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Unspun‘s often wondered what makes a self-perceived journalist want to be a practicing journalist in Singapore or Malaysia today, when you know before you plunge in that you will have to self-censor or be censored.
Why go in to the lion’s den and then after that complain about the nature of the lion? Is it masochism or idealism, of the highest order of bravery or misplacement, that spurs these young men and women to take up the calling?
Unspun was once in the former category as a journalist in Malaysia but that was before Operasi Lallang, when the Press was emasculated and there was still room to maneuver in spite of the attempts of self-censorship.
But one wonders these days how much room there is left to rage against the dying of the light of press freedom in those countries?
Singapore journalist on self-censorship: we can’t be controversial, we have to play the game
In this interview, a former reporter for broadcaster and publisher MediaCorp, who wished to remain anonymous, talks to Mumbrella about one of the most sensitive issues for the media in Singapore – self-censorship.
Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks spoke to a reporter who covered the last elections about how to play the news-getting game in Singapore, being labelled a ‘government mouthpiece’, and what the new regime for news websites really means.
It is said that Singaporeans learn from a very early age what what is politically acceptable to say in public. If true, would you say that this self-censorship is taken by young journalists into news rooms in Singapore?
A long-standing part of our social education is that there are certain things you have to treat sensitively, for the sake of racial harmony and societal stability. But at school, we were never told in an overt way that we could not comment on race or religion. It was only after I had studied overseas, in Australia, that I really became aware that there was such a thing as ‘OB markers’ [a term first used in 1991 by the then foreign minister George Yeo, to describe the boundaries for political discourse in Singapore].
The internet changed everything. Singaporeans were shown a different view of our media and how it works. Foreign commentators were saying our media is repressed. That it’s a government controlled monopoly. But I already knew, as most people did, that there was a gap in how our political news was being reported.
As a young reporter starting out, I was conscious that I might be controlled. I was concerned that I would not be able to do good journalism. But I had come back to Singapore from overseas because I felt that I could not change the country I love as an outsider. And I guess I was quite idealistic then, as were many of my peers. I was determined not to self-censor. But with the way the mainstream press works in Singapore, in some ways self-censorship is inevitable.
So when Malaysian Defense Minister claims he is bumiputra or Malay in Malaysia, is he lying? Is he actually Malay (an anthropological impossibility as there is no such race except in the Malaysian Constitution and the minds of the cynical politicians) or an Orang Java (an ethnicity).
His family migrated to Malaysia from Jogjakarta in 1932. My family migrated there from Fujian Province at least over 120 years ago. Yet he is able to claim himself a bumiputra and all its privileges, yet my family and my kind is often given the disparaging label of pendatang.
Ditto with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak who’s openly declared his Bugis roots, yet remains chauvinistically Malay. Is it a wonder they will lose the next general election?
Malaysian defense minister visits ‘home’http://m.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/03/22/malaysian-defense-minister-visits-home.html
The Jakarta Post | Fri, 03/22/2013 11:11 AM |
Malaysian Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi revealed his Javanese heritage on Thursday in Yogyakarta during his state visit.
He said he had Javanese blood as his paternal grandparents originally came from Kulonprogo in Yogyakarta.
“I am coming home,” Zahid told The Jakarta Post, adding that he would be staying in Yogyakarta for two days with his wife, having attended the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue (JIDD) on Wednesday.
While in Yogyakarta, Zahid plans to meet relatives including Yogyakarta Mayor Haryadi Suyuti and friends including the Yogyakarta sultan’s brother, GBPH Joyokusumo, as well as visiting the royal cemetery in Imogiri, Bantul.
Zahid said that his grandparents moved from Kulonprogo to Malaysia in 1932, while his mother’s grandfather had come from Ponorogo, East Java, and later married a Malaysian woman. He added that the fact that he had Indonesian blood made it easier to handle political disputes with the Indonesian government.
“Complications can be solved because of this closeness,” said Zahid, who was previously Malaysian deputy tourism minister.
