TV cleansing to a fault
MAY 3 — The massive participation of ordinary Malaysians in the recent Bersih 3.0 sit-in rally in Kuala Lumpur (and elsewhere in the country and globally) was basically triggered by frustration, anxiety, anger as well as hope that have developed over the years, especially with regards to the reportedly sullied electoral roll and other undemocratic practices and developments such as gerrymandering, unequal access to the media, weakening democratic institutions and short campaigning period.
The people were, and still are, 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.
Developments in the last couple of days since the KL protest aren’t soothing either. In particular, the controversy over the snipping of parts of news coverage by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (and apparently also Al Jazeera’s) by their local partner Astro only 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 off the “unpleasant bits” of the former’s coverage of Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur, the latter retorted that the BBC video clip was cut “in accordance with national content regulations.”
The BBC was rightly incensed that its coverage was snipped off so that its reportage appeared unbalanced and unfair to the parties concerned in the rally, namely Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and certain protesters who voiced their anger towards 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 isn’t enough of a problem, Communication, Information and Culture Minister Rais Yatim came to the defence of Astro, which essentially constitutes a further insult to 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 (towards the ruling party and the federal government) becomes a rule and not an exception. It is sheer, if one could borrow a word used by well-known writer Kee Thuan Chye in his latest popular book, “bullshit” 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 the ordinary people and other social forces.
To cut to the chase, what has happened at Astro is a crude application of censorship procedure based on some questionable guideline crafted by the authorities. This is to say that the kind of censorship that is meant to conceal things that may cause eventual shame and culpability to the parties concerned especially the authorities — and consequent indignation of members of the general public.
As intimated earlier, this state of the Malaysian mainstream media indeed only underscores one of the demands of the Bersih 3.0 steering committee as well as other concerned Malaysians, which is to have fair and balanced reporting as well as independent and accountable media.
It’s 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 make their informed judgment.
Only then would we know who got themselves dirty.
* The views expressed here are the personal views of the columnist.