Categorised | Columns

Controlling the media


(TV pic by Frecuencia; remote control pic by Lusi; source: sxc.hu)

JUST before Datuk Seri Najib Razak became Malaysia’s sixth prime minister on 3 April 2009, I was asked by a Malaysiakini reporter whether I thought there would be further media restrictions under his administration. Some sectors of society imagined, rightly or wrongly, that Najib would control the media even more than his predecessor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

My answer then was that it was hard to predict what exactly Najib would do. Whether or not there would be further media restrictions would depend as much on Najib and his advisers as well as on civil society, I figured.

But more than three months have passed since Najib assumed office. Whether or not media controls have worsened, one thing is certain: the evidence demonstrates that media control continues under Najib’s administration.

These controls have twin objectives. Rather alarmingly, though not unexpectedly, one of the objectives is to unashamedly protect the image of the Najib administration at all costs. The other objective is to unfairly disadvantage the Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

“Shoot” the journalist

Where’s the proof? One of the most recent incidents of clear media control was when ntv7 talk show host-cum-producer, Florence Looi, was issued a warning letter by her management and downgraded in her responsibilities.

What exactly did she do to warrant such disciplinary action? She asked two guests on her current affairs show, Point of View, to rate Najib’s performance in his first 100 days. One of her guests, Malaysian Insider consultant editor Leslie Lau, gave Najib a “C” or “D”.

ntv7 logoLooi was taken to task for asking a legitimate question. Stranger still, she was taken to task by her superiors because apparently, such questions violate ntv7′s “editorial policy”.

I’ll be happy to wager though that had Lau given Najib an “A” or even a “B” rating, Looi would not have gotten into any kind of trouble. Really, it’s hard not to look at what happened to Looi and surmise that a journalist was punished for doing her job honestly and professionally.

Malaysian journalists for certain don’t experience the same kind of violence that our Filipino counterparts do when it comes to reporting the truth. Filipino journalists are often murdered or physically threatened as a way to silence them.

While Looi’s life is not being threatened, a similar principle is at work in the ntv7 newsroom as in the Philippines. Looi was punished so that she, and her peers in the TV station, would learn to keep silent when reporting critically about those in power. The method used by ntv7 may be mild in comparison to the methods employed in the Philippines, but the intention is the same.

Protect Umno

Just as importantly, what kind of media organisation actually imposes a policy against asking legitimate questions about and of politicians, especially the prime minister who needs to be the most accountable public servant in the country? Answer: the kind that is owned by Media Prima — a company that is closely linked to Umno.


Khir Toyo (Pic by johnleemk / Wiki
commons)
Indeed, there have been other instances that suggest rather convincingly that the Media Prima management running their stable of media companies is consciously “protecting” Umno politicians from adverse publicity. Even before the incident with Looi, the company applied a blanket ban about news regarding the mansion in Shah Alam that former Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo is building.

Even earlier, about two weeks after Najib became premier, the four private TV stations under Media Prima — TV3, ntv7, 8TV and tv9 — were ordered not to name political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, Najib’s close aide, when reporting on the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case.

Government-controlled

Apart from politically linked media companies protecting Umno’s image, government-run and controlled media such as RTM are also ensuring that nothing besmirches or threatens the Najib administration.

Hence, the rather peculiar set of guidelines that RTM issued to its nine radio stations after Najib came to power. Merdeka Review reported on 15 May 2009 that a notice banning seven “sensitive” matters from being discussed on air was issued to prevent “controversy”. The banned topics were opposition politics (ostensibly this refers to the PR), sex, race, language, religion, the monarchy, and issues of morality in current politics.

More recently, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, who is the political secretary to Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and also the PR state assemblyperson for Seri Setia, had his invitation to appear on an RTM talk show rescinded for no apparent reason.


Nik Nazmi
To be fair to Najib, he may not even be the one issuing these directives to the media. In all likelihood, these directives in both the private and public media are being issued by others to ensure that entrenched political interests are served.

Having said that, though, the prime minister surely cannot be oblivious about what is happening, especially when these incidents of media control have become public information as a result of online media coverage.

So, if Najib really wanted a “vibrant, free and informed media“, what is he doing about the restrictions that continue to hamper the media from doing its work without fear or favour? What has he done to publicly demonstrate that media control by the government or by political parties is not what he desires for this nation? Unfortunately, nothing.

