Monday, November 30, 2009

Malaysiakini:- Independent? Alternative? 10 years have gone, and they are still not lose your way..

It was indeed a grand celebration at the Sime Convention Centre when we all gathered to celebrate Malaysiakini 10th 'birthday' on 28/11/2009.

There is a saying that when we are young, we are idealistic... but as we get older we become realistic. Has that happened to Malaysiakini? Are they still idealistic...or have they lost  some idealism along the way and are becoming more 'realistic'...

I know Steven Gan and Premesh have got a human rights, pro-justice background but alas most new reporters of Malaysiakini may not have that. Being Malaysians, over the past 50 over years, we have been 'brain-washed' by the government and the pro-government media, by our education system which does not encourage questioning and critical thinking, by the media. Some of these reporters have also even been trained by and been with the main-stream media before they joined Malaysiakini.

Compared to journalist in some countries, Malaysian journalists are no more than 'minute takers' - they go and listen to press conferences and jot down the statements made by the Minister, government officials, police - and then run back and write out their reports. There is almost no questioning of the statement, no challenges made...Why? That is the Malaysian culture. And, if you ask questions, it is not encouraged - but then, most of government personalities and politicians also do not have the capacity to answer these questions - save maybe for ex-PM Mahathir.

To be able to ask good questions, reporters also need to be well-versed on the subject matter, widely read, analytical, etc - but alas in Malaysia that skill may not there in the case  of most reporters. Reporters have to research the subject matter before even rushing off to cover stories and press statements. They must understand the subject matter,

So, as Malaysiakini expands the number of its reporters and editors - there is the risk that idealism and vision of the original founders may be lost.

Over the years, things have been changing in Malaysiakini - the reports seem to be lacking the 'umph' that it used to have. Some have commented that they are becoming very much like the mainstream media.

What is news in the mainstream media is also the news in Malaysiakini? Hence, the differences slowly may fade away unless it is checked...In Malaysiakini, however, there is sometimes things that may not appear in the mainstream papers.

The stories of workers, farmers, urban settlers, migrants, environmental issues and the common people seem to be absent.. The news nowadays is very much on political party in-fightings,  and issues raised by politicians, etc...[Like the mainstream media, Malaysiakini is also there covering the big political events and happenings, that is the 'juicy' stuff] When was the last time Malaysiakini broke a new story.... the last I remember, is was about the unpaid bills of the BN for election paraphenelia]

But the people [the readers] may not be so interested in the smaller stories about workers, farmers, urban settlers, environmental issues, common people.... Yes, they are Malaysians, and as I mentioned earlier, their appetite has also been dictated by the system. That is why, it becomes all the more important for an alternative media to cover these new kinds of news...the news of the common people. These news also give ideas and strength to the 'little' people. Remember that news is not necessarily always about scandals and tragedy - but can also be about success stories, and alternatives.

People in Malaysia love scandals - sex or financial. People in Malaysia love political in-fightings. People in Malaysia love to hear about one political party hitting out at another political party. They love PM and BN bashing...So, should Malaysiakini just cater to these interests. Note, people also are not so bothered about human rights, justice issues, environmental concerns, etc...

An alternative media, besides reporting the news, have also the duty about educating the masses...and that includes presenting alternatives from other countries, other authors, etc...

The lack of follow-ups is also now the problem of the Malaysiakini. A story is reported, and that is that. Let us take the case of the recent 'police shoot to kill' incident that saw 5 Malaysians shot to dead. What does the police do in these cases? Are there police interior investigations when firearms are used and/or when suspects are shot dead?  Were the police from the locality, or were they special police, who were expert marksmen, who were brought in for this special assignment? How many bullets were used by the police? How did the police identify the suspects so fast - so as to make statements like '...The identities of the five have yet to be ascertained. However, police identified one of them as "PCO Boy" who is believed to be the leader of the gang and had 13 criminal records...He is also wanted for nine robbery cases...Mohamad said the five were believed to be part of a bigger gang and police were hunting for the remaining members....Police believe they have solved 10 armed robberies with the death of the five men.-- New Straits Times, 9/11/2009, PCO Boy gang killed in shoot-out' See also - Another 'shoot to kill' incident - 5 dead.

There were so many questions that could have raised, and Malaysiakini could have had a field day raising the various inconsistencies and questions. But alas, like the mainstream media, Malaysiakini followed the herd and got distracted in the suicide attempt of a sister of the victims. Malaysiakini could have gone a different way, and been an alternative media. And they still can do this now.

There is still a long way for Malaysiakini to go, and truly become an alternative independent media, and my hope is that it takes this path, and got get distracted from its initial objectives and goals.

For Malaysiakini's 10th Anniversary dinner, the guest of honour was the Selangor Menteri Besar... the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat Menteri Besar. Somehow, I felt that it was not proper for it is important also that Malaysiakini not only be indepent but also be seen to be independent. You are Malaysiakini, not Selangorkini or Reformasikini or Pakaotan Rakyat kini. It would have better if some respected journalist or media personality was invited as the guest of honour... not the Menteri Besar. There is that Talam 'bail-out' issue which still has not been explained by this MB as well.Will Malaysiakini pursue this Talam story which implicates the Selangor MB, or not? I think they must for Malaysiakini is an independent media.

On the entertainment, a better comedian and dancers would have been more suitable for THE Malaysiakini dinner. They would have been OK for some company annual dinner - but for the crowd at the Malaysiakini dinner, I think the content was inappropriate and reflects badly on Malaysiakini. This is my personal opinion, which others may not agree.

Achievement for an alternative media like Malaysiakini should not be measured by merely the number of hits, or the increase of staff, on language versions, ...or the new Malaysiakini TV, etc..or the financial stability (although this is important) or should it?

How much is Malaysiakini changing Malaysia? How much is Malaysiakini changing the way the main-stream media reports, a change driven by a more demanding people who will no longer only accept the role of media as a propaganda tool of the political parties....or as a channel to only give us selected news from a single perspective?

Malaysiakini has certainly got the attention of the UMNO-led BN government - but is this  because Malaysiakini is perceived as a dangerous and more effective alternative political party media or because it is an independent alternative media that functions as such?  As I said before, it is important also for Malaysiakini to not only be independent and also be seen to be independent - beware the perception of being  a pro-Pakatan Rakyat anti-BN media.

That is a different alternative... Malaysiakini must always remain and be seen as an independent media - not aligned to any particular political party/coalition. Critical it must be of all parties and governments (Federal or State). It must also highlight the good things that the political parties do. That is what is best for the people of Malaysia. That is what Malaysiakini should be - an independent media (just like what Steven Gan said in his speech).

Congrats and Happy 10th birthday Malaysiakini - Carry on the struggle to be come what a truly independent media should be.

I hope this Blog posting would also be picked up by the Malaysiakini editorial, and posted as an Opinion piece - for blogs are often missed by the readers that matter.

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