A sense of belonging among Malaysians that is constructed by enlightened broadcasting professionals would go a long way towards giving a wholesome meaning to citizenship in a thriving democracy, says Mustafa K Anuar.
The philosophy of inclusiveness, which is one of the promises of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, becomes handy when it comes to forging institutional reform in the broadcasting industry.
When the reform is put in place, hopefully this inclusiveness will manifest itself in the way ideas for various television and radio programmes are approached and executed.
It is the kind of approach that should always remind us of the interests and concerns of the various stakeholders that exist in our society, ie the various ethnic, cultural and social groups that make up the collective called Malaysia.
Although there had been TV and radio programmes, particularly on Radio Television Malaysia, in the past that featured some of these groups, a more conscious and systematic approach that celebrates diversity and differences needs to be taken especially in the new era of freedom.
The diversity and differences that constitute Malaysian life are clearly an asset that in many ways can and should be harnessed by broadcasting stations, particularly RTM, in terms of media fare that can entertain as well as enlighten Malaysians in general.
But there is a prerequisite to this. These peninsula-based stations will have to shake off their KL or peninsula-centrism to embrace true Malaysian-ness.
Aside from having thought-provoking TV forums, this entails the stations making programmes that tell stories of people especially in the interior of Sabah and Sarawak as well as off-the-beaten track in, say, the Perak or Pahang jungle where many sub-groups of the Orang Asli community reside.
Even in urban areas or suburbs, there are not enough stories being told so far of ethnic minorities, such as the Thai community in Kedah, the Malacca Portuguese and the Eurasians in Penang.
This is apart from the underclass of society whose lack of buying power may not excite the advertisers of the mass media.
To make these groups “invisible” by not documenting or not airing enough of their cultures, life’s philosophies, aspirations and challenges is to commit an injustice upon fellow Malaysians. Surely, there’s more to the covered Gawai Dayak festival in Sarawak, for example, than meets the eye.
More seriously, such a lack of coverage of these groups hampers the important “connection” and ensuing mutual understanding and respect that are much needed among people of various backgrounds in this imagined community named Malaysia.
TV dramas, if handled skilfully, have the capacity to address social issues in ways that other mediums presumably cannot undertake creatively and effectively. Besides, television is one medium that most people have easy access to.
But first, these dramas will have to be different from the past and current ones.
For one thing, the run-of-the-mill kind of dramas are prone to using tired themes, often dealing with wayward husbands or urban girls who have strayed from the straight and narrow. Some of the dramas should instead explore ways of addressing pressing issues such as racism and ethnic and sexual discrimination in education and the work place. Corruption and poverty are also issues worth pursuing via the electronic media as they affect many people of different standing, which at times can fray relationships and friendships and undermine trust as well.
The conflict, for example, between the predators of so-called modern living, who often create a concrete jungle out of pristine nature, and the so-called backward lifestyle of the Orang Asli, which is deeply dependent on Mother Nature, would make for interesting and instructive viewing. By doing so, these dramas can involve characters of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds as well as social classes to convey the crucial idea that certain issues of the day are often Malaysian in nature – and don’t necessarily have to be haunted by the ghost of race and religion.
At the moment, language-based dramas – be they in Malay, Mandarin or Tamil – are largely compartmentalised along ethnic lines, giving the impression that the diverse groups in society are necessarily living on parallel planets.
What is urgently needed is a fresh collection of dramas that allow for, nay encourage, interaction between members of ethnic groups from which certain lessons can be learned or set as examples in a multi-ethnic and multicultural society.
Indeed, TV producers should also not shy away from controversial issues. Although they may not have the answers to certain controversies, they may be in a better position to provoke people to think seriously about those issues that are weaved carefully into their TV dramas.
A sense of belonging among Malaysians that is constructed by enlightened broadcasting professionals would go a long way towards giving a wholesome meaning to citizenship in a thriving democracy.