It would be a mistake for the rakyat to assume that just because the prime minister speaks of a free and vibrant media, this then is really what he intends to have in this country. There really is no evidence at all, since Najib came to power, that that is what his administration is interested in.

They say silence is consent. This is especially true when it involves a person in power who can speak up to rectify a wrong. Najib is, for all intents and purposes, the most powerful man in the country right now. His silence about continued media restrictions speaks volumes.


Jacqueline Ann Surin has the highest respect for her counterparts in the traditional media who continue to report fairly and fearlessly despite the restrictions they face because of oppressive laws and political party ownership. She was a print journalist for 14 years and has many memories of government and political control of the media.

See also:
What media freedom, prime minister?
Where’s the BN’s commitment?

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14 Responses to “Controlling the media”

  1. Pratamad says:

    I call the new prime minister the chief PR stunt[person] of BN – PR for “public relations”, not “Pakatan Rakyat”, of course. He perfected his stunt with his response to Teoh Beng Hock’s tragic death — create a smoke screen with a royal commission that is NOT to dig out the truth [about] the death (but to review MACC’s investigation procedures).

    There is no need to “be fair to him” or give him the benefit of the doubt. 100 days is all it takes to be convinced that he speaks not with his heart. It’s all stunt!

  2. Azizi Khan says:

    Jac,

    You mentioned your experience in the print media, so I was hoping you could enlighten us about your experience [about] such censorship. So what do you do when you get such [instructions] — are all evidence and research material [of] the killed story destroyed?

    I imagine it would be hard to say no when your bread and butter depends on it.

    Also, when I was back in KL a few weeks ago, I was told that internet penetration in Sabah and Serawak are purposefully limited. This is to ensure only the “government” can reach [the] people over there. I was wondering [about] the implications of such things.

    ================

    Hi Azizi,

    You can check out an interview I did with ntv7′s Point of View talk show on World Press Freedom Day here: http://www.ntv7.com.my/Shows/Watch-Episodes.aspx?param=Lyu%2bzAUJzuGnRZWnFf7jNb86QualYHJ%2fGCruXEvdS%2bBSkG8EgSfUOjzwvxYL0vTaYGNkazwzb7W1fxJoPz5USg%3d%3d#ancPlayer for an answer to some of your questions.

    Another way to find it is to go to the ntv7 website (http://www.ntv7.com.my/). Select “Catch-up TV” and click on “Point of View”.

    You’ll have to register before you can access the interview, though.

    Jacqueline.

  3. cochise says:

    Hello darkness, my old friend,
    I’ve come to talk with you again,
    Because a vision softly creeping,
    Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
    And the vision that was planted in my brain
    Still remains
    Within the sound of silence.

  4. Eric says:

    Timely and comprehensive reminder.

  5. Andrew I says:

    Looi was probably punished because she went against the feel good concept.

    The remote control is perhaps the greatest invention of all time. Without it, watching TV is like having fish without the chips, a sauna without a towel, a cigarette without a light…

    Speaking of comparisons, I’m reminded of a Kenny Everett sketch parodying the BBC’s policy regarding smut on TV: you all know where the knob is, USE it.

    Well, Kenny (God bless his soul), it’s morphed into something else.

  6. D. Evil says:

    The country is retrogressing in every direction. This is so depressing.

  7. Nicholas Aw says:

    Censoring of the media only applies to those who report fairly but are deemed to be “anti-government”.

    Look at the case of the Al-Islam journalist and editor. Despite their sacrilegious act against Catholics, no action has been taken against them.

    Even the main media like The Star has no choice but to toe the line. A suspension of its publishing license would mean incurring unnecessary cost and loss of profits.

    One thing is for sure, as long as the BN government is in power, media freedom remains a dream.

  8. Small Tree says:

    Firstly, Its a great shame Florence Looi’s matter hasn’t been taken up in a more serious manner by fellow journalists. What a crying shame. Mind you, her show was called “Point of View” and not “Point of BN’s View”. What sort of “progressive” country is this when even debates such as the PM’s performance can be so readily controlled? Are we in North Korea?

    Secondly, she da bomb! Haha.

  9. media says:

    Surprisingly, the writer is focusing her attention on the PM. Why give him the coverage, if the writer feels that the PM does not deserve media time? Better focus on someone who does not always appear in the media.

