Malaysiakini : COMMENT | “The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it.” - Arthur Conan Doyle, “ Adventure of the Six Napoleons/The Adventure of the Crooked Man”
The last people who should help build an “inclusive narrative” are the
media. What does an “inclusive narrative” really mean? It seems to me
that when people say the media should concentrate on “positive news,”
what they really mean is that the media should concentrate on news that
demonstrates the political system is working.
This would not be a problem if the system was functional, but in most cases it is not. Media
organisations are beholden to a whole range of special interests, to
their subscribers and sometimes to the bases of certain political
parties. It happens in the West and it happens here.
I have no
idea how the media can help build an inclusive narrative, but I know
that when people start looking at the media for help in addressing
problems that are systemic, instead of going to their elected officials,
we are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Take the example of the lighted cross incident (photo, above).
It was claimed the press drove this issue. How? Was the press not
supposed to report on this issue? In any functional democracy, this
would be a non-issue.
But here, it raises so many issues. We live
in a country where the symbols and rituals of other religion are
considered a threat to the dominant religion. We live in a country where
the law is used to constrain speech the majority considers an insult to
their religion. So, of course, when an issue like this crops up, what
happens is people use it as a springboard for all the cultural and
systemic issues they bury deep down inside, but which erupts when people
talk about their faith.
As far as I am concerned, the lighted
cross issue was a good opportunity to talk about how the kind of
propaganda non-Malay political operatives disseminate when it comes to
the religious narratives like this, and how the business community
should not be in the business of mixing commerce and religion, as I said earlier:
is why I always advocate that non-Malay religious operatives should be
strictly secular. This is why I always advocate that non-Malay political
operatives should leave their religion at home. This is also why it is
dangerous for religious people in the business community to mix religion
and politics and assume everything changes because their anointed
assumes federal power.”
There are already so many restrictions on
the press in this country. There are so many laws that restrict freedom
of speech and expression. When people are afraid of words and ideas, it
is pointless asking the media to help build an inclusive narrative. You
do not build an inclusive narrative when religious and racial
flashpoints cannot be discussed in an open manner. Instead, people are
warned – the press included – that the sensitivities of the majority
could result in racial or religious violence.
Instead of talking
about an inclusive narrative, why don’t we talk about how the
counter-narratives of the Harapan state against the narratives of Umno
and PAS are not working. Maybe they are not working because the Harapan state has no counter-narratives. Maybe
they do not have a counter-narrative because the only people who are
interested in an inclusive narrative are the non-Malays and the Malays
who are deemed liberal. Maybe there is no counter-narrative because the non-Malay politicians in Harapan are mindful not to spook the Malays.
there is no counter-narrative because the Harapan government uses a
women's' march to target the LGBTQ community and then investigate the
women's march for sedition.
Maybe there is no counter-narrative
because the Harapan government does not want to confront the Malay far
right because, ideologically, they are not that far apart. If you think the media can build a counter-narrative or even an inclusive one, you are gravely mistaken.
Activist Siti Kassim (above)
raised an interesting point. Why isn't the government using the
propaganda apparatus at its disposal to offer a counter-narrative?
Forget for a moment that the state media apparatus should not be used as
a propaganda tool, but if Harapan is really interested in countering
the religious and racial narratives of Umno/PAS, why isn’t it using the
tools at its disposal?
Again it all boils down to the fact that
the Harapan government does not have a counter-narrative. The coalition
may have a parallel narrative, though.
The media in this country
cannot take a stand on issues when it comes to supporting or rejecting
certain policy issues. If the media advocates such, the wolves will be
at their doorstep and you can bet your last ringgit, they would not get
any help from the so-called progressive government that was recently
voted in. This is one of the reasons why columnists, for instance, have
disclaimers at the end of their pieces.
Have you noticed that
when the state does something inclusive and the press reports about it,
there is backtracking on the issue? People talk of the backtracking on
the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (Icerd) issue, but nobody talks about how the press
examined this issue, was supportive of it – a certain section anyway –
and all this was part of the inclusive narrative some people are talking
Since we do not have a mono-lingual media - thankfully -
different communities and the media they consume view issues in
Unless and until political operatives are held
accountable and confront the hard questions this country faces, the
press, unfortunately, does not offer anything much, beyond feeding
partisan appetites for profit and waiting for that knock on the door.