Side Views

The Lost Middle Ground — CL Tang

January 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, January 20). 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, January 14). 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 in 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 read it.

* CL Tang reads The Malaysian Insider

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.