TV3’s 360 programme telecast on 16 July 2008 and hosted by Mazidul Akmal Sidik was a parody of investigative reporting. The programme not only purported to expose street beggars as ‘bogus poor’ ‘parasiting’ on public charity but placed unnecessary emphasis on those who happened to be foreigners. This was one of the most insensitive pieces of journalistic arrogance, devoid of compassion and inclined to incite public xenophobia against destitute migrants stranded in this country.
Not only was the commentary and interview with the ‘street people’ so smugly self-righteous and judgmental of them, it was shamelessly biased. The background music was eerie throughout as if intended to induce fear among viewers. The camera crew and interviewer went round as if they were on a witch-hunt, pouncing on the ‘street people’ sitting on the pavement, plastic or tin containers in hand or on the ground near them. They appeared to home in on soft targets such as old people, refugee children and foreigners with disabilities, who for whatever reason had been reduced to begging on the street. In none of the clips did they ask any of those they interviewed the reasons they had taken to living on public charity. Their side of the story went untold.
The vindictive manner in which the interview with these street people was carried out apparently caused these interviewees to move away from the spot they had occupied for whatever period of time; quickly backing away and moving off with the plastic bags containing all they owned, possibly the collection for the day as well. The faces of the old people unmistakably showed their feelings of wariness of this TV3 squad who did not spare them embarrassment and humiliation. It didn’t seem to bother the 360 journalistic team that they were exhibiting an arbitrary and insensitive attitude towards people in dire need of help. Sweeping and dubious generalisations were applied to these ‘street people’ without any attempt at balancing the story by allowing them a voice.
Interestingly, 360 showed how Municipal Council enforcers (in this case DBKL) carry out their job of taking beggars off the streets. An old Haji was being rounded up by a group of four hefty DBKL enforcers who manhandled the frail-looking old man forcing him into a van. Although the old man seemed unhurt, it was disgusting to see an old person treated in this way. When ‘arresting’ street people, some DBKL enforcers wear surgical latex gloves as if they were trying to avoid being infected by vermin-infested animals. All in all, the way street people are treated is completely repulsive. That this was exposed is the sole positive point of this report.
Even more galling was the deceptive friendliness of the interviewer with some refugee children on the Chowrasta Market steps in Penang. They were made to show their UNHCR documentation that the camera picked up in detail. Deceiving children and using them to humiliate others; in this case the implication seemed to be that the refugee agency was bringing beggars into this country, can only be seen as a sin against the innocent. The obscenity of such an act must not go unexposed or be viewed as trivial.
Another Myanmar child interviewed in Bukit Bintang, KL, also had a paper in hand that he obviously was showing to the 360 team. The boy was rubbing his eyes and keeping his arms over his face as if crying or fearing to be identified. The camera had zoomed in on the face of another refugee child in Penang before blurring it, too late, to avoid identification. Nonetheless, this had not been edited out of the aired programme.
There were two clearly interviewees with disabilities who were said to be Chinese nationals. One of them a man for some unexplained reason had removed his shirt apparently by request of the TV3 team. The other a young lady with a deformed foot was seen to drag herself away after a few words with the interviewer. She had been sitting on the sidewalk crying with a container in her hand. What tragedy had befallen her, viewers will never know, as the 360 team was irresponsibly out to embarrass and expose these defenceless people.
It appeared that the rationale for this despicable piece of trash in the guise of investigative reporting was to justify allegations that begging had become a global profession with foreign beggars migrating to this country to ply their business. This allegation was in no way proved as the report was too one-sided to sustain any credibility. Members of the public interviewed by the TV3 team were the ones who expressed negative views and little understanding of poverty, most being business people hawking their wares. M Akmal Sidik amplified the vindictively xenophobic tone of the programme in his commentary claiming that these people were rich and stayed in hotels in inner city KL but failed to show evidence of this.
This piece of smut reporting had the audacity to take the moral high ground bringing in a ‘kadi’ to explain what is understood by ‘genuine charity’ in Islam. While the belief in earning an honest living is a universal value sincerely held by all religions, such belief must still recognise and take into account the realities of the hardships and causes of poverty. In any case, the choice is open to members of the public whether they wish to fish out a few coins or a few notes or nothing at all to any apparent charity case.
Wrapping the program up, Mazidul Akmal concluded with the remark that there was a need to rid Malaysian streets of foreign beggars. The words used had strongly xenophobic overtones – “…hapuskan pengemis warga asing..”. He sounded somewhat like Hishammudin Hussein of Umno, the Education Minister, who made a similarly racial speech, wielding a ‘keris’ at a major Umno meeting last year.
Things are not going well in this country. Malay society is fragmenting and as it has done in the past, Umno, which is not solely representative of all the Malays in the country resorts to playing the ‘race and religious’ card. All Malaysians are familiar with this age-old tactic. Since last year, the BN government latched on to another ‘beating boy’ to create a diversion from its flagging capability to maintain unity in the country – migrants, refugees and the UN Refugee Agency.
Where then is Malaysia heading? More turmoil has been created by the BN government and the high-handed actions of the police since the 8 March General Election than by the rakyat’s exercise of their fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. With the ‘unlawful’ arrest and detention of Anwar Ibrahim and unsubstantiated sodomy allegations, can the ‘rakyat’ be expected to silently consent to such travesties of justice including the suppression of their political and democratic rights to choose the government they prefer?