Categorised | Commentary, Current Issues

Media vs LGBTs

HOW is our media measuring up to its role? If some newspapers’ treatment of what constitutes news is anything to go by, it is clear that some among the Malaysian media are not only unprofessional. They are also causing harm to vulnerable groups.

Representatives from Suhakam receiving the memorandum

Representatives of Suhakam receiving the memorandum (pic courtesy of S Thilaga)

Without a doubt, there is evidence that some media are targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Malaysia. A recent memorandum sent by concerned individuals to the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) highlighted how newspaper reports frequently demonise the community as “deviant”, “lewd” and “disgusting”.

Regardless of one’s personal views about sexuality, the question is how does such reporting measure up against journalistic ethics, uphold public interest, and respect a person’s dignity? One way to answer that question would be to compare recent Malaysian reports on the LGBT community against well-known journalistic codes of ethics.

“Minimise harm”

The limitation of harm is one of the foremost principles in ethical journalism. It is for that reason that minors’ names, sex crime survivors’ identities and grieving families, for example, should be treated sensitively in news reports. The underlying rationale is that however hot a story, all sources and subjects are human beings and deserve respect.

<i>Metropolis</i> by Amir Muhammad & Liza Manshoor, based on <i>Harian Metro</i> headlines (pic courtesy of Lainie Yeoh)

Metropolis by Amir Muhammad & Liza Manshoor, based on Harian Metro headlines (pic courtesy of Lainie Yeoh)

It is questionable however, whether the following Malaysian news reports do enough to minimise harm and  accord the individuals being targeted with respect for their rights and dignity.

“Dancing while licking their respective partners!” a Kosmo report entitled Parti lesbian berleluasa began. The report also recounted how most of the 100 people at the “wild party” were deviant or from golongan songsang.
Or consider this headline: Pesta khatan berkepit pondan in Harian Metro on the presence of transgenders dancing the joget with locals at a village circumcision festival.

And how about this title: Aksi panas pengkid, lesbian, which contained a report on a private party for lesbians, which was infiltrated by undercover journalists.

Many of the reports focused on titillating details such as lesbian couples “making out lustily on beds while the music played” or “disgusting and frightening incidents of local gay teenagers who advertise themselves on social networking sites to obtain wild sex.”

Rather than aiming to minimise harm, these reports in fact set up LGBTs as target practice for the morally superior.

Good taste

Evil spirits of the modern daily press literally spewing out of the printing press (public domain | Wiki Commons)

Evil spirits of the modern daily press literally spewing out of the printing press (public domain | Wiki Commons)

Journalistic principles also call for good taste in reporting and to “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity”.

Harian Metro’s article Belaian lelaki jambu, however, does not seem to abide by this principle, choosing instead to thrill and tantalise.

In describing massage services for gay men, the report said, “…many may have overlooked the presence of youthful masseurs who offer [sexual] services to the gay community with their deviant desires.”

It goes on to provide extensive details of available massage packages. “Two masseurs will massage a client without a scrap of clothing on” and “all packages can have an add-on service using the tongue,” it said.

The report went on to quote a customer: “Not just licking, but biting can also be included. This is all done to satisfy desires.” How the journalists represented themselves in order to get this interview was unexplained.

The article Aksi panas pengkid, lesbian also painted a picture of party-goers acting luridly and uncontrollably. “When the pengkids who were participating began dancing and spinning rapidly with various disgusting actions, the 150 to 200 visitors cheered on.”

Being fair

Did the newspapers attempt to get both sides of the story by asking for the views of the LGBT community, which they portrayed as “sexually deviant” and “disgusting”? Did the media outfits that ran those reports bear in mind the ethical principle to respect the subjects being written on as human beings? What about the LGBT community’s right to be treated equally and without discrimination, as enshrined under our Federal Constitution?

Yes, maybe “sex sells”. But is that what journalism is for?

The balance of power between the media and the people they report on should also be taken into account. That’s why the Society of Professional Journalists gives guidelines on minimising harm: “Private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.”

How would media organisations justify journalists sneaking into private parties and massage parlours in the name of public need? How does providing salacious details of parties and massages advance fairness? And aren’t there other issues that deserve more investigative journalism and exposure? Corruption amongst public officials, for example. Or government overspending, or deaths in police custody and police use of firearms that cause unexplained deaths and injuries.