Among the Indonesia-Malaysia issues that he was attempting to resolve included problems relating to Indonesian migrant workers working in Malaysia and the dispute over the Ambalat sea block.
Should Malaysian citizens file a class action suit for wholesale incompetence while spending the taxpayers’ money?
A general election is expected next month in the Southeast Asian nation of Malaysia, and that usually means political shenanigans—abuse of national security laws, media manipulation and character assassination. After the last election in 2008, when the ruling coalition barely held on to power, public anger at such practices prompted Prime Minister Najib Razak to redraft laws and reform the electoral system. However, new revelations that his government paid American journalists to attack opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim raise questions whether those changes went far enough.
In January, conservative American blogger Joshua Treviño belatedly registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, revealing that from 2008-2011 he was paid $389,724.70, as well as a free trip to Malaysia, to provide “public relations and media consultancy” services to the Malaysian government.
These consisted of writing for a website called Malaysia Matters, now defunct, as well as channeling $130,950 to other conservative writers who wrote pro-government pieces for other newspapers and websites. When questioned in 2011 by the Politico website about whether Malaysian interests funded his activities, Mr. Treviño flatly denied it: “I was never on any ‘Malaysian entity’s payroll,’ and I resent your assumption that I was.”
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim
The campaign was more targeted than the Malaysian ruling coalition’s domestic attacks on Mr. Anwar. Mr. Treviño’s site mainly went after the opposition leader for anti-Semitic remarks and his alliance with the Islamist party PAS, and even accused him of links to terrorists through the International Institute of Islamic Thought. Mr. Anwar has made anti-Semitic comments—though that’s in part to fend off domestic accusations that he’s too cozy with Zionists. He also has ties to organizations that have taken Saudi money, but the suggestion that he somehow has “ties to terrorism” is preposterous.
The site also defended an outrageous charge of sodomy brought against Mr. Anwar from 2008-2012, and it criticized the U.S. State Department and The Wall Street Journal for taking Mr. Anwar’s side. These postings were clearly aimed at sowing doubt among other would-be Anwar defenders in the U.S., especially on the right of the U.S. political spectrum.
Mr. Treviño paid other writers who know almost nothing about Malaysia but mimicked his propaganda. The New Ledger, edited by Ben Domenech, was even more vociferous, calling Mr. Anwar a “vile anti-Semite and cowardly woman-abuser.” One posting was entitled, “Muslim Brotherhood’s terrorist money flowing to Anwar Ibrahim.” According to Mr. Treviño’s filing, he paid Mr. Domenech $36,000 for “opinion writing.” Three contributors of anti-Anwar items to the New Ledger—Rachel Motte, Christopher Badeaux and Brad Jackson—were paid $9,500, $11,000 and $24,700 respectively.
Mr. Treviño was initially paid by public relations multinational APCO Worldwide, which had a longstanding contract with the Malaysian government. APCO’s Kuala Lumpur representative through 2010, Paul Stadlen, now works in Prime Minister Najib’s office. David All, who at the time ran his own PR firm and collaborated on Malaysia Matters, also provided cash.
But from 2009-11, the Malaysian money came through Fact-Based Communications, which under the leadership of journalist John Defterios produced programs on client countries for CNN, CNBC and the BBC. After this was revealed in 2011, the three networks dropped all FBC programs, and Atlantic Media Company President Justin Smith resigned from its board.
Influence-peddling has a long and sordid history in Washington, and governments that use repressive methods at home yet want to remain on friendly terms with the U.S. typically have the biggest bankrolls. It’s not unheard of for PR operators to pay less reputable journalists and think-tankers to write favorable coverage, as the Jack Abramoff case in the mid-2000s showed.
The Malaysian scheme, however, is notable because it drew in respected writers such as Rachel Ehrenfeld, who has contributed to the Journal in the past and took $30,000, Claire Berlinski, who got $6,750, and Seth Mandel, an editor at Commentary magazine, who was paid $5,500. Some of the articles appeared in well-known publications such as National Review and the Washington Times.
