It is understandable why media fraternities the National Union of Journalists Malaysia, Gerakan Media Merdeka and the Institute of Journalists Malaysia as well as concerned Malaysians objected to the way a Free Malaysia Today journalist was mistreated for having carried out her responsibility.
As a journalist, Minderjeet Kaur was expected to pose an important question to two Pas leaders – one a minister and another a deputy minister in the present government – about possible repercussions in other states of the federation following a ban on gaming outlets in Kedah executed by the Pas-led state government.
In a multicultural and multi-ethnic society, such a ban is bound to give rise to uneasiness, particularly among non-Muslim communities as it is seen as infringing their right to have choices in life.
It would have been a dereliction of duty if the journalist had not been inquisitive enough to raise the question on behalf of the country’s minority communities.
Thus, it was incumbent upon both religious affairs minister Idris Ahmad and Deputy Human Resources Minister Awang Hashim to respond responsibly and amicably to the question raised by Minderjeet.
To deflect the journalist’s question by posing another question, as Idris did, is not an art of answering, as claimed by Awang in defending his colleague. Idris simply did not answer the vital question of public interest.
In fact, Idris became unnecessarily personal when he asked Minderjeet hypothetically whether she would mind if her husband was a gambler. Why bring in her husband into this issue? Would his mother matter as well?
Idris, in this instance, was not only totally not in sync, but was also bordering on being a bully, which made critics wonder whether he was being sexist as indicated by his hostile behaviour towards the woman journalist.
And he did not have to question her “Malaysian-ness” just because her question was made in the English language. Idris could have politely requested her to use the Malay language, especially if he’s not well-versed in English so as to avoid miscommunication.
To be sure, journalists raising pointed or inconvenient questions are not to be regarded as being rude. They are there not to mollycoddle people in power.
In this case, a journalist like Minderjeet could have even asked more penetrating questions, such as whether the gambling ban in Kedah is a way of Pas wanting to redeem itself for what seems to be its failure in government to ban the use of the Timah brand name of the locally made whisky, as suspected by some critics.
The two politicians have an option, especially if they’re not sure of their position on this gambling ban matter: they could very well decline to comment. The best defence is not necessarily a good offence.
In case the two individuals are not aware, it is the duty of journalists to raise awareness among the public of events and issues and how they affect our lives.
Additionally, the media in a democracy have the responsibility to hold people in power to account for what they say and do. This is to ensure they are not given carte blanche.
That is a fact of journalism that the two political leaders have to face squarely. – The Malaysian Insight