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The homophobic media

FOR the past week or so, a Bernama news article entitled Unconventional Methods To Prevent Influenza has been making its rounds on the internet. The reason? It quotes one Dr V M Palaniappan as claiming that masturbation and “homosexual activities” increase the likelihood of swine flu infection.

Apparently, such acts cause the body to develop friction heat, which leads to body “hyperacidity”. “Thus, the body becomes an easy target for H1N1 infection,” Palaniappan told Bernama. However, Palaniappan emphasised that “normal sexual union” — between members of the opposite sex — was safe.

It should be noted that Palaniappan, an ecologist formerly of Universiti Malaya, is a proponent of the Ecological Healing System, a form of complementary medicine. Neither on his website nor in the Bernama article is he identified as an accredited medical doctor.

And, while we try to keep an open mind towards alternative medicine, the authority with which Palaniappan discusses influenza A(H1N1) infection is shaky, at best.

two persons in rainbow coats carrying a sign that says 'quack science increases chances of ah1n1 infection'
Palaniappan also recommends drinking coconut water to prevent A(H1N1) infections

It certainly sounds like quack science. Actual medical professionals, like Tropical Infectious Diseases Research and Education Centre (Tidrec) director Professor Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar, have since come out against Palaniappan’s claims.

“There is absolutely no truth to it,” Sazaly was quoted as saying.

To his credit, Palaniappan published a lengthy apology and clarification on his blog on 15 Aug, and admitted that the information he gave before was incomplete and inaccurate. “The misconception must have been due to my ignorance of homosexual relationships. I am sorry again to have hurt them,” he wrote. To date, however, Bernama has not reported Palaniappan’s retraction and apology.

It is the “interesting” stories, such as Palaniappan’s initial homosexual relations theory, that tend to get wide circulation: remember the plans for our angkasawan to make teh tarik in space? Indeed, strange and erroneous ideas are an inescapable part of the human milieu.

So really, the issue of Palaniappan’s statement isn’t silliness. It is about media responsibility.

“Pesta lesbian”

Why were Palaniappan and his opinions given space and such importance by our national media agency? Such a gesture lends credibility to bad science. Worse, by “confirming” the swine flu pandemic’s link to homosexuality, it gives homophobes yet another reason to perpetuate hate, just as one Harian Metro report recently did.

On 13 Aug 2009, the Malay-language tabloid published a front page exposé of a private party organised by the queer community. The article, Pesta lesbian, by one Sarah Zulkifli, detailed the goings-on at this “party of vice”.

two pictures — one of silhouettes dancing amidst bright lights, another of Bruce Springsteen
So, dancing in colourful light = homosexual vice party, dancing in the dark = Bruce Springsteen song?
(Disco pic © Alessandro Paiva / sxc.hu; Bruce Springsteen pic © Oscar Alonso Algote / Flickr)

“The wild party began in the late evening and its merriment began to be felt after 10.30pm, with more than 30 women that mixed freely without care of race or religion, who danced on a stage whilst illuminated by colourful lights … it was disgusting to see Malay women dancing closely with their female partners without paying attention to the people around them,” Sarah reported.

Such tabloid prose would have been comedic, if it weren’t for ripples it created. The next day, English-language daily The Star, in its Other News & Views segment, published a translation of the Harian Metro story. The leading English daily gave the translated report the sensationalist title Lesbians mark their ‘independence’ with wild party.

Elaine Foster, one of the party’s co-organisers, tells The Nut Graph that, immediately following the exposé, the community organisations to which she belongs saw some members leaving. Another group “came out” by renouncing its queer status, to distance itself from the anticipated witch-hunt.

“You can’t name any of these organisations, though,” Foster adds. It isn’t surprising, in a global climate where homophobia still bears violent fruit, that the Malaysian queer community has reacted with fear and paranoia.

According to Foster, the party she organised was meant to be inclusive. “It was a party that celebrated sexual diversity. That’s why every kind of person — straight, gay, lesbian, and so on — was invited,” Foster says. “It had an open door to anyone who wanted to celebrate their sexuality — and the sexuality of others.”

Naughty, naughty

The Harian Metro writer admits, in her story, that she “disguised herself as a ‘lesbian practitioner’” to gain admission to the event.

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran denounces such investigative strategy as “very naughty”.

“You go in there with false pretences, talk to people who don’t know they are being interviewed, and use that as a major quote in your story. Where is your credibility?” Gayathry tells The Nut Graph.

The Harian Metro story attributed the quotes it carries to one “Tina”, a “20-something” woman.

Harian Metro scan with headlines Gadis Melayu meriahkan parti songsang — pesta lesbian
Harian Metro‘s frontpage highlights the violation of Tina’s rights…if she exists

“It is a violation of the rights of the individual,” Gayathry says. She explains that such interviewees would have been denied a host of rights: the right to consent to being quoted, as well as the right to defend and explain themselves for a public audience. “Journalists need to respect those rights.”

Additionally, how can a reader tell if Tina was real, or fictionalised by the reporter to lend credence to her narrative?

The Harian Metro story was also irresponsible because it was partial. The writer employed a sensationalist tone that expressed clear outrage at such demonstrations of “deviant sexuality”.

“It is problematic because they only present one view,” Gayathry says.

She hazards that Harian Metro‘s self-assumed position as a moral guardian may have been forgivable if the tabloid had a history of allowing other, dissenting voices within its pages. Or if, in the wider scheme of things, there are other Malaysian media of equal weight that support sexuality rights to balance the Malay-language daily’s lopsided stance.