Mr. Najib’s falling popularity at home suggests his days as Prime Minister could be numbered. The irony is that he was more democratic and played a more responsible role in the region than his predecessors. Even opposition figures have quietly admitted to us that he has steered Malaysia in the right direction. That should have been more than enough for a legitimate public relations operation to work with. Resorting to underhanded tactics to undermine the opposition has only backfired for Mr. Najib, at home and abroad.
A version of this article appeared March 9, 2013, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Malaysia’s U.S. Propaganda.
Apres lui, le déluge? One can only hope
Banda Aceh. An elderly Indonesian said Monday he had won a rare victory against a noisy mosque, despite being forced to withdraw legal action after an angry mob threatened to kill him.
Complaints against the loud speakers issuing the call to prayer have been met with extreme opposition in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation that is home to about 800,000 mosques.
And when Sayed Hasan, 75, filed a lawsuit in December in the city of Banda Aceh, in which he complained of being disturbed by lengthy recordings of Koranic verses, it was met with strong protests from the community.
But Hasan, a Muslim, said despite being taken to see the deputy mayor and Muslim leaders, and then being escorted to the court where he was forced to withdraw his legal suit, he had ultimately won a rare victory.
“I was forced to withdraw my lawsuit as an angry mob threatened to kill me,” he said. “But after I dropped my case, the volume was significantly turned down by about half.”
A local Muslim leader said the imam had decided to reduce the noise.
City dwellers in Indonesia are often woken up before dawn by intermingling calls to prayer from three or four nearby mosques. Many also blare Koranic verses or broadcast day-long events through loudspeakers.
Ninety percent of Indonesia’s 240 million citizens are Muslim. While most practice a moderate form, Aceh province has implemented Sharia law, which is enforced by special Islamic police.
Unspun mudik-ed to his kampung in Malaysia for the Chinese New Year and was tickled pink by the desperate efforts of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s attempt to shore up his support among the Chinese community for the upcoming national elections that must be held in the first half of this year.
The context to this desperation is that Najib, who heads the Barisan Nasional, a coalition of race-based parties, that has ruled Malaysia in one form or another since Independence in 1958, has been losing popularity.
In the early days when Malaysians were easier to be duped the party, particularly under Mahathir on, played the nationalist card and fears of mayhem if the coalition lost their two-thirds majority in Parliament.
The formula for electoral victory was simple and effective. Gerrymeander the electoral districts so that a party that had the support of the Malays as a solid voting bloc would always win. The calculation was that if most Malays voted for the Barisan Nasional or BN, and the votes of the Chinese or Indians living in the electoral districts were split, the Barisan Nasional would win.
They then spiced up the electioneering by playing on the fears of the populace by spreading rumours that an opposition victory would destabilise the country and cause racial riots, ad hominem attacks and lots of money and a smooth-running electoral machine.
This all worked when the economic pie was working for Malaysia. But somewhere in the early 2000s the growth of Malaysia began to slow down. The pie shrunk and the inner circles within Umno (the Malay-based dominant partner in the coalition) began to scramble for the limited resources. Corruption escalated.
The fortunes of the Barisan Nasional began to slide even further after Mahathir stepped down and was replaced by Abdullah Badawi, who did not have the vision and the ruthlessness of Mahathir to drive the country forward and keep the Umno elite from their rapacious scramble for mollah.
Badawi, predictably, did not last and was quickly replaced by Najib, son of second the late Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Razak. Like many scions of the elite Najib grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, went to the best schools in the UK and had no clue about the rough and tumble of realpolitik.
The feeling that Malaysians have about Najib is that he’s smart enough to figure out that corruption is eroding the support of Umno and the Barisan Nasional, and ruining the country. But he’s so hemmed in by the Umno elite whose main preoccupation these days is to rake in as much as they can while the ship sinks that he’s helpless to do anything.
Their rapacity has resulted in even the Malays withdrawing their support for the Barisan Nasional ruining the age-old formula of victory that the BN had relied on through gerrymeandering and social engineering.
