COVERING the Manik Urai by-election has been a non-stop whirlwind; it has been, by far, the most intense contest Malaysians have experienced this year. A reporter barely has time, between the tight schedule and horrific broadband speeds, to even check his or her e-mail — practically every minute was devoted to the deluge of news.
As a journalist, one of the most notable stories that came out of the fight in rural Kelantan concerns a minor skirmish between journalists covering the by-election, and the one independent who ran in Manik Urai:
KUALA KRAI, 9 July 2009: An influential press group has slammed the Parti Satu Malaysia (Pasam) in the Manik Urai by-election for mistreating reporters.
“We can hardly work in the tents provided for us, as they are merely furnished with fans, and not air-conditioned,” said Centre for Media Welfare (Cemew) president Seamus Tok, at a specially called press conference in downtown Kuala Krai.
“Also, where are our free meals and mineral water?” Tok said, adding that such basic amenities were necessary for the continued effective coverage of the by-election.
According to Tok, journalists had made numerous complaints to the Pasam leadership, to no avail.
“They said they would help, but nothing has been done,” Tok said, revealing that the press union had lodged its first complaint on 6 July, the nomination day for the by-election.
The Manik Urai contest is a three-way fight between Pais’s Mohd Faizul Ibrahim, Barisan Malaysia (BM)’s Wan Azizi Wan Mahmud, and Pasam’s Che Wan Che Det. Voters will go to the polls on 14 July.
The independently aligned Pasam has been seen as a possible spoiler for the BM coalition, as it is running on a platform similar to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia concept.
When asked to comment on Cemew’s grouses, Che Wan, who is also Pasam president, explained that his party was small, with limited election machinery.
“How can they expect us to feed them? Our budget is devoted to reaching voters,” Che Wan said.
“We don’t have many events. The press does not have a tough job,” he added.
The politician verbally attacked Cemew as a group of “pampered members of the press who came from the city and didn’t know how to live in the country”.
While Pasam’s misguided, and somewhat humorous, ire is regrettable, it was more interesting to note how this story was presented in The Insight Reporter, where it first appeared. The media portal front-paged this story — which, in online terms, is the equivalent of a headline in a print newspaper — and would proceed to pursue the issue over the weekend. With polling day today, the Reporter was essentially pushing this tiny, verbal spat as the main issue of the by-election, as if there were nothing else going on.
(Pic by boroda003 / sxc.hu)
Far be it from me to criticise the editorial policies of a fellow — and arguably competing — press organisation. Yet, as an advocate of solid and principled journalism, I am compelled to speak out against the Reporter‘s decision.
With so much going on in the by-election, it is an understatement to say that there was bigger “fish” to fry. Take for example, the horrific events of 10 July, at the Laloh village market. A rally by the Kelantan Fishmongers and Wholesalers Association to protest the BM’s gross belittling of their profession had quickly degenerated into violence.
In a ceramah on 7 July, Kelantan BM chief Datuk Hamdan Hamid had disparaged the piscine retail business, comparing fishmongers to pork butchers. This was an obvious dig at the Pais candidate, who is a fish wholesaler by trade.
As Pais speaker whipped audiences at the rally into a frenzy, the assembled fisherfolk began to heckle nearby police officers, who had been stationed around the market to ensure order. After being pelted by rotting fish, the officers retaliated, storming the assembled crowd with riot shields and batons. In the ensuing pandemonium, many press members were injured, and had to flee Laloh.
(Source: gifmania.sg) Fighting continued until the next day. There were even rumours that a stray meteor had crashed into the small village. This cannot be confirmed, as access to Laloh has been restricted by armed forces since.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) has declared the Laloh polling district as an automatic BM win. This has been stridently contested by both Pais and Pasam, and civil society has criticised the EC’s decision as “undemocratic”. The Malaysian Bar Society styled it “the beginning of the end for Malaysian democracy”.
The Reporter devoted a mere 400-word report to the terrible disturbance. And it didn’t run anything about the EC’s deplorable decision. Instead, the English-language portal focused on Cemew’s tiff with Pasam. Their focus on such a sensationalist and petty issue is emblematic of the deplorable standards to which Malaysian journalism has sunk today.
Worse, Pasam’s Che Wan has since denounced the Reporter‘s coverage, claiming that he was misquoted.
“I never said those things against journalists, and I have the recordings to prove it,” he was quoted as saying.
If Malaysian journalists now have to resort to muckraking and cooking up sensational stories — when there is such a deluge of real news — just to attract readers, the heyday of stellar reportage is over. I will spend hundreds of sleepless nights worrying about the future of our hallowed profession.
Zedeck Siew is proud to say he has never made anything up, ever.