COVERT nude photography, the imminent Umno general assembly, and interpreting royal missives occupied journalists and columnists in the Malay-language press between 16 and 22 Feb 2009.
(Abdulaziz Almansour / sxc.hu) The 22 Feb edition of Metro Ahad ran Koleksi makan diri on its cover: a two-page feature on the perils of recorded passion. Noting that the practice of recording “lewd or sex acts is happening among lovers, married couples, students, executives, or professionals”, the paper informed readers that “there are men with devilish urges and no sympathy who demand money from ex-girlfriends as compensation for not distributing their nude or sex photos.”
Calling Bukit Lanjan assemblyperson Elizabeth Wong the “latest victim” of such blackmail, the article examined the cases of five women from various backgrounds, who related their experiences of date-rape, privacy invasion, uncivil break-ups, and financial loss.
A sidebar interviewed Sekretariat Pembelaan Masyarakat Pemuda Umno chairperson Datuk Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim and MCA Public Complaints Bureau chief Datuk Michael Chong for their insights.
Chong reminded individuals not to let their significant others record private acts, as these material could be used for ugly intentions in the event of a break-up. Sadly, many of the victims are women, as such photos and video clips usually contain only the image and face of the woman,” he said.
Azeez thought that religion was the “best way to address today’s moral issues. For those involved, I advise them to return to the straight road.” He expressed dismay that such recorded material could feature teenagers who “wore tudungs on top but left the bottom open.”
Azeez concluded, without irony, that the reason why women preferred to remain silent victims was because of “shame and fear”.
Rozaman Ismail, writing for Mingguan Malaysia on 22 Feb in PKR dilanda isu moral, zeroed in on the apparent contradictions that Wong’s predicament uncovered within Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
The writer characterised the scandal as “a bull bringing mud that splashes on everything”, and that “PKR, the DAP and PAS, like it or not, will have to confront this issue, that has been called by political observers as another crisis of morals in PKR.”
He cited PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat’s support of Wong as surprising, judging from the Islamist party’s previous calls for former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek to step down following his extramarital affair that was caught on video. “Today PAS and the DAP feel the heat of a moral scandal themselves, because the individual involved is a leader from an allied party,” he wrote.
In light of this latest development, Rozaman said the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s struggle to convince Malaysians that the opposition coalition was a “cleaner and purer” alternative to the Barisan Nasional (BN) “can be considered to be at an end.” However, the writer failed to specify how Wong’s case and the allegations of corruption and abuse of power within the BN were ethically equivalent.
In Berita Harian‘s 19 Feb edition, former Bernama chief editor Datuk Rahman Sulaiman observed in Antara kebebasan peribadi dan moraliti that it was clear “Malaysian politicians have different perceptions on the standards of morality and integrity that a politician has to follow”, based on his or her party’s position, or on personal standards.
The writer expressed confusion at the PR’s assumption that there was a political conspiracy against them, as police investigations were still ongoing. He said that local politicians had to understand that “the Malaysian people are not as stupid as before, to swallow whole empty political rhetoric filled with personal agendas.”
While he expressed sympathy for the beleaguered assemblyperson, Rahman concluded that Wong had no claim to a “private life”, because any “public figure” has to endure being relentlessly scrutinised by the public. “It is the price they have to pay as ‘slaves to society’.”
In Pemimpin berintegriti, wibawa mampu pulih kredibiliti Umno in Berita Harian on 17 Feb, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Ghazali Mayudin underlined the importance of the Malay party’s upcoming elections, for both the nation at large and the party’s own future.
“If party members choose leaders that are incapable or untrustworthy, there is a high chance these qualities will be ‘present’ in the government,” Ghazali wrote.
The political scientist added that internal elections were only the “first filter” — the second being the public’s ballot in a general election. “For example, someone may be chosen as a party leader using money … and pass the party filter to become a candidate [in an election]. But this second filter will pose problems to the candidate and the party, what more if there is public consciousness on the importance of the country being led by those who are trustworthy and dependable.”
Ghazali thought that viewing the issue through this lens would explain the erosion of the Umno-led BN’s performance in the 12th general election.
“If the people chosen to lead Umno next March are those who do not discount integrity and authority, then there is a clear chance for Umno to rehabilitate its image and credibility. The reverse is also true,” he wrote.
He added that it was crucial for Umno to critically examine itself as the public would.
On 17 Feb, Utusan Malaysia ran the full text of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin’s parliamentary opening speech under the headline Hormati keluhuran Perlembagaan. The paper featured the following as pull-quotes:
“We wish to insist that our government will not hesitate to take action against anyone who would attempt to divide the people, to ensure that racial harmony and national peace remains.”
“The Federal Constitution has provided Islam as the religion of the federation, with other religions free to be practised. Therefore, we remind all quarters to respect that position and not question it.”
Awang Selamat’s Bisik-bisik column ran alongside the Agong’s words, and managed somehow to connect the royal message to the internet’s contemptible effects.
Noting that the monarch had urged Malaysians to be mindful of history, and how “slander, jealousy and a divided people were the reasons behind an empire or civilisation’s fall”, Awang felt that the reminder was necessary. This was because, he said, “the young of this country have never experienced suffering in a turbulent nation, unless it is through observing the fate of citizens of foreign countries through the mass media.”
The writer maintained that “the forces that are trying to demolish our way of life would be happy if there existed in us a tendency to believe the slander and false news that is circulated, including through blogs, until they result in our confusion.”