Boys don’t cry

Boys Don't Cry poster

In 1993 Brandon Teena, portrayed by Hilary Swank in the movie Boys Don’t Cry, was shot dead by two acquaintances in Nebraska, US. He was born Teena Brandon, but preferred to live as a man. When Teena’s friends discovered his sex, they removed his trousers in public and also raped him. When he reported the rape to the police, his murderers hunted him down and shot him, along with two other friends who sheltered him.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was tortured, tied up and left for dead. His attackers later reportedly revealed he was singled out because he was gay. He was found 12 hours after the assault in a coma and died from his injuries.

Homophobia and other violent tendencies towards the LGBT community do not form overnight. They are cultivated and nurtured in our environment, in which the mass media plays an important role. While some may strongly object to certain individuals’ sexual orientations and personal choices, it is irresponsible and unethical for journalists to objectify, humiliate and endanger the LGBT community through negative and false stereotyping. By doing so, the media, in effect, supports and lends momentum to the harassment of these vulnerable groups by state-sanctioned moral police, or non-state actors.

“Crisis of abnormal sex threatens the world,” wrote Utusan Malaysia columnist Awang Selamat, likening same-sex unions to symptoms of a rapidly-spreading disease. But it is not the LGBT community that threatens the world. It is when powerful institutions like the media judge and objectify vulnerable groups that our society is truly at risk.

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“Memang kami kena guna kekerasan”

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29 Responses to “Media vs LGBTs”

  1. Elaine says:

    Thanks for the great article. Just to let you know that HM responded to the memo handover yesterday.

    Fair and objective for once. Please sign the petition if you want to let HM know they are in the wrong – http://www.petitiononline.com/kryss/petition.html

  2. Ming says:

    “Crisis of abnormal sex threatens the world,” wrote Utusan Malaysia columnist Awang Selamat, likening same-sex unions to symptoms of a rapidly-spreading disease.

    Awang Selamat is such a joke. Corrupt politicians are threats to the world, including Malaysia.

  3. The Divine Ms M says:

    Glad you highlighted this. The Malaysian media’s portrayal of the LGBTQ community has long gone way out of line. Values such as compassion, respect and the pursuit of knowledge fly out of the window to make way for bigotry and ignorance, yet we call ourselves a progressive and just nation. I am a lesbian and it is disheartening to see that the press portrays my sexuality as a lusty perversion, a product of Western culture, a deviance from Asian/religious values, etc.

  4. William says:

    Absolutely. Let these people get on with their life. The sooner we accept people regardless of who they are, the sooner we have a civilized society.

  5. Cheryl says:

    Many thanks for writing this article and for highlighting the mainstream media’s culpability in reinforcing society’s prejudices and homophobia. Keep up the great work :)

  6. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    What do you expect? Malaysia is a Muslim country, and in Islam, same-sex relations is condemned. No matter how you go about it – the fact that Malaysia is a Muslim country means that the LGBT agenda has to be publicly condemned by the mainstream media. No two ways about this.

    You may have a different value system from the typical Muslim. BUT you cannot expect them to change their values so as to fit your taste-buds! You must understand that the Muslims have their own value system that is different from the West.

    LGBTs just won’t float in a Muslim society. It is the nature of Islam.

    • Elaine says:

      Sir, more than half of LGBTS in Malaysia are Muslims. And actually I also do expect better from a democratic nation who’s signed onto the UNHCRs Declaration of Human Rights. I do expect my values to be tolerated and upheld regardless of the so called ruling relion. Perhaps you settle for what’s given to you and think that’s all you deserve? Perhaps it’s easier for you because you are lucky enough not to be a minority who is discriminated against so what’s given to you is livable? And I’m not sure that the nature of Islam is to be prejudice. What is natural?

      • Dr Syed Alwi says:

        Dear Elaine,

        It is precisely because Malaysia is a democracy that the majority of Muslims have voted for a Muslim Malaysia. It is democracy that makes Malaysia Muslim. And in Islam – LGBT is NOT tolerated. Nil.

