Thursday, January 14, 2010

Malay journalism at its worst?

In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessing and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

"I have only created Jinns and Men, that they may serve Me." (Zariyat 51:56)

DURING my family's visit to the Pasir Salak Historical Complex in Perak recently, in its Time Tunnel, I came across an interesting picture with the description; 'Pulau Pinang ( Penang ) at the forefront of Malay awareness in the 1920's'. The caption read, 'The people of Pulau Pinang reading 'Al-Ikhwan', 'Saudara' and 'Idaran Masa', locally published newspapers which acted as catalysts for Malay reformation'.

At the complex, the Time Tunnel depicts the historical journey and patriotic struggle of the country. The dioramas begin with the early settlement of Kuala Selingsing, 200 BC to 1000 AD. It follows with the history of Malacca and the Perak Sultanate, British intervention, and the struggle for independence.

The complex which offers several interesting places in connection with the assassination of J W W Birch, the first British Resident of Perak, was officially opened by His Royal Highness Sultan Azlan Shah, the Sultan of Perak Darul Ridzuan in the 1990s. It is situated in Kampung Gajah, on the Teluk Intan-Bandar Sri Iskandar road.

Now that the Penang Malays are in the spotlight again after the fall of the state from Umno-BN to a coalition government of DAP-KeADILan, it is interesting to reflect how the Malays in the pre-independence years were energized in their struggle for the independence of Malaya by the mass media.

So papers like 'Al-Ikhwan', 'Saudara', 'Idaran Masa' and 'Jawi Peranakan' had their part in it. And renowned early Malay writers such as Syed Syeikh Al-Hadi and Abdul Rashid Talu were from Penang.

It is also interesting to look back at how two mainstream Malay dailies, Utusan Melayu (now Utusan Malaysia) and Berita Harian filled the vacuum to address the needs and inspiration of the people especially the Malays of the newly independent Malaya (1957) and then Malaysia (1963).

In my opinion, in the early years after independence and during the New Economic Policy (NEP) era (1970-1999) the Malay dailies carried on their duties well, but alas based the current developments and scenarios, especially during the 'Reformasi' era in 1998-1999 and the 12th general election held recently, the dailies have fared badly.

A quantitative study coordinated by Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), in collaboration with Writer's Alliance for Media Independence and Aliran, found that press reports during the campaigning period for the recent general election were lopsided with Utusan Malaysia (the only Malay daily monitored), scoring badly.

Sadly Utusan Malaysia has become the mouthpiece of the ruling coalition. Malay journalism is said to be at its worst when almost all the principles in that field are kicked into the dustbin. Fair reporting is not given much attention. The main concern during that period was to dupe the people with biased reporting to boost Umno-BN’s chance for a 100 percent mandate to rule the country once again.

According to the CIJ study, Utusan Malaysia had allocated the highest space for pro-BN stories during that period (82.29 percent) compared to The Star, 65.12 percent; New Straits Times (60.29 percent); the Sun (42.8 percent); Makkal Osai (66 percent); and Malaysia Nanban (70 percent).

Other than that, almost all the main papers were 'laced' with Umno-MCA-MIC (BN) 'poisonous' advertisements, telling how good the BN government was and put fear into the rakyat if they dared vote Opposition.

Utusan Malaysia was the worst in allocating pro-Opposition stories at only 1.89 percent, compared with Makkal Osai at 23 percent and Malaysia Nanban at 19 percent. As for the English press, The Star had the smallest proportion of pro-Opposition stories at 5.5 percent, while the New Straits Times was at 5.9 percent and the Sun recorded over 16 percent.

In releasing the results of the study, CIJ executive director, V Gayathry said, it confirmed previous studies by universities that the mainstream media was biased and acted as a mouthpiece of Umno-BN.

By denying the voice of the people to be heard and seen (as shown by Pakatan Rakyat -PAS-PKR-DAP - conquering five state assemblies), the media, especially the Malay press seemed to have shied away from the inspiration and spirit of its founding fathers for the reformation of the Malays shown by leaders such as Syed Sheikh Al-Hadi, Abdul Rahim Kajai and Ishak Haji Muhammad and papers like 'Al-Ihwan', 'Saudara', 'Idaran Masa' and 'Jawi Peranakan'.

Even though election is over, Utusan Malaysia keeps on playing and fanning the sentiments of the Malays on various issues such as in the New Economic Policy (NEP). The paper projects itself as the champion of the Malays (Umno), fanning them into believing that the new coalition (PAS-PKR-DAP) is the culprit that brought about their demise.

The truth is that the Malays were betrayed by Umno kings who were only concerned about their own well being. They and their cronies had and are fulfilling the desires and wants of their bellies and the organs below it but at the same making time making it hell for the ordinary people.

For example the Umno kings in Penang were quick to point their fingers (they even organized demonstrations) at the new government headed by YB Lim Guan Eng regarding the NEP, but never bothered to acknowledge their failures in uplifting the standard of living of the Malays after having the opportunity to govern the state with their partners – Gerakan, MCA and MIC – for five decades.

Come on Umno kings, what have you done for the Malays of Penang in the span of 50 years? It is an irony for a state from which the Prime Minister comes to fail to address the needs of the Malays. Moreover he is the Umno chief of that state.

In recent days, Umno strongmen were bickering with words flying about in a killing manner. The Prime Minister's supporters such as the then Minister of Information, Sabbery Chik had raised points that former Prime Minster, Mahathir Mohamed was at fault for the downfall and 'disintegration' of Umno.

Recent developments show and prove that Umno was the main culprit in the downfall of the Malays. In stressing this point, it gave opportunity to the Malay press and journalists to guide or reform the Malays as what has been done by newspapers way back in the 1920s such as 'Al-Ikhwan', 'Saudara' and 'Idaran Masa'.

Unfortunately, the Malay press has failed badly as exemplified by Utusan Malaysia. Instead of reforming the Malays, they instead force thme into the underside of the coconut's shell just like the peribahasa (proverb) 'bagaikan katak di bawah tempung' (like the frog under the coconut shell).

If this is the case, then there is no point in displaying the picture showing the Malays of Penang reading the old papers at the Time Tunnel of the Pasir Salak History Complex. It is of no use, because the Malays are a forgetful lot, 'Melayu mudah lupa' (Malays forget easily) as was once said by Mahathir! They never learn from history.

Yesterday I read Harian Metro at a coffeeshop and while flipping across pages of its Sports section was surprised to see two full pages allocated to four digits and Toto results. It is a 'great achievement' for the paper as more and more Muslims-Malays are not concerned about what is halal and haram.

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