CIJ: Loyalty to politicians gets the media nowhere

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Ku Seman Ku Hussein - Graphic: FMT

The Ku Seman episode tells us that the demand for blind loyalty is a bottomless pit: even hardcore allies will never be good enough for an insatiable leader, observes the Centre for Independent Journalism.

A senior editor of a government-linked newspaper has reportedly left after serving for more than 32 years.

Commentators and media reports suggest that his departure may have stemmed from his column in August 2015, commenting on Umno leaders’ inconsistent responses to the controversial RM2.6bn in the prime minister’s accounts.

Ku Seman Ku Hussein was assistant editor of Mingguan Malaysia, the weekend edition of Utusan Malaysia, a Malay-language newspaper owned by Umno, the largest party in the Barisan Nasional coalition.

His 9 August 2015 column asked why the Umno leaders had given different answers, despite coverage on the issue by international publications like the Wall Street Journal. Ku Seman’s column (Anekdot Ahad) was pulled out the following week, and those in the know have speculated that several ministers may have attempted to interfere in the newspaper’s editorial decision at that time.

To a large extent, the rumblings within the establishment newspaper reflect the ground split within Umnp, as also represented by the sacking of deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Kedah Mentri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir over the last few months.

Is it a case of press freedom under threat?

Interference of any kind in the newsroom should be frowned upon as an attempt to curtail the journalists’ freedom and right to report, whether or not we agree with the slant. The solidarity we give to journalists and editors who have fallen victims to a state bully must be consistent.

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Press freedom is not something only a few are entitled to, and neither is it a privilege, as the government ministers want us to believe. It is a fundamental human right and it involves ensuring a culture of respect for the rights and ability of the media to do their job, without fear or favour.

Unfortunately, it has become difficult to support Utusan Malaysia when it too faces the same kind of threats other media do, in Malaysia. It has showed on numerous occasions how much it is willing to ignore ethical and professional standards to uphold the government’s hegemony.

In a number of defamation cases filed against Utusan, the courts remarked about irresponsible journalistic practices and reporting done in bad faith. The newspaper is also racially provocative, a stand it takes with impunity because the targets are always those external or opposed to the establishment. Its establishment.

But could the latest case be a departure of its general trend? Was Ku Seman different from the others in the newspaper? Could it be that the journalists and editors in Utusan want to become better journalists and do better reporting but are held back by their political allegiance?

Umno’s control of the newspaper solidified in 1963 under Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister, bringing an end to its days of glory in journalism. But government control of the media vis-a-vis its printing licence and appointment of editors-in-chief strengthened well throughout the years, and was deeply entrenched under the administration of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

People in the media are all too familiar with the revolving doors to the office of the editors-in-chief of the mainstream television stations and newspapers. When former deputy prime minister and now opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sacked by Mahathir, the latter moved fast to replace Anwar’s men in the media. Changes in media leadership also took place when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became prime minister when Mahathir stepped down in 2003.

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So what does the Ku Seman episode tell us? It tells us that the demand for blind loyalty and conformity is a bottomless pit: even hardcore allies will never be good enough for an insatiable leader.

Let’s not forget how easily Utusan Malaysia’s owners disposed its jawi publication and compromised the welfare of its staff in the past. No one is indispensable.

One day, TV3, the largest television station in the country of the Media Prima group that is partisan to the BN, or even the state broadcaster, RTM, might not be good enough for the ruling regime, despite all their efforts to please. More heads could roll in the media when the prime minister feels he is cornered from within.

The 1998 and 2003 experiences should have been lessons learnt for the mainstream media.

It is time to remove partisan politics and government ownership from the media. But it is also time for the media community to take the bold step and begin pledging allegiance to the profession and the public.

Source: CIJ Facebook

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Zaharom Nain
Zaharom Nain
8 Apr 2016 2.14am

Gayathry Venkiteswaran