Which leads us to the extent of desperation that Najib is showing in courting not only the Malays but also the Chinese, the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia, a task usually outsourced to their junior BN partner the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). The probem with the MCA, however, is that it can’t deliver any votes because it has lost all credibility with the Chinese. The president of the MCA, for instance, is Choi Soo Lek a 60 plus Chinese whose most notable claim to fame was to star in a leaked video of him and a prostitute in a cheesy hotel.
So Najib now has to court the Chinese themselves. Unspun doesn’t know who’s advising him but it would make a Public Relations professional cringe at the bad advice that he’s getting and the horrible execution of events.
For a joke Unspun’s friends gave him this “any pow” (literally Red Packets containing money that Chinese give to their juniors during Chinese New Year). Najib’s answer?
An “Ang Pow” with his face on the cover (the moustache and weak mouth is a turnoff to most Malaysian). But the juxtapositioning of his face and the year of the snake (they couldn’t get their English right even then) seems to suggest that Najib is a snake. Doesn’t his PR people pay attention to things like that?
Serperntine travails aside Najib also tried a different beat in his new year TVC to the Chinese. So you have here a so called Malay leader whose record has been one of championing the rights of Malays (against the Chinese who would swamp them with their economic prowess if their rights are not protected) doing something very Chinese-y, some would say cheesy. Notice the bad editing where the weak mouth and moustache gets a cameo role.
As if that was not enough, the BN sought to cash in on the popularity of PSY and his Ganggnam Style that has take the world and Malaysians by storm. But Najib forgot that while you can bring the horse to water you can’t make it drink (no pun intended). It resulted in this embarrassing what they hoped to be the rallying of the troops.
All goes to show: you can fool some of the people all the time; all the people some of the time; but never all the people all the time.
Najib should change image consultants. Better still, he should just resign and enjoy retirement and no amount of image making can help him increase his and BN’s electoral chances in the short span of time they have left before the next elections.
The vibrancy of a newspaper’s opinion page usually lies with the letters to the editor, arguing for or against a proffered opinion from its stable of writers.
By this measure The Jakarta Globe certainly has a vibrant editorial page, if only online.
The recent opinion piece by Berita Satu Media Holdings group publisher (below) is unorthodox, to say the least, in the ideas it expresses but the real gem there are the comments that its readers have posted. Not since the Globe’s Lady Gaga editorial has The Jakarta Globe attracted such diverse comments.
So Bravo Jakarta Globe for the vibrancy and efforts to keep free speech alive. Make sure you click on the link and go to the comments.
Thursday afternoon, at around 6:15 p.m., was a painful moment for me, a resident of Jakarta who had the noble intention of meeting with his deputy governor to provide input on efforts to overcome the city’s many problems. I appreciated the fact that Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama clearly wanted to engage with citizens and had quickly agreed to the meeting. But the experience soon turned into a bitter one because of the inappropriate behavior of the deputy governor and the presence of individuals who were not officials but who appeared to have an exclusive right to be inside the working office of the deputy governor.
As a citizen hoping for a sign that there would be something different compared to the leadership of the previous governor, I came with ideas I thought worthy of consideration — such as a short-term answer to Jakarta’s notorious traffic congestion.
I am fully aware that I am no expert in city planning, or an expert in overcoming transportation problems. But as a resident of the city, I feel called to contribute to progress. The idea proposed may not have been a holistic solution, but a leader should at some point have the courage to make a decision, no matter how hard this is, rather than basking in a never-ending discourse. Residents are tired of hearing their leaders complain or blame each other. What residents are waiting for are breakthrough policies that could at least signal that there is an effort by the government to improve conditions.
Back to the atmosphere at the meeting that afternoon.
After some brief small talk, I presented the idea to help reduce congestion through vehicle-color-based restrictions on certain roads — an idea that I have presented on various occasions since 2010. For this Thursday afternoon, I had prepared a paper explaining this effort, which I was to hand over to the deputy governor after the brief presentation.
The gist of my thinking is that whatever the policy undertaken by the government, it should at least show the public that it has the courage to try and take steps that could be implemented in a brief period of time. The most logical solution, I think, is to manage the traffic based on a restriction on vehicles. Of course, the government should at the same time work hard to prepare a solution that is more holistic and long-term.
