“Feel good” factor gone: US only to blame?

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The Star saw a change at the helm in recent weeks. But are things changing so that the self-styled “people’s paper” will really live up to its name of serving the rakyat as opposed to being a mouthpiece for the BN government and BN-supported corporate world as it has been all these years?

When Michael Aeria stepped down as Editor-in-Chief, Wong Chun Wai took over. A major “contribution” of Aeria to The Star just before stepping down was revealed at the Langkawi International Dialogue in early August. In response to PM Abdullah Badawi’s question about what role the media could play to combat economic poverty, Aeria basically grovelled before the PM to get him to treat his paper as a partner for having faithfully served as the BN’s mouthpiece.

Now that Wong is at the helm, some might be encouraged to think change is in the air, having come across a few pieces penned by him previously in his “On The Beat” column that called for the government to engage with some of the Malaysian bloggers instead of calling for them to be censored or criminalised because they, the government, did not like what was written about them.

Mahathir would have been proud 

Well, it did not take long for Wong to show his stand. Check out his piece “Sub-prime woes bother our market” on 15 September.

Why were stock prices in Bursa Malaysia heading south in recent weeks? Wong: Because of the sub-prime bank loan crisis in the U.S. And that alone, Wong goes on to say, is why the “feel good” factor is gone from Malaysia.

Former PM Mahathir Mohamad would be proud. Did he not have the penchant to blame Malaysian problems solely on outsiders–be it Singapore, the Jews, the United States or the West in general?

But any B-average fifth former would know that it is sheer nonsense to finger a single factor for any social problem, especially an economic one. Really, Wong, what about the major scandal after scandal that has bubbled to the surface in recent weeks? Let’s consider just two of them.

Remember the massive bailout of the equally massive Port Klang Free Zone scandal? Oh, right, it was not a bailout. Evidence of impropriety by Malaysians in the scandal was uncovered by theSun and Malaysiakini. Even though the BN government did not see anything amiss, they came up with a plan. It was nothing short of a bailout but the government unashamedly spun it as a “soft loan”. And The Star spinelessly complied with the spin.

Health problems, eh? 

Transport Minister Chan Kong Choy came under public scrutiny over the scandal. Just as it got really hot, he abruptly took off for overseas—right before the 50th Merdeka celebrations of the BN government (instead of the Malaysian rakyat). Why? He needed a medical checkup. What kind of health problem that required such abrupt action? Chan did not say and told off the public that it was a personal or private matter. And the Malaysian mainstream media let him get away with it. It was especially telling of The Star’s consistency in letting off Chan considering it had kept a tight lid on the scandal under Chan’s watch from the beginning, reporting only on whatever spin offered by the BN government.

Really, is it too much for tax-paying Malaysians to know how the people in government are doing health-wise? If Chan’s health problem got him to abruptly leave the country to attend to it instead of dealing with the PKFZ problems, aren't tax-paying Malaysians now left in doubt as to what kind of health issue is ailing him? And does this not help to undermine the “feel good” factor, Wong? That is assuming there was really this factor to begin with, as opposed to the spin by the BN government and faithfully promoted by the mainstream media such as Wong’s paper, similar to that during the run-up to the last election in 2004.

Consider another scandal: the Auditor-General’s report on the misuse of huge amounts of tax ringgit by some BN government ministries? Ordinary tax-paying Malaysians are rightly furious over the whole thing so much so even The Star had to run some letters to the editor written by them expressing their disgust, dissipating spirit and declining confidence in the government’s handling of the economy. So, Wong, did you not read your paper’s letters to the editor? Does this scandal not contribute to the rakyat feeling poorly about the economy as well?

New boss, old boss – business as usual 

Wong was not interested in offering a more comprehensive, critical analysis of the economic woes to enlighten the rakyat. Neither was he that dumb to blame the problem solely on the sub-prime scandal in the US. Rather, he was interested in letting the BN government off the hook for the rakyat’s economic woes.

Not once but twice he mentioned in his piece “Sub-prime woes bother our market” how nice it would be if the “feel good” factor was still around given that another election is looming. Obviously, he means nice for the BN government.

But, Wong, what about the rakyat, that the government is supposed to serve? Remember what candidate Abdullah Badawi said in the run-up to the last election in 2004 that your paper reported: that the government should be the servant of the people? Or was that just another spin to get everyone to “feel good” to vote for BN candidates?

Similarly, the better economic situation in the run-up to 2004 election was spun into something that had nothing to do with other factors, like how well the US economy was performing, but everything to do with the performance of the BN government only.

Now that Malaysia is lacking the “feel good” factor, Wong is using his paper to spin for the BN government that what is happening in the US is solely to blame.

When the stock market is doing well, it must be because the Malaysian economy is doing fantastically well. But when the stock market is in the doldrums, it must be due to external factors or perhaps it is just a blip or "correction".  

Aeria might have left, but it does not appear things are really going to change at the “people’s paper” with Wong at the helm. As the rock group of the sixties, The Who, put it: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Malaysian Media Monitors

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