Similar Scandals, Different Treatment

March 19, 2012

Similar Scandals, Different Treatment

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, California

To assert that the Malaysian mass media is nothing more than propaganda arm of the ruling Barisan coalition is no revelation. The personnel in the mainstream dailies, the national news agency BERNAMA, and the government broadcasting channel RTM are less journalists and editors, more political hacks and spinmeisters. They are, to borrow National Laureate Samad Ismail’s word, the carma (contraction for cari makan, seeking a livelihood) variety.

Less appreciated is the fact that they are hired hands not of the Barisan government but of whatever faction in it that is currently dominant, or trying to be so. Thus one can surmise the tensions and the dynamics of the current swing of the political pendulum within Barisan, specifically UMNO, from perusing the headlines. Perusing is exactly the right word, for there is nothing much worth reading in those dailies.

Consider the contrasting treatment in the mainstream media of the two currently unfolding financial scandals. The first is the National Feedlot Corporation mess (“cow-gate”) that is now ensnaring the husband and family of Women’s Minister Shahrizat Jalil; it had also led to her resignation from her cabinet post. The other is the nearly half-a-million ringgit engagement party for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s daughter and an equally expensive birthday bash for himself that he allegedly tried to on to Treasury, and thus the taxpayers.

Both scandals were first exposed in the Internet through the diligent investigations of Rafizi Ramli, the chief strategist for Pakatan Rakyat. With the first scandal, the mainstream media were quick to pick up on and embellish the story; on the second, there was no mention at all. One can safely conclude that the respective primary players in both scandals, Shahrizat with the first and Najib for the second, are from different factions within UMNO. No marks for guessing which side is on the ascendance.

Rafizi is no rabble rouser throwing off wild accusations here and there. His first exposé of the “cow-gate” was initially dismissed by no less than the Deputy Chief of Police; today the principal player, Shahrizat’s husband, is charged with criminal breach of trust and she was caught in the ensuing wake.

With Rafizi’s track record, you would think that those investigative journalists in the mainstream media would be eager to pursue his leads. At the very least their curiosity should have been piqued. Thus for them to completely ignore the story of the alleged publicly-paid engagement and birthday parties meant that they are journalists only in name, and that they are told what to do.

In terms of monetary value, Najib’s birthday bash and his daughter’s engagement party, both totaling at about “just” half a million ringgit, are but a small change compared to the cow-gate’s RM250 million price tag; cow-gate in turn pales in comparison to the multi billion ringgit Port Kang Free Zone Development debacle or the “commission” paid on acquiring the second-hand French submarines that would not submerge.

While the price tag may vary, the underlying mindset of contempt for taxpayers’ money remains. To these leaders the concept of integrity or the diligent exercise of fiduciary responsibility is foreign. At best they are but slogans uttered during election campaigns and then conveniently ignored.

To be sure, this is not a weakness unique only unto Malaysian politicians. In some countries these wayward politicians are caught and brought to justice; in others, well, they continue on business as well, their greed feeding on itself. There is no limit to their avarice. Their “success” would then be celebrated, and they would then become the new role models. Unfortunately that is where Malaysia is today.

What struck me most about this latest scandal, the one involving Najib’s birthday party in particular, was the utter lack of class. Najib has made more than a few UMNOPutras rich through his giving away many lucrative contracts. Surely at least one of them would be generous or grateful enough to host the party for him.

Alas that is the problem with greed; there is literally no boundary to it. Najib’s many rich friends are still expecting to sponge off him! Likewise with Shahrizat’s husband; if he had spread the bounty around just a wee bit as, for example, to include the head of Utusan Malaysia, BERNAMA or The New Straits Times to be on the board of directors of his Feedlot Corporation, Rafizi’s accusation would never have gone beyond cyberspace.

Greedy and unscrupulous politicians alone would and could not do in Malaysia. It would take more. There would have to be a general failure of our institutions to allow such abuses and corruption to go on and be tolerated. Toleration soon degenerates into encouragement, and a new cultural norm is established.

This is what happens when the institutions of our society have been let to deteriorate. They are no longer able to function as effective defenders of citizens’ interests. We expect members of the fourth estate to be aware of their awesome responsibility to keep citizens informed. We expect these journalists to be on the vanguard of this sacred task. Alas they too have been taken in; they have prostituted themselves to those in power.

There is an honorable place in this world for cheerleaders, spinmeisters, or even court jesters and others who see themselves doing the bidding of those who hired them, but reporters and journalists they are not. If those in the mainstream media feel that they have to cari makan, then I suggest that they join the advertising and pubic relations industry. If they are talented enough in that endeavor there will get plenty of rewards. They do not need to soil and degrade the hallowed traditions and functions of the fourth estate.

This degradation of our mainstream media is of course not a recent phenomenon, nor is it a subtle. RTM has only a few hundred followers on its Twitter. As for The New Straits Times, if not for its highly subsidized distributions and subscriptions, its circulation would down in the dumps. And if not for the government-paid announcements and advertisements and paid press releases of government-linked corporations, so too would be the paper’s revenue.

