July 14, 2017–The Bastille Day
In the Run up to GE-14: Be Wary of Spin Doctors
by R. Nadeswaran@www,malaysiakini.com
COMMENT | In 1984, British journalist Henry Porter published a book outlining the excesses of what used to be Fleet Street newspapers. He chastised them for their lack of concern for simple matters such as the truth.
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It was written in an era before the advent of the mobile phone which became a necessary tool for journalists to survive. And if not for this gadget, the world would not have knowledge of the phone-tapping technology which journalists in the red-tops in England used (illegally) and made headlines worldwide.
It was also an era when the term “fake news” was unheard of and when we scribes prepared our stories on the Olivetti or Remington typewriters on several sheets of carbon paper in between specially-cut A4-sized newsprint.
In one chapter, Porter describes how a Daily Telegraph journalist created a fictitious character with a military background living in Gloucester, through which he expressed right-wing views. Even when it became apparent that he did not exist, the newspaper reported that “Raphael Duvant died when lightning struck his metal leg while he was umpiring a cricket match.”
In a way of sorts, Duvant or a number of Duvant clones have been resurrected right here in Malaysia to be the new darlings of political parties who seek to embrace the new media.
R. Nadeswaran–Malaysia’s Foremost and Gutsy Investigative Journalist
Nothing wrong with that, except that these specially-created Duvants claim to have been given access to all meetings. Even when two opposition leaders are having a cuppa, he or she can sit and record every word they utter. Their ears are so powerful that they can generate first-person accounts describing the words whispered between sheets in someone’s bedroom.
But their mind-reading capabilities must take the cake. They can conjure what someone is planning to do and even have knowledge of the inner secrets that circulate in the minds of third parties. This is no ordinary boast. In their writings, they appear to give the impression that they have front row seats.
They cannot be expected to be factual, reliable and truthful since they are owned by UMNO and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
The mainstream media is popularising these non-existent characters by quoting them extensively to give them an aura of legitimacy and authority without even knowing their identity.
Yes, everyone is in the pre-election mode or to put it more bluntly, survival mode. The affairs of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and the court filings of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) are indeed part of it. Praise the former, demonise the latter and you are guaranteed to be in the news.
During the last general election, I took umbrage with the newspapers publishing full-page advertisements, making all kinds of claims against the opposition without any substantiation.
The riposte was not unexpected. Instead of addressing the issue, Vincent Lee, the then Executive Vice-chairperson of the Star Publications group replied: “I am disappointed with him (Nadeswaran) because when I was President of the 4As, I sided with him when he took on the issue of corruption in the outdoor advertising industry. At that time, I received death threats after speaking up against illegal billboards in the Klang Valley.
“After a year, the situation has remained unchanged. However, he has moved on from his anti-corruption stand to talking about advertising, but his own newspaper has accepted and carried the same advertisement.”
But writing about advertising is not exclusive to anyone, and I responded thus: “The fact is that although the management of theSun (my employers at that time) may not see an issue in the same light as the writer, it sees it as expressions of opinion. It may not necessarily reflect the stance of the newspaper. The publication of such articles does not mean that the newspaper endorses my views.
“It was in a plain and simple language that journalists have no control over newspaper operations and the final decision on content – advertising and editorial are left to the management.”
I then posed a vital question: “The outburst in cyberspace reflects the anger of ordinary Malaysians who view such audacious campaigns as insulting their intelligence. On a similar note, will the same newspapers publish an advertisement paid for by well-minded citizens which reads: ‘Can you trust a party which is led by a crook?’
“This question can only be answered by none other than owners of publishing houses who have accepted and consented to publish those questionable and code-breaking advertisements.”
In dire straits
This time around, the election campaign will be dominated once again by the media – but with a difference. The worms that have crawled out of the woodwork will get their five minutes of fame, albeit writing under pen names or pseudonyms.
How else to explain government mouthpieces taking the stand that the 1MDB is a non-issue? Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s stance that 1MDB has contributed to the people in many ways which they are unaware of, has further added to the continued parroting of praises of the state sovereign fund which is in dire straits.
Yes, the company has financed haj pilgrims, built houses and sponsored students’ education but at what cost to the nation and its people? Committing the taxpayer to several billion ringgit in debt and giving away a few million makes little sense because it is akin to robbing the bank to feed the needy.
As this article is being written, news has just filtered of yet another episode in the 1MDB saga. Former Singapore banker Yeo Jiawei, who is serving the longest jail term in Singapore’s probes linked to 1MDB, has admitted to charges including money laundering.
Yeo, who also pleaded guilty to cheating his former employer, agreed to help with Singapore’s money-laundering investigation, which prosecutors described as the largest in the country’s history. He was sentenced to 54 months in jail. He was handed a 30-month term last December on charges of trying to tamper with witnesses in the probe.
Yeo’s admission of guilt came after the Monetary Authority of Singapore wrapped up a two-year probe into flows related to the 1MDB. Prosecutors named him as a central figure linked to Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, who was identified by Singapore police as a “key person of interest” in their probe. Low has also been described by DOJ investigators as the controller of a plan to steal billions from 1MDB.
According to international news organisations of repute, 1MDB is at the heart of several money-laundering and corruption probes across the globe.
Against such a background and given that the people in Putrajaya and their spin doctors can make black look white and vice versa, would anyone be surprised if any of these worms would come out with this incredulous statement: “Singapore and other countries are deliberately carrying out investigations and taking action to discredit Malaysia and its leaders because they are jealous of our success and that 1MDB has been able to help people in times of need?”
I wouldn’t be, but would you?
Last words: When comparing state sovereign wealth funds, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings on Tuesday announced that its global portfolio is worth US$197 billion (about RM850 billion). Can someone tell us what 1MDB has to show besides a large amount of borrowing and crooked deals?
R NADESWARAN is an award-winning veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues with one agenda – a better quality of life for all Malaysians irrespective of colour, creed or religion. He can be reached at email@example.com.