, it’s important to recognise that the conditions of reporting a highly charged people’s uprising against autocratic governments are usually laced with dogma, polarised ideologies, and real or imagined fears. One takes sides.

Realities are mediated, reconstructed – and manipulated – to mobilise against or reinforce the existing system of repression, political subordination and power structure. Governments, NGOs and the people see the ‘truth’ from different positions. Thus the excesses of government public relations and the limitations of visual journalism.

The camera is limited to what journalists can see and frame. What we get are snapshots of events at one moment. Only from different media outlets, each seeing and reading events from different moral, ideological and political positions, will you get a near complete picture of the ‘truth’. So far, the circulated ‘truth’ is what the mainstream media choose to provide. One-dimensional.

Mainstream media had narrowly framed Bersih 2.0 as an illegal outfit, a threat to society. The supporters are political agitators, anarchists and ‘un-Malaysian’. Non-mainstream and foreign media had an alternative reading, and rightly so. The government is authoritarian, shortsighted, paranoid and chronically fearful of an emerging people’s ‘yellow’ revolution. Our uniformed police and plainclothes are brutal high-handed thugs.

To get a near complete picture, I put on my journalist hat. I marched with Bersih. I moved with the police and the FRU. I mingled on the fringe with a handful of Patriots at Jalan Bukit Bintang moments after Khairy Jamaluddin, as I heard, pathetically charged the police with his pack of red shirts. They too got their shots of tear gas.

When I marched with Bersih, the police looked like the bad guys. Alongside the FRU – a few genteel demure females in tough riot gear – and navy blue police, the rakyat looked like a very angry volatile mob. The red-shirts. Well, they sounded and acted like pathetic patriots, palming with the police, singing national songs on cue like primary school kids.

You needed to be there to feel the cause, the chaos, and cautious restraints from the rakyat and the police. That was the intention – a peaceful Bersih rally for the sake of generations to come. The walls of fear, however, are so grounded in the Malaysian psyche that many stayed home. But not to an Indian office worker who took the overnight train from Butterworth to KL to march.

Or Pak Din, a 70-something Malay NGO worker I met at a mamak shop at Jalan Ampang. “I’ve broken through the walls of fear,” he said in halting English. “Now, it’s for my sons, nephews and nieces to do the same – for the country’s sake.” Indeed, Pak.

Atrocious coverage

Pak Din these days only reads the news online. His RM1.20, he says, is better spent on a teh tarik. Which makes sense judging from the atrocious coverage in the country’s papers on July 9. ‘Stay Away’ The Star warned on page 1. ‘Defiant’ it screamed the next day – also on page one. The Star’s text and imageries framed Bersih 2.0 (but less so, the Patriots) as an unnecessary inconvenience to local businesses, threats to tourism, security, harmony and so forth. Its weeks of coverage epitomises the general standards of Malaysian mainstream journalism today – abysmal.

The prime minister, however, doesn’t think so. He thinks the world’s media could learn a lesson or two from Malaysia’s journalists. Speaking at the National Press Club-Naza Awards night in Kuala Lumpur on July 4, he said he often told foreigners that stability in Malaysia was due to the media’s responsible reporting of national affairs. What an oxymoron.

A Bernama story, published in The Sun (July 5, p.5) quoted him: “Your (Malaysian journalists) ability to cover sensitive issues in a careful and balanced way shows a huge degree of social responsibility and is a tribute to your professionalism… you ensure that everyone understands the issues that matter …”

That’s taking the people for fools – again. The prime minister and his deputy had other nuggets reported, unthinkingly, by mainstream scribes days before the Bersih 2.0 rally:

Headline: Don’t destroy what has been built, says Najib
(Sarawak Tribune, July 5, p.1 lead story, Bernama)

Quote: “The illegal rally is not intended to correct the system but is politically motivated to gain power via undemocratic means.” (Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak speaking at the PM’s Department monthly gathering, July 4).

Question that reporter could have asked: How is exercising one’s constitutional right to assemble and voice dissent peacefully in a public square ‘undemocratic’?

Quote: “We are willing to provide a stadium for them (Bersih 2.0) to rally but why choose to protest in the streets… The government is not against them rallying in a stadium from morning until night.”

Retroactive Question: You went back on your words didn’t you, prime minister?

Najib seeks Indian community’s trust and hope (Sarawak Tribune, July 5, p.2, Bernama)

Quote – and a few more that spinned the same platitudes:
“When we talk about the future, we must build a vision of it that centers on a sense of hope, of faith, in better times to come. In other words, what we need is ‘nambikei’ (Tamil for faith)… Hope is crucial as it brings lights to corners of despair and gives clarity to thoughts of uncertainty.” (Prime Minister Najib speaking to the Indian community when he opened The Temple of Fine Arts building and Shantanand Auditorium in Brickfields, July 4).

Since independence, the Indian community remains among the poorest of the poor in Malaysia. How and when will the government bring them out of their ‘despair’ and ‘uncertainty’ in their children’s future?

Paraphrase (2nd last para): [Najib] said there should be a broader institution that was likewise (with the TFA) dedicated to all themes framing and shaping the Indian community in this country.

Question: If that applies to the TFA, why the bureaucratic hurdles to the Christian community in getting permits to build churches – or even to freely use the word ‘Allah’ in their Sunday sermons and literature?

Opposition slammed for belittling “people first” slogan (Sarawak Tribune, July 5, p.3, Bernama)

Paraphrase (2nd para): [Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin] said the opposition’s claim that (the 1Malaysia slogan) ringed hollow was forgetting the fact that the slogan had been long practised by the BN government. “It is just that under the leadership (of Najib)… we want a transformation for an even better qualify of life for the people.” (Muhyiddin addresssing youth leaders, unions and NGOs in Malacca, July 4).