Just as the shifts in fortune among the politically powerful are reflected in the coverage of the mainstream media, so too is the dysfunctional leadership among them. We saw this played out during the early days of barely-under-the-surface rivalry between Mahathir and his then deputy, Anwar Ibrahim. Their supporters take their cue from how their patrons were covered in the mainstream media. The New Straits Times rivaled Pravda in this regard. This was repeated when Abdullah Badawi took over; then it was Mahathir’s turn to be at the receiving end.

There is no honor among UMNO leaders. Theirs is a world of hyenas; a world of winner takes all, right to last bit of morsel of their prey. Mahathir did it to Tengku Razaleigh when the latter lost a closely contested leadership contest back in the 1980s. Mahathir did it again later, this time at a more vicious level, with Anwar Ibrahim. Then Abdullah Badawi tried to do it to Mahathir, and learned to regret it.

You would expect the women of UMNO to show some gentleness. Yet there was Shahrizat and Rafidah still at it with their cat fight, now more openly and much uglier.There is plenty of blame to go around for the present pathetic state in Malaysia.

Our callous acceptance of wrong doing among our leaders did not develop overnight. We have been taught, and taught well, to accept these misdeeds as anything but that, aided by those cheerleaders and spinmeisters in the mainstream media.

13 thoughts on “Similar Scandals, Different Treatment

  1. Our Fourth Estate has been cowed (or is it lembued) by politicians in power, namely UMNO. Our journalists are carma types. You can no longer count on the mainstream media. But thanks to the Internet,whistleblowers and civil society, we are increasingly aware of what is happening. –Din Merican

  2. The mainstream media likes the sex scandals, not investigative journalism. They thrive on “police blotter” journalism. This is the product of the National Education Program that is dominated by BTN. No journalist is willing to forgo their rice pot to conduct investigative journalism and hold out the sources of information even to the extent of going to jail for it. The mainstream media has been cowered by both ISA and the Printing Press Act that they are now just reporting safe news sometimes quoting Bernama verbatim. Such is the state of Malaysia.

  3. Dear Din: Hope my friend is sailing smoothly.

    I agree almost completely with the gist of this article, except one point. Having served in MSM before, I can vouch that there had been and are some newsmen in their individual efforts tried/ still try to serve the cause of ethical journalism. Even today as in the past few years, Citizen-Nades who heads the SUN’s investigation and special projects, has been pushing the envelope so much that many bloggers reproduce his columns as starting points for rumination (yes, I do). My guess is that he was ‘sent off” to the UK to lessen his newsdog probes into the government’s shenanigans, especially on corruption. Welcome back, Sdr. R Nadeswaran to home base!
    Go ahead, Desi. Col. Ang has gone to Myanmar, but that does not mean we cannot have tea tarik. Give me a sms and we can arrange to meet.–Din Merican
    PS: Hi DJ BUMMER, seeking thy permit to reproduce this article at my blog for tomorrow, and in exchange, endless rounds of teh tarik on Desi in Furong, Tks.

  4. The faster the spin, the larger the centrifugal forces, until they break into pieces. So far, the UMNO’esque comic-tragedy of nasty brinkmanship has taken it’s toll on 2 ex-ministers. Not that they matter much. They can’t seem shut their ultimate spinmeister, Octo, up.

    Not that the Opposition is spin free, but at least, they are spinning the right way – clockwise. Does anyone with an ounce of discernment ever watch RTM or TV3’s news, nowadays? It is said that all the propaganda seems to emanate from One source which is obsessed with medieval porn.

  5. the oppressive politic has taken the soul out of journalism. there are still devoted journalists no doubt but whats the use if their news are rejected by the chief editor/reigning politicians.

    we need journalists like Clark Kent of the Daily Planet to oil the works of our mainstream media. yes, we need none less than Superman to save malaysia.

  6. How on earth people like makcik can be so tolerant with these scandals? People pay taxes in the hopes that the money will be used for something that will benefit them. Misusing public funds, putting their hands in our EPF money and robbing FELDA, is UMNO running out of money?

  7. “Surely at least one of them would be generous or grateful enough to host the party for him”

    Somebody did. But somebody else pocketed the money on his way to the bank and had the PM’s department issued a check afterwards. Najib has been framed. Guess who would stand to benefit from this unscheduled donation by taxpayers of the PM’s birthday bash for his daughter??

  8. How didi? Because deep down they are bitter and twisted and blame their entire misery on others. Thats how.

    Every bit of existence in M’sia is about propaganda. Now we have the ‘moslem’ version of facebook back home. To control one’s thought and stop any opinion one may have (all in the name of Islam).

  9. The Malay Moslem Allah in Malaysia is different from the Muslim Allah. His name has been used in vain and in pushing forward UMNO political agenda. His name has been invoked for all purpose rendering it meaningless. They swear in the name of Allah and say that all their sins and wrong doing are absolved. Swearing in the name of Allah is frowned upon by Allah but the UMNO Moslem are quick to swear in the name of Allah.

  10. I like what I read a phrase posted by some protesters : “Lembu di kondokan, Rakyat dilembukan” This is the main contribution of BN led gomen.

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