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Clueless about impact of corruption

KUALA LUMPUR, 16 Nov 2009: An overwhelming majority of Malaysians view corruption as a serious issue, but almost half do not think it affects their personal lives, a survey has found. 

“What was most surprising about the results was a majority felt corruption does not affect their lives even though 81% said it’s a serious problem,” said Merdeka Center programme director Ibrahim Suffian at the launch of the survey today.

He said the data showed that those who felt that corruption did not impact their lives were mainly Indian Malaysians, those of lower income and education levels, and those without internet access.

Conversely, those who were generally more aware of incidents of corruption and media under-reporting were found to have higher levels of education and income, and had internet access. This group was also overwhelmingly male.

This was revealed in a media and corruption survey of 1,241 Malaysians conducted by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Merdeka Center.

Ibrahim (left) and CIJ executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran at the launch

“Don’t know”

The survey also revealed a disconnect between personal experiences of corruption and the information obtained from the media. 

Despite most saying that corruption among politicians, and petty corruption were at serious levels, many respondents could not cite concrete examples that had been reported.

“When asked to give an example of an incident of corruption in the media, 55% said ‘don’t know’,” said Ibrahim. “And when asked to name a serious incident of corruption that was under-reported by the media, 74% said ‘don’t know’.”

“This highlights respondents’ exposure towards corruption issues. While they think it’s serious, not many are aware about issues beyond what’s reported.”

The survey revealed that 63% of respondents were still reliant on the traditional media, namely television and newspapers, for news on corruption, compared to relying on the internet or on friends.

Lack of critical reporting

CIJ communications and publications officer Yip Wai Fong said a concurrent monitoring of four daily newspapers indicated a lack of diversity and critical reporting on corruption.

“One of the main issues highlighted in the media at the time of the survey was the Port Klang Free Zone scandal. We found that three out of four of the newspapers were uncritically dependant on sources and largely dependant on government-sanctioned information,” Yip said.

“For example, they did not go back to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, but just cited what the minister did or what the ministry was doing.”

More exposès, please

Unsurprisingly, most respondents desired more media reports on corruption.

“Some people have said that reporting on corruption is embarrassing and bad for the image of the country. However, 72% of the respondents actually felt that reporting on corruption is good for the development of the country,” said Ibrahim.

Many also agreed that a free media was key to eradicating corruption in the country, with most perceiving a media bias in favour of the Barisan Nasional and, to a lesser degree, the police.

The survey also revealed general public dissatisfaction with corruption and the way it was being handled by the government, especially the police.

“If the government wants to be perceived as serious in combating corruption, the media must be allowed to play a more active role than it is now,” said CIJ executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran.

“A bolder media is needed to serve the interests of those with lower levels of awareness of corruption, as well as those who are very concerned about it. The media can play its part by producing more investigative journalism and critical pieces that serve to inform the public on the threats of corruption to society,” Gayathry said.

The month-long survey, which included respondents from East Malaysia, was conducted between September and October 2009 and was largely representative of the different gender, ethnicity, income and age groups. 

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