Take a strong stand for change

May 19, 2014


My article was fully published by Free Malaysia Today:

Malaysians must break through inertia and indifference and stand up for themselves and their principles.


By Robert Chaen

Last month’s attendance at Karpal Singh’s state funeral was one of the largest in Malaysia since the great outpouring on the occasion of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s death in 1990.

One would have expected every newspaper in the country to carry it as its front page lead. However, no English or Malay mainstream paper apparently saw it as worthy of that treatment. In sharp contrast, every major Chinese daily front-paged the event.

To the mainstream papers, a wild party, the death of a baby, bus accidents, and illegal gambling seemed more newsworthy than the state funeral of one of Malaysia’s most significant political icons.

This sorry state of affairs is evidence of a severe lack of journalistic integrity and an excess of political bias on the part of English and Malay mainstream newspapers in the country.

My friends in the international media have often remarked that there is little press freedom in Malaysia. They say there is so much propaganda, blame and hatred in The Star, NST, Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian that they wonder how Malaysians can ever get truthful, factual, and balanced news.

When I joke that many Americans read The National Enquirer, their retort is that most people know it is a tabloid with sensational, fake, and entertaining stories for retired folks. Their opinion is that Malaysia’s mainstream papers are like their tabloids and Malaysians who read them can’t see that they are being fed inaccurate, biased news, with some articles bordering on lies.

One business editor of a British paper told me political parties should never directly own mainstream newspapers. In his country the public would not allow it. The most it will tolerate is a mainstream paper owned by a tycoon who may support a particular political party. Still, the paper will aim to adhere to the journalism code of ethics and will fight for its press freedom.

I told him what I had told Al-Jazeera: In Hong Kong we are facing Chinese media tycoons who have strong business interests in China. Some have installed chief editors who are pro-China. Furthermore, the Beijing Representative office occasionally harasses and pressures the free press in Hong Kong to revise or remove comments that it doesn’t like. And there is an increasing trend towards self-censorship by editors.

The business editor remarked that China, after all, was known to be the one of the world’s most non-transparent and controlling governments and was fearful of revolt by more than one billion Chinese.

That may be true, but we nevertheless held a public demonstration last March 2 to protest against the brutal chopping attack on former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to and to rally support for press freedom.

I have the utmost respect for the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the main English newspaper in Hong Kong. It is a truly professional paper and has won many international awards.

One SCMP executive who regularly reads Malaysian news said that if Hong Kong had the equivalent of Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the press and the public would call for his immediate resignation for his ineptness, bigotry and gangster rhetoric.

One TV news presenter, echoing many other observers, said it was appalling how unprofessional MAS and Malaysian government agencies were in handling the MH370 crisis. She spoke of the heartless treatment of the anxious relatives of the flight’s passengers and the utterly confusing and contradictory statements coming from officials.

Weak leadership

Most observers believe that if Malaysian authorities had the integrity of their counterparts in Hong Kong or Japan, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and the MAS CEO would have been sacked unceremoniously.

An investigative journalist who has done award-winning TV documentaries told me he suspected a cover up in the MH370. He is highly suspicious of the shifty nature of government officials and critical of the weak leadership of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

Many overseas Malaysians and foreigners know quite a bit about what is happening in Malaysia from foreign media reports. In my chats with them, they express deep concern about the deteriorating conditions that they think many Malaysians are blind to.

They can’t understand how Malaysians can tolerate the bribing of voters and the institution of a minority government, how they can countenance extra-judicial killings and deaths in custody and how they can stand bullying by religious fanatics.

They can’t understand why Malaysian authorities can’t charge billionaire Taib Mahmud after the Global Witness sting went viral, how Dr Mahathir Mohamad can get away with pretending not to know about the Memali incident and East Malaysia’s illegal ICs, how the murderers of a Mongolian model can get away scot free and why Anwar Ibrahim is the only politician to be convicted of sodomy.

James B Reston

James Reston said: “All politics are based on the indifference of the majority.”

But I’m taking a strong stand for change. I’m educating more true Malaysians inside and outside the country to break through inertia and indifference, to stand up for themselves and their principles, to love our the country and to unite in the name of positive social change—to create a “tsunami” of change, to use Najib’s words.

Instead of reading the news, we’ll be the news of change. Join the “They can’t jail us all; we’re the hundredth Karpal Singh” social media cause.

Robert Chaen is an international change expert and online pollster.