Al Jazeera crackdown – PN’s Trumpian gambit - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, July 27, 2020
Malaysiakini : We want to exclaim “O my God, poor fellow”, or “so sad”, or
perhaps maybe even a “this is not right”, but the question that follows
through is, ‘Do we really care?’– Irene Fernandez
COMMENT | The Perikatan Nasional (PN)government's crackdown on Al Jazeera
is as logical in its Trumpian strategy of deflection as it is dire in
its consequences. Think about it this way, the PN government claims
that Al Jazeera was presenting a false narrative with their
piece, "Locked up in Malaysia’s Lockdown", that a Bangladeshi migrant
worker was lying when he was interviewed, and that all this is an effort
to “tarnish” the reputation of Malaysia.
Apparently, going after a
news organisation, deporting a source, making ridiculous statements on
the use of social media, Finas licensing and questioning foreign
journalists would only enhance the reputation of Malaysia as a moderate,
Islamic country. Is this really the strategy of the PN government?
it is better to be thought of as a fascist government that hounds the
press, instead of being accused of mistreating migrant workers?
Unfortunately, this strategy works. What the PN government has done is
make this about defending the reputation of Malaysia, instead of
countering the narrative put forward by Al Jazeera.
US President Donald Trump has dubbed certain press organisations as an
“enemy of the people” - his people, and has incessantly decried "fake
news" - which he defines, as well as targeted "immigrants" and damaged
the credibility of government institutions, PN is doing more or less the
same thing. However, PN has the added benefit of having no independent
oversight and already pernicious legislation.
pointless drawing attention to Singapore’s regressive laws as a means to
distract from our own because, ironically, Malaysia’s press freedom, or
“freedoms” of any kind for that matter, are “better” than that of the
If the claim is that all those statements made by those interviewed by Al Jazeera were
lies, then the Malaysian government should have no problem debunking
those lies. They should offer tours of detention facilities, testimonies
by former inmates, allow relevant government officials to be
interviewed by Al Jazeera in an “equal time” segment. In other words, the PN government would offer an official narrative to dispute the contents of the Al Jazeera documentary.
the reputation of Malaysia becomes the focus, instead of the content of
the documentary, because right now PN has no political causes belli
beyond attempting to maintain its rule by any means necessary. The media
and other personalities are soft targets because of the partisan nature
of politics and the biases in editorial rooms and activist
As it stands, there is a vicious online campaign targeting Al Jazeera
and its reporters, but more importantly, defending a nativist’s
narrative. Defending the “reputation” of the country becomes a sort of
communal experience that would hopefully translate to votes. Whatever
the government thinks is so damaging to the reputation of this country
pales in comparison to what someone like the late Irene Fernandez (photo, below)
has seen, together with those who continue to carry on the work of
documenting the horrendous treatment that is meted out to “migrant “
workers in this country.
Five years ago, Tenanganita produced a
short documentary about a Bangladeshi migrant worker named Babul. The
piece titled "Ochena - The Unknown" is merely a snapshot of the
thousands of unknown stories of migrant workers that live and die under
the Malaysian sun.
In the words of Irene:
"In 2014, Tenaganita managed and handled 624 new cases consisting of
2,407 migrant workers, refugees, women and children, who were
predominantly victims of labour trafficking. Each case brought by a
migrant worker revealed multiple forms of violations by employers,
outsourcing agents, recruitment agents or different government agencies.
As such, each of the violations was handled separately as they were
offences under different laws, different agencies and required
different forms of investigations."
Back in the day when “false”
news was the “fake” news of its day, Irene was hounded by the state for
publishing information on the deaths of Semenyih camp detainees provided
by Steven Gan when he worked for The Sun, which had refused to carry out his team’s investigative piece out of fear of state reprisals.
is funny when Irene was sentenced to a year in jail, this was what the
judge said: "The offence committed cannot be regarded lightly as it had
tarnished the country’s image." Keep in mind the Pakatan Harapan government reviewed a 2016 deal
made by the previous government to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi
workers – “All policies pertaining to foreign workers will be reviewed,
including the plan by the defeated BN administration to import 1.5
million Bangladeshi nationals, Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran
As is usually the case, this is about big money but more importantly, big government. I
have no idea why the government’s knickers are in a twist merely
because a foreign news agency pointed out what local news agencies,
activists, and politicians have known for years. Just recently, K
Sudhagaran Stanley, an activist with the Center to Combat Corruption
& Cronyism (C4 Center) described his ordeal when he was detained by the state security apparatus.
had to literally stand and eat my lunch close to the lock-up grill,
facing outwards to avoid the filthy smell emanating from the cell. In
fact, during the whole time I was awake, I was standing or sitting close
to the lock-up grill to avoid the foul smell. It was a nightmare for
me. It did not matter that I was innocent until proven guilty, but I had
to first go through this horrible experience in the cell.”
this is the squalid conditions that a citizen of this country faces when
he is detained by the state security apparatus, what do you think
happens when the same happens to “foreigners”?
What happens to
them, who have no access to the media, to legal representation, to
political support or any kind of aid when he or she is detained by a
state security apparatus which does not seem to care, that the way how
it detains people does not fit into any kind of democratic standards?
this moment, the far right is targeting another migrant group – the
Rohingyas – and "defending the reputation of Malaysia" is an easier
sound bite than defending decades of political and social malfeasances
against migrant workers in this country.
This deflection tactic
enables the PN government to beef up existing repressive laws to crack
down on news portals which it claims are propagating fake news, and of
course, resorting to racial and religious narratives to distract from
fundamental problems that have plagued this country for years.
It is an old trick, but an effective trick played on a polity groomed to believe their way of life is always under threat.