Aiming for the stars?

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The owners of The Star newspaper are set to publish a new Malay-language weekly, Mingguan Star. Mustafa K Anuar outlines the challenge the paper will faces in projecting a more Malaysian outlook than its rivals Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian.  

The largest selling English newspaper, The Star, according to online news portal The Malaysian Insider (TMI), is planning to publish a weekly in the national language at the end of February 2010. This would be a journalistic and business inroad into a world hitherto monopolised by Kumpulan Utusan Melayu and the New Straits Times Press group.

But more than that, Mingguan Star, as the weekly is to be called, promises to make a difference in Malay-language journalism in the country. According to a source from the weekly, as quoted by TMI, Mingguan Star is to provide ‘a Malaysian voice’ vis-à-vis Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian that are said to be Malay-centric.

If what is claimed by the source is true, then it is something commendable given the kind of contentious reporting and analyses that had been offered to the Malay-speaking readers of late by the established Malay-language dailies. Indeed, a weekly of this intent has a vital role to play in a way that could bring about a sense of belonging to its diverse readers.

To do this, the weekly has to ensure that all readers, irrespective of ethnic, religious, economic and political backgrounds, are given equal access to the publication. Equally important, the newspaper should seek information that is crucial to the daily lives and future of its multiethnic constituencies, particularly if it is of public and national import. Often times, this would require courage and commitment to conducting investigative journalism.

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Given the social reality where racism still rears its ugly head, the weekly also ought to avoid falling into the pitfalls of looking at things from an ethnic angle. To be sure, most things in Malaysian life have nothing to do with ethnicity but power and material greed, and the weekly must take note of this if it is to make a real difference in Malaysian journalism.

Indeed, to be ‘Malaysian’ is not only noble, but also challenging for this weekly, or for that matter, any newspaper worth its salt. It needs to go against the rising tide of press control, overriding commercial interests and political pressure.

Additionally, given the diverse nature of our society, Mingguan Star should reflect this very diversity in terms of providing space for opinions of various shades and news about and for individuals and groups of various political and ideological hues. Needless to say, it is not enough and fair to highlight only views from the ruling BN coalition and its economic and ideological allies, particularly the MCA (the owner of The Star) – while marginalising or, worse, demonising political rivals and critics.

Through its ‘different’ kind of reporting and analyses, the weekly is in a position to reinforce the importance of celebrating diversity and respecting differences in our society, which include dissenting views that are expressed in a civilised manner.

Is this too much to ask of a weekly that promises to be ‘Malaysian’?

Mustafa K Anuar, the Hon Assistant Secretary of Aliran, specialises in media and communications issues.

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