Farewell, America–A Requiem on The Media


November 14, 2016

Farewell, America–A Requiem on The Media

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on November 7, they will now look at us differently.

 

America died on November 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on November 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on November 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:

“Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”

I hunt for that affirming flame.

This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.

If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? Perhaps we had been living in a fool’s paradise. Now we aren’t.

This country has survived a civil war, two world wars, and a great depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more or less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process.

No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades. They have regarded any Democratic president as illegitimate. They have proudly boasted of preventing popularly elected Democrats from effecting policy and have asserted that only Republicans have the right to determine the nation’s course. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that the government cannot govern and to redefine the purpose of government as prevention rather than effectuation. In short, they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

Image result for The Sun sets on jefferson memorial

The sun sets behind the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC

Democracy can’t cope with extremism. Only violence and time can defeat it. The first is unacceptable, the second takes too long. Though Trump is an extremist, I have a feeling that he will be a very popular president and one likely to be re-elected by a substantial margin, no matter what he does or fails to do. That’s because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing.

Trump was absolutely correct when he bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn’t care. It was a dictator’s ugly vaunt, but one that recognized this election never was about policy or economics or the “right path/wrong path,” or even values. It was about venting. So long as Trump vented their grievances, his all-white supporters didn’t care about anything else. He is smart enough to know that won’t change in the presidency. In fact, it is only likely to intensify. White America, Trump’s America, just wants to hear its anger bellowed. This is one time when the Bully Pulpit will be literal.

The media can’t be let off the hook for enabling an authoritarian to get to the White House. Long before he considered a presidential run, he was a media creation — a regular in the gossip pages, a photo on magazine covers, the bankrupt (morally and otherwise) mogul who hired and fired on The Apprentice. When he ran, the media treated him not as a candidate, but as a celebrity, and so treated him differently from ordinary pols. The media gave him free publicity, trumpeted his shenanigans, blasted out his tweets, allowed him to phone in his interviews, fell into his traps and generally kowtowed until they suddenly discovered that this joke could actually become president.

The media can’t be let off the hook for enabling an authoritarian to get to the White House. Long before he considered a presidential run, he was a media creation — a regular in the gossip pages, a photo on magazine covers, the bankrupt (morally and otherwise) mogul who hired and fired on The Apprentice. When he ran, the media treated him not as a candidate, but as a celebrity, and so treated him differently from ordinary pols. The media gave him free publicity, trumpeted his shenanigans, blasted out his tweets, allowed him to phone in his interviews, fell into his traps and generally kowtowed until they suddenly discovered that this joke could actually become president.

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the media. In this, as in his politics, he is only the latest avatar of a process that began long before his candidacy. Just as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so that they could fill the vacuum.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived.

Retiring conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes complained that after years of bashing from the right wing, the mainstream media no longer could perform their function as reporters, observers, fact dispensers, and even truth tellers, and he said we needed them. Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood that they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived. Like Nixon and Sarah Palin before him, Trump ran against the media, boomeranging off the public’s contempt for the press. He ran against what he regarded as media elitism and bias, and he ran on the idea that the press disdained working-class white America. Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information – a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized — a delegitimization for which they bear a good deal of blame, not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as president. Cable news may even welcome him as a continuous entertainment and ratings booster. And in any case, like Reagan, he is bulletproof. The media cannot touch him, even if they wanted to. Presumably, there will be some courageous guerillas in the mainstream press, a kind of Resistance, who will try to fact-check him. But there will be few of them, and they will be whistling in the wind. Trump, like all dictators, is his own truth.

What’s more, Trump already has promised to take his war on the press into courtrooms and the halls of Congress. He wants to loosen libel protections, and he has threatened Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon with an antitrust suit. Individual journalists have reason to fear him as well. He has already singled out NBC’s Katy Tur, perhaps the best of the television reporters, so that she needed the Secret Service to escort her from one of his rallies. Jewish journalists who have criticized Trump have been subjected to vicious anti-Semitism and intimidation from the alt-right. For the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season.

This converts the media from reporters to targets, and they have little recourse. Still, if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

Image result for Thank You Hillary

Hillary, Thank You for the Good Fight–Din Merican

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting, which, as I said, is likely to be irrelevant in the Trump age, might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it.

But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us.

We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Farewell, America

Americans voted a Real Estate Celebrity as POTUS–That’s Politics


November 12, 2016

Americans voted a Real Estate Celebrity as POTUSThat’s Politics

by FMT Reader

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

After months of rallies and campaigns, banners and slogans, and countless trolling by both the Democrats and the Republicans, the United States voted for a real estate celebrity who has no political history whatsoever.

