The Lost Middle Ground

— CL Tang
The Malaysian Insider
Jan 20, 2013

JAN 20 — I read with incredulity Wong Chun Wai’s mournful assessment of the state of political discourse in Malaysia, “The lost middle ground” (The Sunday Star, 20th January 2013). Commenting on the recent episode where a panellist berated a student for her political views at a local university and the subsequent harsh responses in cyberspace, he commented,” we are incapable of articulating our points in a persuasive and rational manner, preferring to shout, as in a ceramah, or to talk down, in the big brother/sister know best” attitude.”

As the editor-in-chief of the largest circulated English newspaper in Malaysia, Wong should re-examine whether he has played a role in the decline of healthy political discussions among Malaysians, and whether The Star has been equally guilty of “talking down” to its readers.

In just a week where we had the KL112 event to the recent shocking revelations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) where there are alleged conspiracies of votes in exchange for citizenships, if one examines the manner in which the Star covered the issues, one would conclude that it was not news per se, but spins slanted in favour of the government.

In the KL112 event and similarly in the previous Bersih 3.0 event, where hundreds of thousands of Malaysian defied the veiled threats of government intimidation, The Star’s reports and editorials was so one-sided that the last shred of responsible journalism was dropped. When an undergraduate tweeted, “Dear #KL112 supporters, if you don’t like Malaysia, you can get out of Malaysia….” The Star exclaimed that “a Twitter star…. is born” under the headlines, “Twitter sensation unfazed by brickbats in cyberspace” (The Star, Jan 14th 2013). And here Wong has the audacity to reprimand Sharifah Zobra Jabeen, the protagonist in the “Listen, listen listen” fiasco for insinuating those who do not like Malaysia to leave the country!

Wong further argued that KS Bawani, the brave student who stood up among thousands to voice her opposing point of view, was delivering a “ceramah” as opposed to asking a question. But isn’t this supposed to be a forum, i.e. a meeting where ideas and views can be exchanged? And when he alleged that Bawani “hogged” the microphone and “refused to let go”, did anyone see a line of people queuing up behind her to express their opinions? Who was the one hogging the microphone for the past 2-3 hours and then snatching it away from Bawani after a few minutes, in a blatant brainwashing exercise to drum up support for the government but disguised as a “forum”?

And if indeed Bawani was giving a speech, as Wong was saying, she was simply taking the opportunity denied to many other countless Malaysians to express their views and opinions that is contrary to that of the government’s stance. She is lending a voice to that young protester in KL112 who never got tell his story why he is there in Stadium Merdeka. She is lending a voice to the old uncles and aunties who never took part in any demonstrations, but nevertheless saw such a bleak future for their children and grandchildren that they just have to be there to show their disapproval. These are stories from the heart that the Star never carried.

Indeed, I agree with Wong that some of the comments posted on the Net by supporters of Bawani was plain racist and overly harsh. But has Wong questioned why is there so much anger and vitriol on the Net? Why is it that youngsters and even matured readers trawl the Net for news, and at times even taking unsubstantiated reports there as the gospel truth? This is partly due to the fact that the mainstream media has simply lost their credibility with their audience. Far from responsible journalism where opposing views should be analysed, investigated and given equal space, the mainstream media in Malaysia is now reduced to a bunch “rah-rah” cheerleaders whose sole existence is to talk up the government’s /BN’s policies and “successes” without question.

If the mainstream media, of which The Star is a part of, is simply the government’s mouthpiece, isn’t Wong’s paper also guilty of “talking down” to its readers? Are you allowing any intelligent debate based on your one-sided reporting?

Wong blamed our education, our background, our education system, for Malaysian’s inability to engage in a “good debate”. He failed to name another culprit – the mainstream media. The media is dubbed as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy – its role is to provide that informative bridge between the general public and the governing bodies. Its impartiality is critical to keep the system honest, so that there will be minimal abuse of power and dereliction of duties from the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. If it does not present both positive and negative impact of any legislation or policies on the civil society, it fails to create discourse and critical thinking among the general public.

In Malaysia, this pillar is non-existent since the media exists only to shape public opinion if favour of the ruling party, BN. At best, corruption, abuse of power, and failed policies are buried, at worst, blatant lies and divisive reporting are churned out. And Wong wonders why there is lack of intelligent debate in Malaysia and why the masses turned to the Internet for a second opinion. Bawani KS, like many other Malaysians, are simply tired of being talked down to and manipulated by the government and its many agents, the media included. They want to speak out, and they will grab any opportunity to do so.

If Wong laments the “lost of the middle ground”, he, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Star newspaper, is partly responsible for that. If he sincerely wants to play a role for Malaysia to move to this “middle ground”, he has to start with his newspaper, and decide who it wants to serve as its master — the political party that owns the newspaper, or the readers that reads it.

  1. #1 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Sunday, 20 January 2013 - 7:37 pm

    Wong Chun Wai has been:
    derelict as a christian,
    hypocritical as a journalist, and
    a let-down as a Malaysian chinese.

