Mainstream media’s role in legitimising Perak power grab

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Anil Netto looks at something that has not been discussed much: the mainstream media’s role in legitimising the Perak power grab in the state executive as well as the legislature.

One of the less discussed aspects of the Perak power grab has been the role of the mainstream media in trying to legitimise the BN takeover of the state.

A casual look at the media reporting may not reveal anything amiss apart from the usual lack of critical questioning of the power grab in Perak. But the more observant reader will notice the choice of terminology at critical moments of the power grab.

A couple of examples will illustrate this. While the question of who the real Menteri Besar was being disputed and lay before the courts, Bernama was in no doubt in its reporting. Note especially the first para below:

 

    KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 (Bernama) — Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin has no right to seek consent from the Perak Sultan, Sultan Azlan Shah, to dissolve the Perak State Assembly, said Menteri Besar Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir.

    “Based on Article 16(6) of the Perak State Constitution, only the Menteri Besar has the right to appear before the Sultan to seek His Royal Highness’ consent to dissolve the state assembly.”

    Zambry said this in a one-page statement faxed to Bernama here tonight following Mohammad Nizar’s statement today that he would seek to meet Sultan Azlan Shah to present three resolutions, including calling for the dissolution of the state assembly, passed during an emergency state assembly sitting held by Pakatan Rakyat state assemblymen under a tree in Ipoh last Tuesday.

    Mohammad Nizar, who is also Pasir Panjang assemblyman and the former Perak Menteri Besar, had said that he would submit a letter and related documents to the Perak Sultan on Tuesday.


Notice how Zambry is referred to as Menteri Besar Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir while Nizar is described as “the former Perak Menteri Besar”.

Never mind that the emergency sitting of the Perak State Assembly under the Democracy Tree five days earlier – with BN assembly members missing – had called for the dissolution of the assembly and expressed support for Nizar as the MB. Never mind that only a successful vote of no-confidence in the State Assembly could remove Nizar as Mentri Besar.

This continued reference to Zambry as the Menteri Besar and Nizar as the “former Mentri Besar” in the aftermath of the power grab and even before the courts had decided the issue appeared to have one goal in mind: to subtly legitimise Zambry as the MB while casting Nizar as a “has been”.

Similarly, after Zambry had grabbed power, Nizar’s state exco team were all referred to as “former state exco members”.

This continued right until the point the High Court declared Nizar the rightful MB. By then the mainstream media had to make a 360 degree somersault to change the titles and terminology of the main protagonists.

But the media gymnastics resumed after Zambry was granted a stay by the Court of Appeal even though many wondered how a “stay” could affect the High Court’s declaration of Nizar as the rightful MB.

The media, however, had no doubts, once again labelling Zambry as the MB and Nizar as the former MB.

A similar media endorsement came immediately after Speaker A Sivakumar was outrageously dragged from his seat in the Dewan by plainclothes officers and then bundled away and dumped in a changing room nearby for more than an hour.

The Star, that self-styled “People’s Paper”, wasted no time in endorsing BN’s claim that its candidate Ganesan was now the new Speaker.

 

    Friday May 8, 2009
    Showdown over Speaker’s seat in Perak

    Chaos at Perak Assembly sitting
    Battleground Ipoh

    IPOH: It was one of the ugliest scenes in Malaysian state assembly history. There were shouting wars, furious shoving, assemblymen standing on tables and even one grabbing the Speaker’s microphone. The dramatic showdown between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat assemblymen was to wrest control of the Speaker’s Chair.

    In the end, Barisan succeeded in its “fight” to elect former Sungkai assemblyman Datuk R. Ganesan as the new Speaker, after Tronoh assemblyman V. Sivakumar was forcibly removed from the Chair by several plainclothes policemen at 2.45pm.

    The House, by majority achieved through Barisan’s 28 assemblymen and three Independent assemblymen, sacked Sivakumar, replacing him with Ganesan.


Never mind that the State Assembly had not yet been declared open; never mind that the Speaker had ordered several state assembly members out, only to find his microphone switched off. No questions asked about the controversial circumstances in which Ganesan was sworn in and the sergeant-at-arms’ refusal to listen to Speaker Sivakumar’s instructions.

All that appeared to matter to The Star was legitimising the BN’s second power grab, this time in the Perak State Assembly, through the paper endorsing Ganesan’s usurping of Speaker Sivakumar’s position.

Ever since then, both Nizar and Sivakumar have been referred to as “former MB” and “former Speaker” even though both have taken the matter to court and those positions remain at best disputed.

The way the mainstream media reported the power grab – unquestioningly and uncritically – came as no surprise to readers.

The trend worldwide is for the print media to lose readers to online media. The mainstream media in Malaysia are only hastening their demise by their lop-sided reporting and uncritical support of the BN. Is it any wonder then that many of these media outfits continue to lose more and more readers to the online media?

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