KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 10 — Putrajaya has told the local media to “soften people’s hearts” and provide more good news before this year’s general election to showcase the ruling Barisan Nasional’s (BN) administrative record, say executives who have attended a series of hush-hush meetings since New Year’s Day.
The Malaysian Insider understands that newspaper and television news editors have also been told to play up positive economic stories and businessmen’s objections to street rallies such as this weekend’s Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat (HKR) rally in Stadium Merdeka.
“The minister wants us to ‘soften people’s hearts’ with positive news and programmes,” said a media executive who attended a meeting chaired by Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim.
“The focus is more on the Chinese and Indian communities as BN feels they are not getting enough support from them,” the executive added.
BN suffered historic losses in Election 2008, ceding four states and more than one-third of the 222-seat Parliament to several opposition parties that later formed Pakatan Rakyat (PR) under sacked Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The swing has been attributed to widespread discontent among the Chinese and Indians, who form a significant minority among the country’s 28 million population.
But the opposition pact has found it difficult to expand its influence through the mass media as the government controls national radio and television broadcaster Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM), state news agency Bernama and its broadcasting arm BernamaTV and Radio24.
Rais’s ministry is also in charge of licensing private broadcasters such as Syarikat Televisyen Malaysia Bhd (STMB), Astro, TV AlHijrah and private radio stations.
It is understood the minister had asked for a list of positive programmes to be aired in the next few months ahead of Election 2013 which is now expected to be held before the first week of April.
The mandate for the ruling BN government expires this April 28 but BN chairman and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is expected to call elections sooner rather than later.
“The minister wants a list of programmes which is to be submitted to the BN leadership,” said another media executive who attended the same meeting.
But the executive said there was some confusion as most media groups have already submitted their news and programmes to the Prime Minister’s Department recently.
“There are too many people asking for such lists but the minister has insisted we send it in again,” he said.
The Malaysian Insider understands that BN already has an election war room set up in Putrajaya, which has been focusing on media activities including the Jelajah Janji Ditepati (Fulfilled Promises Tour) organised by STMB’s TV3, which is part of the Media Prima Bhd media group linked to BN’s dominant party Umno.
The election war room also handles cyberspace activities, including hiring a retinue of cybertroopers to ensure BN gets to compete with PR which has been using social networks and websites to greater effect.
Despite such operations, Rais’ ministry has proven more effective with its programmes over RTM and getting private broadcasters to put out positive news as most voters in rural areas still rely on television and radio for their news and information.
Malaysia has a broadband penetration of under 70 per cent while three out of five households subscribe to satellite television provider Astro, which carries RTM, TV3 and other local stations which are heavily regulated.
“The government knows that people still watch television and listen to the radio so these positive programming could work,” said a television executive who said his business desk has been asked to broadcast more positive economic news.
He said colleagues in the print media have also been asked to poll opinions from people, taxi and bus drivers, and traders to show their disdain for street rallies which have been organised by the opposition for various causes.
“Putrajaya wants us to show that people should respect the Peaceful Assembly Act and not simply protest this weekend as it can cause economic hardship,” the executive added.
Police and the Stadium Merdeka management have already approved the rally, a historic first as previous rallies have been banned and led to violence. Rally organisers have argued that such protests actually increase business for petty traders and public transport companies.