Hindraf rally: Mainstream press spins to dizzying heights

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Very much informed and persuaded by the
government’s illiberal stand on citizens’ right to public
assembly such as the recent Hindraf and Bersih rallies, the major
newspapers, in particular The Star, the New Straits Times
and theSun, predictably went to town yesterday with the speech
given by the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah, at the opening of
the 160th Perak Malay Customs and Islamic Religious Council
conference. Raja Nazrin reportedly called on Malaysians, among other
things, to “respect the law and enforcement agencies and be
civilised and courteous in their approaches and actions” as well as
to reject the “foreign culture of violence”.



 Predictably, the NST graced its
front-page with a banner headline, “Show respect for the law”;
theSun came up with a front-page headline, “Respect law,
order: Nazrin”; and The Star placed a relatively smaller
headline, “Nazrin: Obey the law” next to its masthead to remind
readers that this important story could be found in the inside pages.

Contrast this story to Raja Nazrin’s
speech on 28 November, which was carried by the mainstream dailies
the following day. This speech, which was delivered at the National
Economic Outlook Conference 2008/2009 in Kuala Lumpur, focussed on
the important issue of development and nationhood in Malaysia, and it
was instead relegated to their inside pages.

Now back to yesterday’s report of
Raja Nazrin’s speech. One would think that his speech would have
generated interest, concern and discussions. After all, civilised
societies cater to discourses of national import. So it will be
interesting to see whether these papers will carry the responses of
concerned Malaysians. For one thing, there are certain quarters in
our society who rightly believe that the Federal Constitution does
provide for the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly. Also, they
would argue that while laws must be respected, unjust and
undemocratic laws should also be questioned conscientiously. As
regards the ‘culture of violence’, yes, ordinary citizens should
avoid that; but the enforcement agencies should also refrain from
resorting to undue force especially when dealing with a crowd that is
peaceful in nature.

Hot line, cold story 

Apart from Raja Nazrin’s speech, The
Star
yesterday front-paged a story, headlined “Open lines”,
about MIC’s plan to set up a hotline “to handle all problems
faced by the Indian community”. The daily also duly reported MIC
president Samy Vellu’s response to the question whether this move
was a direct response to the Hindraf protest: “MIC always submitted
a report to the Prime Minister every six months.”

The paper could have asked a subsequent
question such as: is Samy trying to push the buck to the Prime
Minister by implying that no action has been taken regarding problems
of the Indian community even though periodic reports had been
submitted to Abdullah? Surely the Hindraf group in particular and the
Indian community as a whole would not have wasted their precious time
on staging a public rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur if their
legitimate grievances had indeed been taken care of?

Whatever the case may be, this report
is an indirect admission that the Hindraf rally had some effect on
the government and that something is indeed amiss in the Indian
community.

What choice? 

Then there was the report in The
Star
, headlined “IGP: We gave them choices”, which told the
reader of IGP Musa Hassan’s rather belated revelation that:
“Organisers of the recent illegal gatherings were offered stadiums
and other alternative venues to hold peaceful demonstrations but they
rejected them.” Were the Hindraf organisers given these options? We
wouldn’t know, would we – because the paper didn’t bother to ask
the organisers for verification and clarification.

Below this report is one titled
“Gerakan: Differing opinions allowed” about Gerakan president Dr
Koh Tsu Koon’s response to Penang (Gerakan) state executive
councillor Dr Toh Kin Woon’s principled stand on the Hindraf issue
and his disagreement with the BN leadership’s position on the
rally. Koh dismissed Toh’s comment as “merely expressing his
personal views”. Wouldn’t the People’s Paper be interested to
know from Toh himself what he felt about Koh’s swift assertion?
After all, the former actually wrote a strongly worded letter about
this issue which was published in Malaysiakini?

The blame game 

In another page of the same newspaper,
another report headlined, “Hisham: Don’t blame the Indians”,
recorded what Umno Youth leader Hishamuddin Hussein had said about
the Hindraf incident. He reportedly urged the people “not to blame
the Indian community for the illegal gathering organised by the Hindu
Rights Action Force (Hindraf) last Sunday”. The report however was
not specific about who had actually put the “blame” on "the
Indian community", which then begs the question whether
Hishamuddin was indirectly or otherwise trying to pit the Hindraf
organisers against the “Indian community”. Would the Hindraf folk
be given their right of reply by the said daily?

The Queen… and breaking ranks

As if all this isn’t enough, in the
same report, readers were informed by none other than
(mis)Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin that “several groups of
students” he met in Cairo were angry “over the Hindraf leaders’
move to ask Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II to intervene in Malaysia’s
internal affars”. This is one way to create an impression that "the
majority" are very much against the Hindraf rally.

In the last page of the Hindraf-related
issue, the daily carried a report, headlined “Hindraf applies to
have rally ban order set aside”. Essentially, this report reported
the Hindraf leaders as asking the High Court to rescind the 22
November order, which barred them from holding the 25 November rally.

On the same day, the NST carried in the
inside pages headlines such as “Hishammuddin: No need to get
emotional over Hindraf”; “PM open to MIC proposals”; “Toh
didn’t break ranks with BN, says Koh”; and “Hindraf rally: Six
more charged”.

And is if not to be outdone by its
competitors, the NST also carried a column (“Off to London to see
the queen”) by its writer Rehman Rashid in his rambling about the
Hindraf move to send a petition to Queen Elizabeth II. In a sense,
the writer was trying to trivialise the Hindraf’s objective, but
given the long and winding way it’s written one is made to wonder
whether he himself would be granted Her Majesty’s audience at all.

Derailing grievances 

Last, but not least, another commentary
titled “When personal agendas can derail everything” by seasoned
NST columnist Hardev Kaur put the blame on “some Malaysians”,
presumably the Hindraf people, for having destroyed the “image,
reputation and credibility of the nation” by resorting to “unlawful
means to promote their own individual agendas when there are
official, peaceful and civilised channels available”.

Strangely,
she didn’t find it disgraceful and unjust that the legitimate
grievances of the country’s minorities have not been properly
addressed. And she didn’t think that this gross negligence would mar
the international image of our country. Did she really think that
the country’s leadership had been accountable to ordinary citizens,
particularly the marginalised and the poor? Is
it so unpatriotic to speak truth to power?

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