COMMENT | So, Utusan Malaysia has “congratulated” Malaysiakini
on its supposed immunity to state sanction because of its
readers' comments that are "wild and slanderous." While I happen to
think that many of the comments Malaysiakini chooses not to highlight are indeed “wild and slanderous,” this is the natural consequence of free speech.
To argue that Malaysiakini is immune from state sanction misses the point. Malaysiakini and its editors have been subject to state intervention countless times and the most recent intervention was when Malaysiakini was merely reporting the news.
In defending Malaysiakini during this latest assault on the free press, I wrote
– “When simply reporting what was said is considered offensive, obscene
or false, the whole charade that this is a democratic country comes
tumbling down like a deck of cards. When a journalist is barred from
reporting what was said or done, this truly becomes the ‘see no evil and
hear no evil’ profession that old-school journalists have been
struggling against for years.”
Of course, going after readers' comments is like shooting fish in a
barrel. The fact that establishment propagandists often times use racist
and slanderous comments of certain anonymous subscribers in their
propaganda pieces seems to escape this establishment paper. It
apparently also escapes these subscribers who then wonder why race
relations in this country are so bad.
In an environment where competing racial narratives are the norm,
readers' comments, either pro-establishment or pro-opposition, are train
wrecks where people express their true feelings under the cloak of
anonymity. While rancid racial discussions are sometimes punctuated with
nuanced asides, the reality is that people want to express themselves
without filters because mainstream politicians and demagogues do so in
the mainstream press without filters or sanctions.
Utusan’s claim that Malaysiakini is pro-DAP is about as useful as not acknowledging that Utusanis anti-DAP. By this, I mean that Utusanand Malaysiakini
both have their biases which are ultimately irrelevant so long as the
state does not favour one over the other. Since the state does favour
Utusan, this leaves Malaysiakini as one of the few 'independent' – even if allegedly pro-opposition – media outlets in the country.
Do not take my word for it. Here is what Utusan Malaysia’s
deputy chief editor Mohd Zaini Hassan said in a forum organised by Biro
Tata Negara: “In our style of writing, we have facts, spin and one more –
blatant lies. From the point of psychological warfare, let’s not follow
‘blatant lies’, let’s not write lies. Spin we can; no matter how we
spin a certain fact to be biased in our favour, that’s okay.” Furthermore, the editor said: "But we over here, I apologise for having to say this, if there is no money, things don’t work.”
But it goes beyond that. To the best of my knowledge – and I am sure the editorial board would correct me if I am wrong – Malaysiakini has never silenced establishment politicians from promoting their agendas on Malaysiakini.
This is markedly different from the mainstream news outlets that
routinely silence voices that do not conform to official narratives.
Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM)’s Nora Nordin claimed that Malaysiakini
was creating an uneasy atmosphere in society by not filtering the
comments published on the website. This, of course, is total horse
manure. It would have been better if Utusan Malaysia and these experts pointed out what these unfiltered comments either by subscribers or Malaysiakini writers were that caused this uneasiness in society.
Since Utusanhas chosen not to give examples, allow me to point to the anti-DAP narratives of Utusan. In a piece titled "Kebencian Dr M Untungkan DAP," the writer, makes the pro-Umno claims that:
1. Former prime minister is betraying “ketuanan” ideology by aligning with the DAP. 2. The DAP is attempting to supplant Malay leadership in this country. 3. Malay “leaders” aligned with the DAP are in fact beholden to the DAP. 4. Malays would ultimately be serfs in their lands even if they have
the title of “tuan,” because of the fracture within the Malay community.
Whether this causes “unease” in society depends on what demographic
you are attempting to reach. While some folks would find this offensive,
obviously the people who subscribe to these views believe that this is
the existential threat facing their community.
Meanwhile I have my own take on 'Malay' politics which no doubt would cause unease in readers of Utusan Malaysia - the red-shirts
and the futility of Malay privilege – “What is lost and what Umno fears
are remnants of a Malay polychromatic past, which emblems like flags
and literature are slowing resurfacing which reminds the Malay community
of their diverse past. How this lost past is slowly being reintroduced
into the community and influencing the Malay community is beyond the
scope of this piece and perhaps beyond my ability to articulate.”
The problem is not that people are saying things which some find
upsetting; the problem has always been that the state favours one
narrative over another. When we are forced to communicate in such an
environment, only the worst from either side are given prominence.
I do not really blame Utusanfor doing what it does. But
what really bothers me is when the so-called progressive forces in this
country attempt to silence dissent and tar anyone who disagrees with the
opposition as Umno stooges. That is really the most disturbing aspect
in this propaganda war.