Blogger Jeff Ooi’s move to DAP: “Neutrality” lost?

What is “neutrality” or political non-partisanship? Going by The Star’s report (1 Aug 2007) on Jeff Ooi’s move from Gerakan to the DAP, “neutrality”, according to our mainstream journalists, means only one thing: support for the BN and all its component parties.

Titled “Ooi: I can’t remain a fence-sitter,” the article in part had this to say:

The DAP held a welcoming party for him (Ooi) here yesterday, attended by fellow bloggers and journalists who wanted to know why he was joining the party. 

“I’ve stopped believing in the promises of the Government,” he said in a statement for his reason to join the DAP.  

Reporters, however, were more inquisitive about his neutrality as a blogger, now that he had made a political stand. 

Many in and outside the media had known for several months that Ooi was a member of the BN component party, Gerakan. But none in the media questioned his "neutrality" or political partisanship all that time. Now that he is a member of an opposition party, DAP, his neutrality is suddenly in question.

Aren't those in the various coalition parties of the BN political – and therefore not neutral – as well? After all, these parties too espouse certain ideologies and are partisan in character, just like the DAP and other opposition parties? The media appear so brainwashed by the BN that, for them, "neutrality" = the BN’s political ideology.

This inability to distinguish between the two reflects a mindset that is the root of what is wrong with the mainstream media. In a sense, "neutrality", "balanced reporting" and "objectivity" are buzz-words that have been hijacked by the mainstream media to describe pro-establishment views or views that defend the status quo.

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Apparently, the mainstream media are not the only ones having that problem. Even Ooi did not appear to think there was something odd about the way the media questioned his neutrality now that he was with the DAP.

Actually, the very idea of a blogger as "impartial" or "neutral" is an oxymoron. Bloggers, especially socio-political ones like Ooi, are either partisan or take certain stands. They are essentially defined by what their views are and how they present or defend them. Their partisanship is not the problem. What is critical is whether their views are reasonable and based on accurate information.

There is also the false assumption that it is only through partisan politics that one can take a stand. What about all those in civil society groups, especially NGOs? Are they just sitting on the fence?

Again, the problem is not partisanship per se. It is how one’s view is presented. The public benefit when they are exposed to different views reasonably presented and based on accurate information. They can then have different views rubbed against theirs so that they can make up their own minds and defend their positions in a reasonable way instead of resorting to threats of censorship or fanning certain prejudices to make their case whenever challenged.

BN politicians, however, are scared of the public being exposed to different views, especially over the Internet or blogosphere – views that may question or challenge the BN’s views. Thus, they constantly threaten to censor or criminalise bloggers (often based on trumped-up charges) instead of challenging them with more convincing ideas of their own to win the hearts and minds of the public. They present only their position as “non-partisan” or “neutral” or “objective” while all other views are not neutral – the better to demonise the bloggers and make the public wary or scared of them. Still, the BN is largely doing what political parties do—they act in a partisan manner. The problem, again, is when the media are not able or willing to tell it for what it is.

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Is it any wonder then that as people have access to information from other sources besides the mainstream media, more and more of them do not trust the media? And is it any wonder that many see the media as more of an obstacle than a resource in the development of a politically mature, progressive Malaysia as we move beyond 50 years of independence.

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