        Yes – I do believe that Islam needs a Reformation – but on what time-frame ? Islam can only reform over a span of about 100 years. The Middle East needs to industrialise first as they need to understand from first-hand experience – the difficulties in adapting Islam to modern society.

        In the meantime, the LGBT community ought to consider migrating to a non-Muslim country.

        • Yuki Choe says:

          You are joking right, Alwi? You think democracy is about the majority’s tyranny over the minority? That is so ignorant. Please go and do some reading about what democracy is all about, how WE are the government, and how WE elect the government to take care of EVERYONE. Earn some dignity back for yourself, and stop parroting some hearsay opined statements.

          ‘WE’ includes all Malaysians. By your logic, why do we vote?

          By the way, here’s news for you. LGBTs existed even BEFORE any faith or religion was even organized. And in the oldest religions in the world, Shamanism, even the oldest modern religion in the world, Hinduism, LGBTs were treated normal just like anyone.

          You are unable to discuss anything through knowledge, logic, reality and science; you have to rely on “God says it, that settles it, the end.” You have to use borrowed authority only because you have none. What does that say about you and your “Holy Book versi Syed Alwi”? I have been taught that Islam is always about service, to God and to people. Asking LGBTs to leave this country is a great disservice. My ex-boyfriend is a Muslim LGBT and yet still loves Islam, and loves everyone, even people like you. He wanted me to follow Islam. What does that say about you?

          You are not getting it until you start listening to every person, and not just hearing things that you want to hear in prejudice and echo them. We live in this country together, whether you like it or not. So face reality now.

          • Dr Syed Alwi says:

            Dear Yuki Choe,

            Do you honestly think that the Malay-Muslim majority will simply give up on Islam and make LGBT halal? Whether you like it or not, Malaysia’s Muslim majority will not give up on Islam. I live with realities, not ideals which are virtually impossible to attain.

  7. Yuki Choe says:

    Spreading myths, starting a war and creating hate towards people they simply do not know. Recorded history recounts no fire and brimstone, but have plenty of records on people with organized propoganda to harm and kill people who are different. We have seen how witches were burnt at the stake with no proof of magic, all the way to how the Jews were murdered during the Nazi rule. Harian Metro has claimed its stake as an evil tabloid newspaper that dehumanizes a segment of the Malaysian population. Awang Selamat is not a joke; when you paint a picture of an enemy however brainless the opinion can be, it may instigate violence against innocent people, making their mindless bigotry justified. Kudos to TNG for highlighting this.

  8. [...]

    [...] [an] LGBT Association could take over where PT has failed and could be a substantial force for representation perhaps via a proposed LGBT Senator in time to come. The LGBT community does have rights and if diversity is to flourish here in Malaysia, an LGBT Association is the best way to start.

    • Elaine says:

      PT was never set up as an LGBT foundation or organisation. Its focus is AIDS and HIV which happens to affect LGBTs. I agree totally with setting up an LGBT organisation. There are ongoing discussions as to how it could be set up and through whom. It needs to be tried at least.

  9. Yuki Choe says:

    Mr. Alwi,

    “Do you honestly think that the Malay-Muslim majority will simply give up on Islam and make LGBT halal? Whether you like it or not, Malaysia’s Muslim majority will not give up on Islam. I live with realities, not ideals which are virtually impossible to attain.”

    No one is giving up on Islam, and no one has the right to make LGBTs haram or halal. Are you listening? REALITY: I exist. I happen to be born with Gender Identity Disorder (with recognition from World Health Organization, with own governing body WPATH, with tons of tangible scientific evidences from MRIs to brain scans to DNA, etc.). I am your God’s creation by fact and truth. So please show me your brand of “reality” now. I see that fire and brimstone is indeed impossible to attain. And you can choose to continue your ignorance.

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Dear Yuki Choe,

      What you think or feel does not matter. Orthodox Islam has ruled against you. If you have a problem with that – well – too bad. Islam does not accept the LGBT community. What can I do ?

      If PAS comes into power – they will ban you !

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Look Yuki Choe,

      The LGBT phenomena is completely Haram in Islam. I do not wish to sound cruel – but honestly – there is nothing that anyone can do for you in a Muslim country. Indeed, Islam views you with contempt. It’s Islam itself that does not accept you. My advice to you and your community – is to migrate to a Western country where the LGBT community is accepted. LGBT has no future in a Muslim country. What if PAS takes over ? They will certainly ban and condemn the LGBT community. It’s Islam itself my friend. I cannot help you.

