Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mainstream press yesterday (26 November), particularly The Star and the New Straits Times, appeared to have shared something in common: a blinkered perspective of the recent Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) rally, and their denial of the reality on the ground. The Star flashed its front-page banner headline, "Show of defiance” while the NST splashed a screaming front-page headline, "Defiance", both suggesting that the illegal assembly of seemingly recalcitrant demonstrators deserved the chemical-laced water and tear gas fired by the police. A balanced treatment of the incident was given by theSun in its front-page report“Police break up Hindraf rally”.

The inside pages of The Star, for instance, only reinforced the way the Hindraf rally was framed on the front page. Hence, you got “Cops forced to use tear gas, water cannons"; “Cop hurt trying to control crowd”; and “Batu Caves temple property damaged, 69 protesters held”. This is not to say that the protesters as a whole were completely blameless, but the way the stories were written suggests a deliberate endeavour to heap all the blame on the protesters. Besides, there were also protesters who sustained injuries.

There was one other news item in The Star which carried the headline, “Muhyuddin: Other races have poor too”. The story referred to what was said by Umno vice-president Muhyuddin Yassin, among other things: there were “poor people among the Malays and Chinese as well and poverty was not just among the Indians”. This is tantamount to saying that since there are also pockets of poverty in other communities, what’s the big deal with the poverty plaguing the Indian community?

Then, of course, MIC president Samy Vellu was quoted in a report titled “No need for street protests” as saying that “people should use existing forums to voice their problems and not resort to street protests”. This seems to be a desperate effort by the authorities to mask the fact that in a thriving democracy peaceful demonstrations are allowed. Besides, in our society what “existing forums” are really available to the poor and the weak? Public forums? the mainstream media?

In the NST, the inside pages flaunted headlines such as “Protesters defy order to disperse, 240 held”; “Govt won’t allow rally to turn into racial issue”; “IGP: They’d no intent to give memo”; and “Hotels, shops hit hard by demonstration”. Although the NST did carry an editorial that recognised the “disaffection” of the marginalised and dispossessed sections of the ethnic Indian community, it however blamed the Hindraf organisers for having wreaked so-called untold damage “not only on race and religious relations in our society, but also on the country”. It apparently didn’t occur to the newspaper concerned that certain government policies and the manner in which they have been implemented could have contributed to the disenchantment of certain quarters in the Indian community and, consequently, to the shaky ethnic relations in the country.

Although it is true that the Hindraf gathering had been deemed “illegal” (through the use of an undemocratic law) by the authorities, the mainstream papers concerned, however, cannot hold the high moral ground especially when they deny the marginalised and the politically weak in society the much-needed space to express their grievances, their anxieties and their dreams, and also their right to reply.

To take a concrete example, The Star today also carried a long piece by a certain Joseph Raj, presumably its own journalist, who argued that while there are problems faced by the ethnic Indian community, “at the end of the day, it is in the hands of the Indians whether they want to do better for themselves and their future generations. Street protests are definitely not the answer.” True, human agency has a role to play in improving the lot of one’s community, but there are also the institutional and structural obstacles, such as institutional discrimination and racism, that one has to grapple with, as observed by those in Hindraf. In this regard, it is only fair that ordinary Indians, if not the Hindraf organisers, be given similar space to respond to Raj’s contention. But is that possible?

The norm among most major newspapers is that the ruling and business elites are accorded more than sufficient space to promote their vested interests. For instance, in the midst of the Hindraf rally coverage, the NST in particular gave four-column space to a piece titled “We were shown in a bad light” (in its Letters column) by (mis)Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin to explain – in impeccable English – his lacklustre performance during a recent interview with satellite TV station Al Jazeera over the Bersih rally on 10 November 2007. He predictably lamented that Al Jazeera has been influenced by some Western forces or interests to the extent that it has become ‘unbalanced’ and ‘dishonest’ in its reporting, particularly of Malaysian domestic affairs. For the uninitiated, this is the predicament usually faced by most ruling politicians who aren’t used to the inquisitive and non-pliant nature of many foreign journalists.

And, finally, this brings us to the enlightened theSun’s editorial, “Letting other voices be heard”, which called for the appreciation of communication and dialogue among the stakeholders in society. The people, it suggested, should be given the space to express their views and the authorities should learn to listen. It is hoped that the daily concerned would not earn the wrath of the powers that be for trying to tell the earthy truth.

original article here aliran ...my favourite websites for politics...(although im not one myself~hopefully)


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