“The problem is that there is no level playing field. There aren’t those competing spaces,” Gayathry explains. “So it is not okay (to occupy such a position), given the circumstances.”

Minorities at risk

Both Bernama‘s story about swine flu remedies and Harian Metro‘s exposé of pool-side affection are examples of how the media’s ethical shortcomings can lead to the further victimisation of minorities. And sexual minorities aren’t the only ones at risk when the media behaves irresponsibly.

One need only remember the Al Islam reporter who photographed a half-chewed Catholic communion wafer, back in July. Christians, a religious minority in Malaysia, felt outraged and besieged.

Perhaps the critical ingredient lacking in all these cases is basic mindfulness and respect for each other — an approach that can be easily and effectively practised through sound journalistic ethics.

Bernama and Harian Metro, and before that Al Islam, should have considered the repercussions their stories could potentially cause. More importantly, they should consider their loss of credibility by being judgemental without being accurate and fair, and by being disingenuous, even dishonest, in the methods used to get a story.

Gayathry
Gayathry

And, if these media organisations will not, of their own volition, be accountable to fairness, accuracy and responsibility, the responsibility of keeping them responsible falls to society itself.

“Different groups and individuals need to come out and speak out against this,” Gayathry says. If not, we can be sure that there will be more sensationalist reporting that casts wild and unfounded assertions on groups of people who are already marginalised and discriminated against. Favicon

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Kosmo!‘s offence

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9 Responses to “The homophobic media”

  1. An increasing number of people are becoming homosexuals either gays or lesbians in different parts of the world. The former refers to the perverted sexual relationship between man and man while the latter is the title for women practicing sex with women. This is, however, not a new phenomenon; what is new is the attempt of those people who have been considered all the time as outcasts and perverts, to assert their identity and force the rest of the people to recognize and accept them and their relationships as natural ones.

    As this is becoming an increasingly dangerous issue, it is indeed important to clarify the attitude of Islam towards homosexuality.

    [...]

  2. Yusuf Martin says:

    It is a well know fact that people of a homosexual persuasion are also known for walking on their hands, painting their faces blue and shouting who ha, who ha as they go about their daily business of collecting eggs from a mare’s nests or hanging on sky hooks. These practices would naturally lead to high susceptibility to catching diseases especially flu from swine [...]

  3. Wan Kimm says:

    Is this how some of the mainstream media wishes to portray their reporting, with all the disregard for ethics going on? Of course showing her identification would’ve defeated the purpose of her blending into the crowd and wanting to dig some info in the first place, but eh.

    And regardless of whether Tina is fictional or not… if she is, then what’s the writer doing quoting someone non-existent and making up a fictional quote? If she isn’t, then Tina should at least be in the know about getting quoted… for Harian Metro and its sensationalist (overly-exaggerated in this case for the sake of unnecessary grandiose?) articles.

    Boggles the mind… boggles the mind…

  4. budlee says:

    It’s trash newspaper, Harian Metro, and sometimes Berita Harian gets lucky and puts [up] more trash. I was getting kinda sick with the homosexual stories, so it was refreshing to hear about the so-called lesbian stories. Things they write to sell papers…[...]

  5. Andrew I says:

    Friction heat. It would make a great title for Madonna’s next single.

    Clarifications in the national media? Not unless it adversely affects their annually renewable permits can readers expect to enjoy such a courtesy.

    There’s also a new way to bring traffic to a newly created blog and you can even print out all its juicy details. It’s a shame this thoughtfulness is not extended to all blogs, though.

  6. lezzo says:

    Sigh… just when you think the gay community has taken a step forward, it gets knocked down to its knees again… could this be some kind of response to the successful Seksualiti Merdeka events at the Annexe?

  7. Petra says:

    Journalists such as these have no right to publish such biased views. In countries with a little more sense of justice, the journalist could easily be arrested and tried for hate speech and discrimination. This publishing on the front page really shows how pathetic most of the Malaysian mainstream media is. Does gossip really qualify to be the main issue of the news? Does it even qualify to be in the newspaper?! No! I, as a member of the LGBT community, am outraged by this invasion of privacy. I am also disgusted by the descriptions used by the particular journalist to describe homosexuals. Homosexuals are not what’s wrong in the world, it’s people like that journalist.

  8. Karcy says:

    This is why a gay friend of mine doesn’t like to see straight women hanging out in gay bars (he is American, though), and whether they’re liberal or accepting of his orientation is besides the point. His relationship causes a crisis at work, at home, at school, and at church, and he can’t bring his boyfriend out without worrying about places where he might be putting him in a state of danger or discomfort. Gay bars and similar places are the only safe spaces where gay people can simply exist.

    It creates a ghetto environment, but to paraphrase what he said, he’ll welcome straight women in gay bars when society stops discriminating against them.

    I feel sad that Elaine Foster’s good intentions at welcoming everyone to the party resulted in someone crashing in to get a sensational scoop. I suppose the only consolation is that in a few weeks’ time, the Malaysian public who read this will just forget about it.

  9. Jessica Ong says:

    Fags, lezzos, homos – these are just words. True enough they may harm one’s reputation, identity and feelings but they simply are just what they are – words. Like if I said, “Sarah Zulkifli is a stupid, ignorant and unfair ‘journalist’.” (Can I even call her that since she’s a disgust to the media/literary industry?)

    What’s with all the judgment, people? Seriously? Are there nothing else to worry about in the world that we have to take concerns about a person’s sexuality? Enough already.


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