      • Yuki Choe says:

        There is so many things wrong with your statements. But I will address some. Firstly, please remember you do not own Islam.

        And LGBT Muslims negate your argument that Islam does not accept us.

        And again, as so many have told you, this is NOT a Muslim country.

        And once more since you refuse to listen; you cannot “ban” or “condemn” human beings. It is astonishingly ridiculous to say a class of people can be “haram”. These are nothing but sweeping statements. It is also mindless to imply that God created me to be treated as a lesser child of God. Again, please go educate yourself.

        Until you open your eyes and realise there is no such thing as LGBT “phenomena”, or “lifestyle”, or behaviour, I would have to part ways with you. Because they are human beings, and Malaysians as well.

        By the way, what do you mean “I cannot help you”? I do not owe you anything and I harm no one. I am working with wonderful colleagues at an international organisation as a junior executive. I am a daughter to my father, a sister to my friends. Most of the gays and lesbians I know are successful managers, lawyers, business owners etc. We pay taxes. We vote in the elections. We have our rights engraved in the Malaysian constitution. We are in the end Malaysians. We do not need your “help”. But you need to help yourself. You asked for people to respect your beliefs. If you want people to respect you, start by respecting other people’s innate values, personalities and identities.

        • Dr Syed Alwi says:

          Dear Yuki Choe,

          Mainstream Islam does NOT accept LGBT. There is a world-wide agreement among Muslim ulamas that Islam rejects LGBT. If you cannot accept this reality – then that’s your business. No one is going to modify Islam just to suit your sexual preferences.

          • Yuki Choe says:

            Mainstream Islamic countries such as Egypt and Iran, have accepted transsexuals. In any case, the “world-wide agreement” is based on prejudice and ignorance, not reality. Sexual orientation and gender identity is part of the human innate sexuality, as latest scientific evidence has suggested. Mind you, it is not a preference.

            You instead, have modified Islam to suit your discriminatory ideology and hetero-sexism. Unless you offer the reality of scientific, peer-previewed evidences to the contrary with regards to LGBTs, I am afraid you do live in your own world away from reality.

            You are in continuous denial of LGBTs being human, and Malaysians, and some Muslims. More and more of your ranting just proves your complete ignorance to what is Malaysia, as shown with your prejudicial rants against Chinese, the Malaysian Constitution and progressive Islam.

          • Dr Syed Alwi says:

            Dear Yuki Choe,

            You show me the Quranic verse that permits LGBT. You show me which Hadith permits LGBT.

            I believe there are NONE! On the contrary there ARE Quranic verses and Hadith that condemn LGBTs!

            In the meantime – why don’t you talk to Malaysian ulamas at the UIA ?

  10. Yuki Choe says:

    You are getting ridiculous, Alwi. Is there a Quranic verse of left handedness? Is there a hadith on Transsexualism? There is none, because it is HUMAN IDENTITY. We can rant until the cows come home, and in the end, you cannot proof your beliefs other than being man-made, while there are so many peer-previewed scientific evidences on LGBTs which you refuse to accept and you are still in denial. No, you go talk to your “ulamas”. It your your comfort zone. I rather talk to medical professionals and intellectuals. Like those in Sunni Muslim Eqypt who realise that even Islam must keep up with times for transsexuals. I am gleefully waiting for your lust for backward Islam and anti-progressive Islamic views. Dear, you shame your faith.

  11. A.L says:

    As a gay Malay man (yes there is such thing) I’ve always been appalled and disgusted at how the Malay media ESPECIALLY Metro portrays gay people. So much hatred and hostility to fuel intolerance and bigotry! Always focusing on the negative, and never the good. We’re human beings too.

    Re: Dr Syed Alwi

    Sure it’s a sin and no there aren’t any hadith/Quranic verses that say LGBT is ‘halal’ (although in the Quran it states the act of homosexual intercourse is the sin, not just simply ‘being’ a homosexual, I believe). But do you really think you can simply ‘ban’ us or ask us to leave this country? I’d like to see you attempt to do that. And hello, you do not own the country, we ALL do, and whether you like it or not, we also have our say in the general election. This is OUR, DEMOCRATIC Malaysia.