However, I had not even completed my explanation of the main points before the deputy governor interrupted to say that there already is an abundance of studies on how to alleviate the city’s congestion. Some in a regulatory form, others involving a rejuvenation of the fleet of city buses and also long-term solutions through better management of macro transportation patterns. But whichever choice is made, these are not short-term solutions, as all would need time. Each proposal has its own weakness and could prompt protests from the public if implemented.
I do understand what the deputy governor was saying about the difficulties the authorities were facing, but as a leader, it would have been great if the deputy governor had been able to listen enthusiastically and respectfully — paying full attention to his conversation partner and allowing him to make his point.
But what happened instead? The deputy governor’s warm and friendly welcome was quickly overshadowed by a situation that was certainly not worthy of a deputy governor and his close entourage. While I was explaining the reasons for the visit that afternoon — to try and help create short-term breakthroughs to curb traffic congestion — the deputy governor was busy typing on his BlackBerry.
I initially thought the deputy governor was busy processing my input, but it turned out that he was in fact communicating with others. Even more painful was that while the deputy governor was busy with his own thoughts, a member of his staff repeatedly interrupted the conversation and addressed the deputy governor using the “loe-gue” jargon for “you” and “me.” I really did not get the impression that I was in the office of a deputy governor. Civility and protocol were simply ignored. This is something that is unacceptable in our culture.
The deputy governor’s attempt to strive for egalitarianism, to not overly crave respect and to try to avoid excessive protocol is commendable and should be supported. However, this does not mean that in a civilized society, the deputy governor’s working environment can do away with the spirit of respecting the institution of a deputy governor as a symbol of leadership. The loe-gue jargon is perfectly acceptable in daily interaction, but it is not appropriate for use in the official environment of a leader like the capital city’s deputy governor.
The encounter offers a valuable lesson for those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to public service: learn to be a role model for the people, learn to listen. And stop complaining and blaming each other, because now is the time to really do something.
Peter F. Gontha is the group publisher of BeritaSatu Media Holdings, of which the Jakarta Globe is a part.
Unspun thinks that critics are unnecessarily unkind to Jakarta Governor and gubernatorial candidate Fauzi Bowo, aka The Foke.
The man is beleaguered by the problems of a huge megapolis that are not easy to solve but when confronted by a problem he wastes no time to rise to the occassion. Take, for instance, his resourcefulness when confronted by a massive traffic jam in Cilincing, Jakarta, some time ago (but revived in social media recently).
Lesser men like Menteri BUMN Dahlan Iskan would have thrown a tantrum and tried to get the traffic moving, or fumed impotently in his car. Not The Foke though. With lightning reflexes he solved the problem of the traffic jam, or at least the problem of him being stuck in the traffic jam, right away.
His solution: get his outriders to clear the way on the other side of the road. Stop oncoming traffic so he could get to where he wanted in quick time.
Of course, churlish critics may whine, that The Foke caused an even greater traffic jam, broke the law and showed a bad example to other motorists. But such are the considerations of lesser mortals, not the likes of someone as brilliant and resourceful of the incumbent mayor.
So right on Foke! Vote for Foke and witness the brilliance of his traffic-busting solutions! And yes, The Foke wins a shit-for-brains tag for his ingenuity as well.
(Thanks Harry for the Alert)
Here are two different but fascinating stories. It takes place in different countries and different times, but they both tell the story about how you can fool (and intimidate) all the people some of the time but not all the people all the time.
The first is set in the US in the 1950s, when the country was gripped by Cold War Tensions. Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy exploited the fears and uncertainties and claimed that he had a list of Communists and Soviet sympathizers in the US Government and society.
Thereafter, using Senate Hearings as his bully pulpit he proceeded to launch a witch hunt against the putative Communists. Many innocent lives were affected. Careers were destroyed and some of his victims took their own lives.