    Do you want me to continue describing this pseudo-journalist, Chun Wai?

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Sunday, 20 January 2013 - 7:42 pm

    In 1M’sia, we always hv crooks condemning righteous ppl

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 20 January 2013 - 8:11 pm

    I don’t agree with Wong Chun Wai that the ‘middle ground’ is lost in Malaysia. I believe a certain naivette and innocent is completely lost, in large part, the middle ground still hold this country..

    BUT if there is a ‘lost middle ground’, then he did not have to look further than over 20 years of being ruled by what we know now to be a true-blue Ultra-Malay who only superficially pretended to be moderate while he covertly devastated the core of our moderation and sensibility inclusive of treason to the people of Sabah..

  4. #4 by Dap man on Sunday, 20 January 2013 - 8:24 pm

    An apt rebuttal to WCW. He is a shameless mercenary, not a jouranalist.
    He is an insult the Christianity.

  5. #5 by Winston on Sunday, 20 January 2013 - 9:07 pm

    Well, well, well!
    The Star has fallen to such an extent in its readership that it has to resort to the trick of publishing part of some of its news items and ended the article halfway by telling its online readers that if they want to read the full article, they will have to buy a hard copy of the newspapers!!!!!
    That’s how precipitously its readership has fallen!
    It’s as desperate for readership as their political masters are for votes!!!!!!!!!!
    It’s indeed a very shameful situation!!!!!

  6. #6 by Noble House on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 2:15 am

    The media want to maintain their intimate relation to state power. They want to get leaks, they want to get invited to the press conferences. They want to rub shoulders with the Power that be, all that kind of business. To do that, you’ve got to play the game, and playing the game means telling their lies, serving as their disinformation apparatus. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself.

  7. #7 by chengho on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 2:49 am

    Zohra good , just like crossfire and fox program , that is outside the box style

  8. #8 by richiee on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 6:53 am

    Time to rename the star as the fallen star.

  9. #9 by wiseupbro on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 8:25 am

    I read the Star for its advertisement, not for its biased news.

  10. #10 by Cinapek on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 10:30 am

    In Malaysia if you do not toe the line as a journalist and you lose your job at any mainstream media you will be persona non grata and won’t be able to find employment in any other mainstrean media. Likewise for judges. That is their predicament.

  11. #11 by cseng on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 11:27 am

    The umno apologist…

  12. #12 by Godfather on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 11:29 am

    Listen, listen, listen, a prostitute by any other name is still a prostitute.

  13. #13 by john on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 4:01 pm

    If one were to take a minute to ponder, it is this ‘middle ground’ that Wong tried to circumscribe and conjugate out from (falsehood/his own circumvent belief) – one side the hard facts ,reality of event and the other side Wong’s jutaposition as mouthpiece of the corridors of power to serve his masters, the owner of STAR -MCA foremost, first and as a pressman second or conveniently ‘circumcised’ whenever he deems fit.
    Here, Bawani had acted accordingly to post her question/own view as in any forum protocol, very clear. But Wong suffered from sudden blur vision and hearing to see it otherwise of a ceramah and to hog the microphone by Bawani. As usual Wong knows what he opinionted and printed in his STAR paper would not get rebutted at all, being the ‘owner’. Wong’s vision and hearing turned worst as he completely could not comprehend the harsh ‘talked down, belittled’ TIRADE that follows. Heh Wong, if this TIRADE was hammered on your daughter or close ones, am sure you will all eyes and hears even when you are in your senile age. Don’t try to hold on the higher ground of virtues when you not – that is, trying to treat us like fools. Here, you being the so, so ‘refined’ person to be, turned out worst – a complete refined hipocrate in reality.
    I won’t have any qualm if you are a monthpiece of what, what, so, so but do not try fool us.

  14. #14 by john on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 4:38 pm

    Further, your lament of ‘the lost middle ground’ was just to degrade the matter further. Is Wong trying to circumvent his mouthpiece position of UMNO/bn instead. The ‘ middle ground ‘ is still there except in this ‘TIRADE’ it was ‘lost’ appropriately – Wong, if someone ‘scolded’ you like that you still maintain your high horse ‘middle ground ‘ response. HIPPOCRATE !

  15. #15 by john on Monday, 21 January 2013 - 7:04 pm

    Finally Wong, we just said ‘The Lost Middle Ground’ true for a minute, by the TIRADE as guide :
    1) Wong, you’re a REFINED HIPPOCRATE / FOOL and as your elder I want you not to rebutt but shutup !
    2) Wong ! You had F-up, F-up, F-up, F-up, F-up,
    F-up ( oh, only 6 times )
    3) Wong ! Since I believe the animals must not be
    mistreated, no comparison here.
    Heh Wong, am still on the middle ground as this not ‘LIVE’ in broadcast – lucky FOOL !

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