  10. Anonymous Coward says:

    You know what? All this talk about wanting press freedom and all by the rakyat in general and Pakatan Rakyat in particular is getting really tiring. First things first, PR has something close to 36% of the seats in Parliament AND has denied the BN a two-thirds majority in Parliament. So why in the world has no one in Parliament tried to motion for a bill for press freedom in Parliament?

    “But Mr. Anonymous, sir, it will be shot down because they only have 36% of the seats!”

    Well, that’s the whole point, really. Propose it, challenge Najib’s pontification on how his 1Malaysia concept is really visionary and that under him, you’ll be more free and united! When BN shoots down the bill then the rakyat will see that they’re not, in fact, interested in reforming the country at all.

    What do you have to lose, PR? You get to make BN look bad AND score some political brownies. Just because a bill will get shot down, doesn’t mean you DON’T have to discuss them, you know. Make a big deal out of it, talk about it on the Internet, whatever. Just publicise it and propose the bill and let it get shot down.

    PR, you really don’t have anything to lose

    Editor’s note: For more background on the move to pass a Freedom of Information Bill in Parliament, please read: http://thenutgraph.com/freedom-of-information-making-it-happen

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  11. gua says:

    Jac,

    You said that Media Prima is a company that is closely linked to Umno. How did you establish that? In other words prove it beyond doubt. Who owns Media Prima? Umno?

  12. nstman says:

    Jacqueline, having been a journalist for the past 30 years you should have realised journalists are at the beck and call of the powers-that-be. More so in the NST, otherwise known as Umno’s newsletter. Jacky, there’s nothing we can do as long as Umno, a corrupt party which uses communalism as a tool to bludgeon the people into submission, is in power. Umno is not fit to be in civilised company.

  13. Shane Diesel says:

    Your commentary rather than reportage reminds me of what Steven Gan of Malaysiakini wrote about the Malaysian version of the “omerta” (extract below);-
    ________

    Break the code, pay the price Steven Gan | Apr 3, 07 7:17pm ‘He who is deaf, blind and silent will live a hundred years in peace’.

    So says a Sicilian proverb. Not surprisingly, it’s the Italian Mafia which has perfected the culture of ‘omerta’ – a code of silence which protects crime bosses from the long arm of the law.

    For the Mafia, breaking the ‘omerta’ is punishable by death. In Malaysia, it’s done with a little more finesse, but is no less effective.

    Here, anyone who breaks this code faces the dreaded ‘cold storage’ treatment where a person is suspended – unofficially – from his or her job.

    Mohamad Ramli Abdul Manan has paid that price dearly. Despite being one of the most senior officers in the Anti-Corruption Agency, he was without a desk – let alone an office – for six years until his retirement.

    His crime? Accusing his own boss, Zulkipli Mat Noor, of corruption.

    * I was once shipped into “oblivion” and my life “made” quite difficult when I contented and hesitated against some my superiors’ will and practices of mine in some shady business. I suffer the same fate a la Florence anew. You too have suffered this sort of persecution anew before, I believe.
    _____________

    “Power corrupts the few, weakness (to stand-up against misdeeds) corrupts the many” – Eric Hofer

  14. @gua

    The statement about Media Prima being “a company that is closely linked to Umno” is derived from several sources including the following:

    http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/1/9/nation/16512082&sec=nation

    http://www.agendadaily.com/cms/content.jsp?id=com.tms.cms.article.Article_eb79bd0f-cabec5bb-171b2460-2acdf679 or http://74.125.153.132/search?q=cache:xP98y4kIQG0J:www.agendadaily.com/cms/content.jsp%3Fid%3Dcom.tms.cms.article.Article_eb79bd0f-cabec5bb-171b2460-2acdf679+%22Agenda+Daily%22+%22Kadir+Jasin%22+%22Umno%22+%22Media+Prima%22&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=my&client=firefox-a

    http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_14955-544-22-30.pdf

    http://www.thenutgraph.com/johan-jaafar-headed-for-media-prima-nstp

    Additionally, I haven’t come across a denial by the company for the numerous times that it has been described in that way. But I am willing to be corrected.

    @media

    My column doesn’t suggest that the PM does not deserve media attention. In fact, he DOES seeing as he needs to be held accountable, more so than anybody else.

    My column argues that the PM is in a position to demonstrate he really believes in media freedom but is not doing anything to match deed to word.


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