Shame on you, The Star

The Star can still be relied on for sports news and stock market reports – but its national news section really sucks, writes Francis Loh.

Koay-Teng-Hai-in-Star

For two days running, The Star headlined in the entire front page, in full colour, the story of Koay Teng Hai, the Penang state assembly member for Pulau Tikus, being suspended from his party the DAP.

Koay is not a party heavyweight by any means. Nor is disciplinary action taken by a party on one of its own a big deal. At any rate, The Star’s report was essentially based on the press conference that YB Koay organised and a letter sent to Koay by the head of the Disciplinary Committee, which The Star ‘obtained’. The Chinese-language media and the other English dailies also reported the event. So this news was not ‘exclusive’ to the daily – not that this news item would have been a coup of any sort even if it was.

Nonetheless, the story was played up to the hilt. Not very pleasant looking pictures of Koay were carried. It must have been the first time that Koay had been given such prominence in any newspaper.

In a case like Koay’s suspension, a high-class newspaper might have used the opportunity to conduct some investigative journalism about the merits of the arguments by both sides, to educate the reading public about the role of a politician including his responsibilities to the legislature, and perhaps to take a principled stand about Koay’s absence.

It was also a missed opportunity to write about the problem of absenteeism among our elected officials whether at the state or parliamentary level. And if it had the gumption, The Star could have also discussed the morality of the issue, perhaps relating it to the popular opinion among the rakyat – that ‘all’ our politicians are ‘gila kuasa, gila wang, gila perempuan’. But that might be asking too much of The Star, its aspirations to be a classy regional paper notwithstanding.

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As well, by giving so much space to Koay’s story, The Star missed the opportunity to conduct some investigative reporting into the Sharifah Zohra Jabeen episode. One page of this news, no need for front page and full colour for two pages, and The Star would have endeared itself among the rakyat, especially the young. Why, think about it, The Star would have endeared itself to everyone. For who, on this eve of GE13, would dare to come out to defend poor Sharifah.

In fact, it appears that The Star’s intention in highlighting Koay’s suspension for two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) and then front-paging the sacking of a member of the DAP’s Pasukan Peronda Sekarela (PPS) a vigilante group on Thursday) was its way of shifting into third gear. Third gear?

We all know that the Malaysian Chinese Association through Huaren Holdings owns and controls The Star. First gear is the projection of itself as a serious newspaper ; it wishes to be compared to the region’s top English dailies like Thailand’s Bangkok Post and The Nation, the Philippines’ Manila Chronicle and the The Inquirer, and the South China Morning Post. In fact, at first gear it is also pro-MCA, especially the president and those around him. Every time the MCA leadership changes, a new set of people are nominated to take over the newspaper, editorially speaking.

Second gear is when it smooths over intra-MCA and intra-BN differences outside of electoral times. Government policies which the MCA supports are always given prominence. The odd counterpoint opinion by a columnist might be carried. But these counterpoints are few and far between.

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Third gear is the build-up to the elections, like now. The newspaper, which rarely ever carries news of the opposition, suddenly gives space, even the headlines and front pagers, to the opposition, but only to highlight negative reports about them. This is the way to situate the Koay and the sacked PPS member front page reports! Be prepared for many more such items.

Fourth gear? The Utusan Malaysia has been in fourth gear for sometime already. In fourth gear, one spins, one create stories, one becomes a hack. Watch out for how The Star will drop all pretense of being a high-class regional newspaper in the run up to polling day. It is almost disgusting.

No, I won’t be cancelling my subscription to The Star. For it can still be relied on for sports news and stock market reports; why its Section Two can be quite interesting. For example, I liked the report of a Malaysian woman who had settled down in Guatemala which was carried on Wednesday. But the national news section really sucks.

Hmm, I wonder what happens to The Star, let alone Utusan, if and when the PR takes over Putrajaya? Is that when they go into reverse gear?

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