Question: Malaysia’s brain drain is continuing with most heading for Singapore and Australia. Latest estimates – about one million skilled Malaysians are living and contributing overseas. Non-Malay students are also choosing not to come home after they graduate. Why is this?

Paraphrase (5th para): Muhyiddin cited his one-day visit to Malacca as… putting the people first… where he had mingled with taxi drivers and petty traders at the Melaka Sentral market here. “By going directly to the people, I can get to know their problems and find solutions.”

Question: Putting the people first is expected of an elected public servant. What problems did you find out from the taxi drivers and petty traders? What cause their problems?

Paraphrase: Pressing home the point further, Muhyddin said the great thing about meeting the “main-in-the-street” was it was a “shoulder-to-shoulder” meeting whereby the chairs the leaders and the people sat were of the same height.

Question: So what?

And, the prime minister thinks this level of reporting is worthy of emulating?

Lesson for mainstream journalists

The lesson that mainstream journalists, and editors, should draw from the past weeks of unthinking government-led journalism is this: not everything that those in power say is intelligent or accurate. Know when you’re being used as a mouthpiece. Think, ask, probe, challenge, factualise and verify. If in doubt, check it out many times – or leave it out.

We know, as rank-and-file reporters your hands are tied working for editors whose first loyalty is to the state than the people. Your stories are often censored or spiked. But the people wish that you’d at least try to be more creative, intellectually independent and passionate enough to ‘beat’ rather than become part of the editorial system. If all else fails, just send your stories to alternative outlets. The ‘truth’ should be told.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 7:55 pm

    The Queen Of England received Najib and Rosmah is a full yellow dress.
    In Downing Street….opposite PM’s office…dozens of protesters with yellow shirts.. ..holding yellow play cards …supporting BERSIH 2…making sure Najib got the message.
    Best is…Queen…dressed in full yellow.
    Lets wait and see what happen in Rome.

  2. #2 by tak tahan on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 10:20 pm

    I hope Rome would pulled the rug from under their feet and made them looked the extraordinary cuckoo honeymooner.Pray that they would come back in utter disgrace.God bless this wish…please!Tolong Tolong for canland sake!

  3. #3 by k1980 on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 9:24 am

    Najib cautioned protesters not to test his party’s will. “We can conquer Kuala Lumpur,” he said.

    What can we make of a leader who promised reform and moderation and now sounds like a Roman emperor? Can a nation that arrests almost 1700 people, some just for wearing yellow shirts, still be called a democracy?

  4. #4 by monsterball on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 10:23 am

    Never in the history of visits by Malaysian PMs to London made to look so small.
    Never in the history have the Queen Of England demonstrated her love for Malaysians so much.
    Never have I seen the Queen Of England wits and her sarcasm at her best.
    Never have Najib and Rosmah been diplomatically insulted so much for the whole world to see.
    Nice to note….no British titles or decorations… awarded to them.
    Star paper ignored news and photos of PM’s visit to England…and we know why…don’t we?

  5. #5 by monsterball on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 10:36 am

    “tak tahan”…They were disgraced by England..a powerful country is enough.
    Pope may apply forgiveness ….if Najib donate US1 million to the Vatican.
    But I do hope the Pope will follow the example of Queen Elizabeth11…meet the briefly out of politeness and excuse himself for important matters to attend.
    I hope the Pope will treat them like tourists.
    World support are on helpless Malaysians side..who will become all powerful…at 13th GE.
    Meantime…expect more tricks from Najib when he returns….but the French Government Representative is in Malaysia too… to expose more corruptions not known to Malaysians.
    Right now….around RM250 million added to the RM500 million we know.
    Who knows…this maybe a trip that Najib may not dare to return home at all!!

  6. #6 by k1980 on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 11:37 am

    Low Tiong lai— “Someone out there is trying to get me”

    Looks like someone out there has already got jibby

  7. #7 by tak tahan on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 12:12 pm

    Just wish the pope will give Najis and fatty Rose the pop-out eyes surprise where pope and his company will wellcome them in yellow outfit.It will be double overdrive knockdown/blow on Najis n fatty Rose corp.

  8. #8 by paulkersey on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 12:29 pm

    yes,the queen of england send najib and rosmah a message in “psychological warfare” style..the british are good at this as they thought us that tactic during their colonial times in malaysia especially in the 40’s and 50’s.look what happened to diana on august 31 1997??? now najib get the hidden message by the queen clearly???are you going to play reverse psychology back najib altantuya? i saw the queen wear yellow during his grandson wedding two monts ago and now….ohhh or are we just perasan schizopath malaysian who thought the queen also support bersih????

  9. #9 by monsterball on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 4:09 pm

    paulkersey….presuming the Queen simply love yellow dresses and she did wore yellow during her grand son’s wedding.
    Queen is also well known not to show to the public with the same dress.
    She knows she needs to dress up for pride of her country.
    But for the Queen Of England…wore full yellow dress so soon after the wedding…is no co-incident.
    It is purely for BERSIH 2 supporters.
    No need to have so much doubts?
    We don’t play games…especially concerning Atlantuya’s murder case.
    Why don”t Najib sue Balan and be done with it.
    If it was Lee Kuan Yew..that will be him doing so.
    Why don’t Mahathir sue Wain Barry…accusing him stole US100 billion as PM?
    You see……it is robbers and thieves greatest fear to sue anyone.
    They must show ever lasting forgiveness and understandings…to fool voters.
    The schizoid people or suffering from mental disorders are Najib and his band of robbers and thieves….not us.
    You need to know all facts before uttering stupidly…just to attract attention Ibrahim Ali.. ..talking alot of nonsensical stuffs.

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