Monday, August 25, 2008

Malay journalism at its worst?

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

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

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

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-Ikhwan', '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

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

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 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.

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