Here we go again–the issue of government-media partnership being discussed at the yearly Langkawi International Dialogue (LID), where journalists were quizzed by governmental leaders from Africa and Malaysia. A Bernama report that was published in NST and The Star (6 Aug 2007) mentioned how Rehman Rashid of the NST and Michael Aeria of The Star (among other journalists from outside Malaysia) got a taste of their own medicine when they were asked some “tough” questions by political leaders.
The report in NST and The Star focused on PM Abdullah Badawi’s question. He wanted to know how journalists could help to address economic poverty. In his response, Aeria said the government should treat the media as a partner rather than the media as driven by the need to get someone or get things fixed.
Hmmm. Is the problem one of inadequate partnership between the Malaysian government and the media? Consider the following.
Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak claimed that Malaysia has been an Islamic state in all the years since independence. That got many Malaysians polarised between those who support the claim and those who think Malaysia has been a secular nation. But the BN government quickly put a lid on the media from further debates, discussions or statements about the issue. Only the PM and DPM are allowed to talk about it openly.
Last Friday, Senior Cabinet Minister Bernard Dompok broke ranks with his BN colleagues when he openly disagreed with Najib’s claim. If not for Malaysiakini’s report, Malaysians would not have known about it at all. The mainstream media dutifully ignored the story.
On the other hand, PM Abdullah came forth with his statement on the issue just before Dompok made known his view. Saying that Malaysia is neither a theocratic nor a secular nation, the PM created more questions than answers for he did not say whether Malaysia is Islamic or not. His statement was duly covered by the mainstream media, but not the many questions that it has raised.
The above is just one of the more recent examples to show the mainstream media is not the one unwilling to be the partner of the BN government. On the contrary, they have long been doing the government’s bidding.
Rather, Aeria appeared unhappy that the BN is still not treating the mainstream media as a partner. He also seemed to be grovelling to the PM for more ways the mainstream media can be the BN’s mouthpiece before the government accepts them as partner.
Now, one could argue that the mainstream media are restricted by the many repressive media laws to be able to do much. Thus it is unable to act as a critical partner – instead of a subservient one – to the government in tackling poverty. But Aeria did not say any of that.
It would be interesting to see how R Nadeswaran and Terence Fernandez of theSun would respond to PM Abdullah’s question about the role of the media in addressing poverty. They are the only Malaysian journalists who are currently better known for their investigative journalism and are willing to exercise more independence and critical reportage than Aeria’s paper The Star as well as NST. They are also not afraid to name names of even people in government. Thus, it is not difficult to imagine them offering a different response from Aeria’s. At least, they would not go grovelling to the PM.
This yearly LID idea of having journalists meet the political leaders is thus a way for the BN government to extract from the compliant mainstream journalists even more ways to have the mainstream media serve as their mouthpiece. And the government is able to do all that by giving the public the impression that it is the journalists and media themselves who are willingly seeking partnership with the government instead of the BN government imposing it on them through the many media laws.
Malaysian Media Monitors