    I mean seriously, you rather get rid of gays who pose NO HARM to society by being ourselves and minding our own business, than corrupt, hypocritical, racist politicians just because they’re Muslim like you? And how am I ‘immoral’ when I still respect my parents & the elderly, help people whenever I can, donate to charity and serve the public with the skills I have? Geez, get your priorities right.

    For god’s sake, if you can’t stand us so much why not just learn to ignore us and move on with your life. If you want, hate the sin but not the person.

  12. Yuki Choe says:

    Alwi, let us put this around. Show me the verses that you claim to “condemn” LGBTS, and then I will show you that those on sex behaviour is NOT EXCLUSIVE to homosexuals and includes heterosexuals.

    Show me the verses on “liwat” and I will show you heterosexual porn that also has liwat on it, again sodomy has nothing to do with LGBTs.

    Show me the punishment for so-called “gay-ness”, and I will show you the punishment for “heterosexual-ness” within the same surah.

    Show me all the verses about Nabi Lut, and I will show you how those verses actually supports lesbians (since it condemns all in the land who turn away from women to be with men). I will also show you how “lust” and “anal sex” is also done by HETEROSEXUALS as well.

    Show me another verse about Nabi Lut, and I will show you how RAPE is wrong, has nothing to do with sexuality, but power and control.

    If you wish to condemn Sihaq, please do not forget to condemn Zina.

    So LGBT is haram? Then heterosexual straights like you are haram too.

  13. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Yuki Choe & A.L,

    The LGBT lifestyle is not only condemned in the Quran – but also in many Hadiths. So what are you arguing about? I think the vast majority of ulamas world-wide have agreed to condemn the LGBT lifestyle. You can wait till the cows come home – but Muslims the world over agree that LGBT is NOT acceptable in Islam. No one is going to change Islamic teachings to suit your sexuality.

    • Yuki Choe says:

      So sad. You are making sweeping statements with no authority, and attempt to claim blind absolutism for your opinion. You cannot even argue on the merit of the points I put forth. Which is why no one would entertain you. By the way, can you please define “LGBT lifestyle”, because my lifestyle is no way different than yours.

      Unless you don’t eat, sleep, drink, bath, live, work like LGBTs do.

      • Dr Syed Alwi says:

        Dear Yuki Choe,

        Why don’t you ask the ulamas in Malaysia? How about asking Al-Azhar or Medina? I think you just refuse to face the fact that Islam rejects the LGBT lifestyle !

        • Yuki Choe says:

          Dear, I do not need to tell you whether I have or have not asked ulamas in Malaysia. That is my business. My knowledge.

          Again, please define for me what is the “LGBT lifestyle”.

          Again, show me how the existence of human beings can be classified as “haram”, by virtue of being born different.

          Again, sodomy, lust, sex, is also applicable to straights. Are you saying that no heterosexuals in the world do sodomy?

          Again, LGBTS exist even before the rise of Abrahamic religions. And accepted among the oldest religions in the world like Hinduism and Shamanism. You call it “phenomena”?

          Again, there are biological evidences for people comfortable with their sexual orientaiton. Are you saying Islam is anti-science and not compatible with reality?

          Again, even Egypt (a sunni-Islam country like Malaysia) already knew Transsexualism as a medical condition, and allows SRS; are you saying that Islam in Malaysia would discriminate those who are born with medical conditions?

          You refusal to reply my points, and your attempts to evade answering my questions, is utterly ridiculous. It is time you face these questions, or continue to live in ignorance.

          It is your right to be in denial away from real people.

          • Yuki Choe says:

            Until Alwi decides to face truth like a man, I shall not address a person who thinks he owns the Islamic God, and annoys people by hammering his ill-informed opinion down other people’s throats. My beliefs in Islam, as well as others, and most progressive Muslims, completely negates his “views” to the rejection point due to such absurd absolutist, heterosexist, individualist thinking. Adding to that, the tangible evidence behind those born LGBT, and medical circumstances of trans people, reduces such mentality to [...] thinking the world is flat. :o )


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