For a moment he seemed unassailable. If you spoke out against then that meant you were a Communist or a sympathizer. There were some dissenting voices but by and large most people were afraid to provoke the ire of McCarthy because of his thuggish and intimidating tactics.
Then one fine day, the mirror cracked. McCarthy was trying to implicate a young man who belonged to the law firm of US Army legal counsel Joseph Welch in senate hearing that was broadcast live on TV. Welch stood up to McCarthy in his now famous “You Have no Decency” response (see YouTube video below) and it was over. From there McCarthy was exposed for the charlatan he was and stripped bare. People realized that the King had no clothes and McCarty went on a downward spiral. The Senate censured him and he died 10 years later, supposedly of a heart attack but widely suspected of dying from alcoholism.
The second story is set in present day Indonesia, which is in the grip of indecision and political intrigue between the various political parties and government institutions . Habib Riziq exploited this situation to build his base of support in Jakarta through the FPI and is now trying to extend his influence in the rest of this country.
His tactics, like, Mccarthy’s are similar. Thuggism that intimidates dissenting voices. The FPI has been threatening people and even the police with impunity. Even though there are dissenting voices, people are generally afraid of confronting him or the FPI. They not only destroy lives but also property.
Now comes the fine day yesterday in which hundreds of people from the Dayak community in Kalimantan stood up to Habib and the FPI by banning him from landing in Palankaraya airport and rejecting the FPI’s presence in their backyard. Is this Indonesia’s “You have no decency” moment?
“Ini momentum bagi masyarakat lain, bisa jadi contoh untuk jangan diam saja kalau melihat ada benih-benih intoleransi,” kata Bonar.
Keberanian masyarakat adat suku Dayak untuk menolak keberadaan Front Pembela Islam FPI di Provinsi Kalimantan Tengah harus dihargai dan menjadi contoh bagi masyarakat lain untuk berani menentang benih-benih intoleransi antar umat beragama.
“Keberanian masyarakat Dayak untuk menolak FPI secara terbuka itu harus kita hargai, dan seharusnya menjadi inspirasi bagi yang lain untuk berani bicara dan bertindak melawan intoleransi,” kata Wakil Ketua Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, hari ini.
Ratusan masyarakat adat Dayak di Palangkaraya menolak kedatangan anggota FPI ke kota tersebut dalam rangka tablig akbar, karena khawatir keberadaan mereka akan mengganggu keharmonisan antar umat beragama di Provinsi Kalteng.Menurut Bonar, penolakan tersebut sangat wajar dan bisa dimengerti mengingat catatan aksi FPI.”FPI kan sudah ada di Kalimantan Timur, mereka sudah melakukan sweeping beberapa kali dan bahkan menganggu komunitas Ahmadiyah di Samarinda. Wajar kalau para pemuda Dayak khawatir kalau kejadian yang sama akan terulang di provinsi mereka,” kata Bonar.
Menurutnya, ada lebih banyak lagi pengikut Ahmadiyah di provinsi Kalimantan Tengah, bahkan jumlahnya adalah yang terbesar di provinsi Kalimantan.Lebih jauh Bonar menambahkan bahwa penolakan masyarakat adat Dayak terhadap keberadaan FPI tetap membutuhkan alasan yang sangat kuat agar tidak menentang hak umum untuk berserikat dan mendirikan organisasi.
Bonar juga mengatakan sebaiknya dijalin dialog antara kedua pihak dan FPI harus berjanji bahwa mereka tidak akan melakukan tindakan kekerasan dan melanggar hukum.”Jika mereka tidak mau menurut syarat tersebut, barulah bisa ditolak keberadaannya,” kata Bonar.Bonar menambahkan radikalisme adalah hal yang tidak mungkin bisa dihindarkan, namun selagi para penganut kepercayaan radikal tersebut tidak melakukan tindak kekerasan atau menyebarkan pesan kebencian maka keberadaannya masih bisa ditoleransi.
“Ini momentum bagi masyarakat lain, bisa jadi contoh untuk jangan diam saja kalau melihat ada benih-benih intoleransi,” kata Bonar.