Written by Dr Lim Teck Ghee
In Malaysia, bloggers have been engaged in a battle to correct the spinning and political bias which has become part of the normal business and deep culture of the media. Since Independence, the majority of the media has been a willing partner in the Barisan Nasional’s one overriding pursuit: that of self-promotion, self aggrandizement and opportunism. In the process, the old media has contributed to the corruption, injustice and bad governance that are the hallmarks of BN rule, especially during Dr Mahathir’s administration and continuing today.
The reason why journalistic ethics and principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability are in short supply is not difficult to fathom. When these qualities do exist especially amongst younger and idealistic media practitioners, the calls from the Home Affairs Ministry, Special Branch, and the political bosses are quickly there to remind them of the Printing Presses and Publications Act; the ISA; the Sedition Act; and the major roadblocks to career advancement should they offend the authorities with their writing.
We salute the journalists and media practitioners who have retained their integrity and want to get the truth out to the public. We salute Saudara Hata Wahari for his stand on not just mouthing the rhetoric of compliance with journalistic ethics and good practice but on practicing them and in pushing his colleagues to higher standards. Shortly after being elected NUJ president last September, Saudara Hata called on “all mainstream journalists, especially of Utusan Malaysia, the New Straits Times, Berita Harian and The Star to return to their true function as deliverers of objective information to the public, and not as tools of propaganda for the government, or any political party or individual, for their personal gain.” He has paid the price for standing up for his principles but let not his sacking be in vain.
On the possibility of not being used as tools of propaganda for the government, I have little faith that the old media is capable of the change to an honest and truthful profession on their own volition. Too many have “been kissing up to the regime” – and have been too well paid off for them to be able to make that change. With the death signs of the old regime increasingly visible, the mainstream media are acting as the cheerleaders and fear leaders of the government with an increasing vengeance – hence the frenzied playing of the racial and religious card by certain papers.
Change will eventually come but it will not happen on its own accord. It will happen though if we have a more conscientized and engaged public joining in the fight for media freedom. Bloggers have a key role to play in this ‘reclaiming the media’ and ‘restoring dignity and respect’ exercise.
Today, we see a superheated and hotly contested political environment which needs truthful reporting and analysis more than ever. Bloggers can provide that fair and objective analysis because they are generally their own masters. The great majority of activist bloggers have taken to blogging not because they are paid to do it but because of disenchantment with the system and the desire to share with fellow Malaysians their ideas on how to bring change to the country.
How long can this idealism last? A recent study of motivations for blogging in the United States provides guidance. The researchers found the three strongest initial motivations for blogging — “to let off steam,” “to keep track of your thoughts” and “to formulate new ideas” — were all based on the bloggers’ personal emotional or intellectual needs. In our case in Malaysia, it has been mainly a response to perceived injustices and the bad governance of the establishment that have pushed bloggers to put aside their time and resources to write. For most, it is a solitary undertaking with few rewards except the emotional and intellectual satisfaction that comes with exposing abuses.
But when asked why they’re blogging today, those three foundational motivations either decreased in importance or increased very slightly. In contrast, the extrinsic motivations — notions such as “to serve as a political watchdog” and “to influence public opinion” — saw significant and sizable increases.
“As they continued to blog, and their blog posts reached wider audiences, they realized they could extend influence out to their audience, the media and political parties,” the researchers write (see http://www.miller-mccune.com/media/why-blog-to-change-the-world-and-blow-off-steam-7303/). While their initial motivations did not fade away, this newfound influence provided additional motivation, leading these bloggers to be even more enthusiastic about what they do.
What has been noted in the US is also happening in Malaysia. Reaching out to the larger public and acting as a political watchdog are natural developments. In the process, bloggers have also built a community of bloggers and supporters who share similar values and ideologies – at least in terms of the need to protect and widen the space for democratic values and expression. This community is a precious seedling in Malaysia. It needs nurturing and patience especially since there will be strenuous efforts to divide and destroy the community. Make no mistake about it – winning the internet war has been the priority of the BN since March 2008 – and they will engage in whatever trickery necessary.
For the internet to be free and for the community of activist bloggers to continue as leaders against spinning, fear mongering and outright lies, the community will have to close ranks. Sometimes though, bloggers are their worst enemies in their rush to quick judgment especially in relation to those within the community.
With regard to this negative tendency of turning against their fellow activist bloggers, I have full confidence that Raja Petra Kamarudin has not cut a deal with the government on coming back to Malaysia and nor has he sold out on his principles. Knowing this man personally – more important – going by his record of standing in the frontline in fighting for truth, justice and good governance, it is a sorry reflection of the state of our bloggers’ community and mindset that so many have jumped onto the bandwagon of criticism against RPK for giving the interview to TV3.
We can fault him on the timing of the interview; we can contest him on what he disclosed or failed to disclose; we can reject his critical views on the opposition but let’s not question his integrity and his commitment to a just and better Malaysia. In his campaign for transparency, accountability and justice, and his whistle-blowing on corruption, racism and money politics, RPK exemplifies the best of blogging activism: independent, idealistic, unwavering and telling it as it is. RPK literally puts his life on the line with every major column he writes exposing what no one else dares to put out in print. Let’s recognize and appreciate his service to the nation.
Know your friends from your foes; close ranks and go back to the basics which are to focus on the priority problems and issues in the country, and expose and bring down bad governance, wherever that may emanate. This should be the bloggers’ creed for our tumultuous times.
The above is a summary of Dr Lim’s speech to the Bloggers’ Universe Malaysia (BUM) forum, delivered on June 11, 2011.