This May we observe the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Day with news that Malaysia’s press freedom ranking remains consistent at despicable. And this year’s theme, 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. To consciously decide to reflect on the state of Malaysia’s media in those terms, is to deliberately put oneself through an agonising process towards despair and frustration. But reflect we must, and truth we must write.
Malaysia’s media is the people’s biggest enemy today. That is the first and most important truth to be told on World Press Freedom Day. While we quarrel amongst ourselves and with politicians who claim to lead us, the media plays an active role in tightening that tension and leading us further towards self-destruction. At a time when Malaysia desperately needs a peacemaker the media with its immense power to influence pours fuel into the fire.
The wisdom of imbeciles and extremists, as well as scandals and pornography, are the preferred choices for news highlights thus further hardening the hearts and narrowing the minds of the masses. And when the vulnerable and marginalised among us are persecuted either by the state or fellow citizens, the media may report using derogatory terms or expose their identities.
They make no apologies for it, because this is their freedom. A freedom to be free from decency. And it is this freedom that facilitates the polarisation of Malaysian society which will lead us to our ultimate destruction.
What new frontiers, the United Nations may inquire: A dangerous one, that is the answer. And barriers? None.
In the meantime polarised Malaysians will continue to be oblivious to the fact that issues-based independent voices are that which belong to individuals and civil society groups, many of whom are not published and therefore have limited influence. Indeed, some of these independents have columns in print and online media but their voices are often drowned by the noise of political hero-worshippers as well as self-serving experts.
Many will continue to be disillusioned and believe that what they read on Malaysia’s popular online news portals today constitutes independent reporting, and not so much alternative reporting. The deterioration of our education system will guarantee that society is never critical enough to see the difference between the two; the latter being that which serves to undermine views published by traditional media currently controlled by the ruling government. Perhaps then one can say that the people of Malaysia are getting a balanced dose of propaganda from both sides of the political fence. That is, if they read both sources.
Access to propaganda has also become much easier today. Readers and viewers no longer need to depend on traditional media for mental conditioning as Malaysia’s growing Internet penetration rate and the increasing use of mobile data gadgets allow access counter propaganda online whenever they please. As proud readers we will hardly admit we consume propaganda, but that is the nature of being proud.
Looking at current trends, the only question left is whether new conglomerates are going to emerge in the near future, buying over small outfits and streamlining messaging for the masses. As for the National Union of Journalists, they may or may not grow some teeth after the Mohamed Hata Wahari case subsides. But that doesn’t matter if they are happy serving conglomerates that decide editorial direction at the top most hierarchy.
A former journalist commented and said this article may not be 100 percent fair as some journalists are simply doing their job, unsavoury as the outcomes may be. True. And that is their freedom.