Inside the mind of the self-censors

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?

George Yeo: founding father of Singapore's 'OB markers'

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.

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Blog ban a sign of a more deperate Malaysian government?

They say if all you have is a hammer then all your problems start to look like nails.

So it is with the Malaysian government. With Anwar Ibrahim now beating at the gates the Badawi government has gotten more desperate.

First some low ranking lackey called Saiful was asked to try to frame Anwar by filing a police report of alleged sodomy. Then they tried all ways to win over Permatang Pauh, and failed. Now the Malaysian Government, through the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has asked Malaysia’s internet service providers to block access to Raja Petra Kamaruddin’s blog, Malaysia Today.

It is an ill-calculated move because the messagethis move sends out is that the Malaysian Government is desperate and that it is now clutching at straws to try to regain control of the political situation. It is ill-calculated because in this day and age you can’t really ban blogs without having egg on your face. Even then it is so easy for bloggers to set up mirror sites, such as this one, that it makes the move an exercise in total folly.

So why is the Malaysian government so steadfast in their own Long march of Folly?

The reason, IMHO, is that they have been in power so long and created an incestuous system of patronage and servility that they know of no other way to handle dissent.

If they had any brains they would get in some really smart advisors and take on Raja Petra Kamaruddin rather than block his site and make a martyr out of him. It is not that hard to do. RPK is passionate but he is also given to exaggerations, overstatements and a cavalier treatement of facts.

It would not take much from a professional to debunk what he says. And if the government can do that they would have merely a discredited discontent on their hands, rather than the martyred blogger, angry and a symbol of defiance against a government unable to restore control in their own country.

Wake up UMNO. The bells are tolling and they toll for you.