Image result for Donald The Trump

 Image result for Najib the Celebrity

He is an eccentric businessman who gave ample opportunity for haters to hate, in every given situation, be it his electoral promises, choice of words, demeanour even his hair. To his haters, he was everything a president should never be.

But, eventually the election came and America took a stand. They wanted the eccentric businessman to lead them. And everyone wants to know why.

What was the sentiment that drove his supporters, a large number of Americans, to vote for him? He had no track record to prove his capacity as a powerhouse leader and no one knows what are his strategies to make America great again.

Yet, with such ambiguity, the people voted for him and made him their president. Very much like how Malaysians had voted for the same coalition party for 59 years, or 13 general elections to be precise.

While one may think that the election campaign was ugly, it is the aftermath that has turned out uglier. Protesters took to the streets to profess their dissatisfaction. They are angry and they do not want Trump to lead them.

The elections were rigged they say, Hillary won the popular vote they claim (which she did), the whole process was a joke they roar.

Another déjà vu for those of us in Malaysia. Will all these protests bring about a different outcome than it did in Malaysia? I sincerely don’t think so.

Image result for bersih 5.0

This is mainly because, when we protest, we don’t really have an end goal. We are angry, disappointed and we express ourselves. We feel our voices are being ignored and that sends us into a fit of rage. To me, that is all there is to street protests. We challenge a system that we so graciously put in place, a system that we are a part of.

The Americans had just proved their participation by casting their votes less than 48 hours before these protests.

Image result for Protest against Trump at Trump Towers

Image result for Jamal Yunos and The Red Shirts

This is an indication that people, Americans and Malaysians alike, are very much confused in their political and democratic objectives and they remain emotionally charged. People are still very much fueled by factors like race, religion and gender and these, when cleverly knitted into a web of fear and uncertainty, sadly will determine who gets their precious votes.

America has chosen its president. Social media can troll him as much as it wants. People who aren’t in favour of him can mock his policies, his hair, and his poor vocabulary all they want, but will it change anything “bigly”? Absolutely not!

Will it “bigly” change the outcome in the 2020 elections? Most probably it won’t either. Because racial sentiments, divide and rule policies, religion and gender supremacy still binds the mentality of the voters, the outcome will be the same, be it in America or in Malaysia.

Looking at America today feels exactly like looking at Malaysia during the last few general elections. Something that no one would have expected to happen did because the fundamentals have now become equal.

Democracy, in essence, is a system where the supreme power is vested on the people. A system that enables a people’s government by the people.

Thus, it is powered by the exact same energy that powers the people into voting. If race, religion, gender and creed supremacy is what drives one to pick one’s government, then that is exactly the kind of government one will end up with.

Malaysians can learn quite a bit from the American elections this time, or rather refresher lessons. The next time you walk your way to the polling booth, look for a government that can enhance your lives with policies beyond the shackles of religion, race, gender etc.

Look for policies that can propel the nation and all its people to greater heights.

Can’t find any? Then opt for a lesser, maybe even unknown evil. A lesser, unknown evil, in my opinion, is far better than a known evil, as I would have known the degree of “evil” that I’m dealing with and how much I can tolerate.

For the past 13 elections, we have elected a single party to run our country. We have always been led to believe that this is the party that works in the best interest of this country and its people.

Fifty-nine years have passed, why dispute that notion now? Well, the answer is that a generation of voters have changed since but the ideology still clings on to each and every one of us.

So, only when we free ourselves from these “restrictions”, can we truly look forward to an effective, neutral and inclusive government. But are we truly ready for the leap?

Maybe yes, maybe no. But it is a perspective worth pondering and we, Malaysians are all still left with a little bit more time to decide.

An FMT Reader.

 

In Solidarity with Malaysiakini


November 6, 2016

In Solidarity with Malaysiakini

A few years ago, I had the privilege  as a Fellow of Seacem Center of working with both Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan and the group of outstanding journalists at Malaysiakini. I found them to be a group of thorough, brave, loyal and hardworking Malaysians who were bringing news and views about issues affecting our country.

I learned first hand what they had to go through to bring to us timely and accurate information about what is happening in, and to our country and elsewhere.  Everyday, when I arrived at my work place at Malaysiakini office then in Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur I would pass the wall of their rented premises which was blemished by red paint marks sprayed by pro-UMNO lawbreakers. I would be reminded of the hazards these committed journalists face daily. Since that time, I came to admire and respect their courage for speaking the truth to power and their commitment to the highest standards of journalistic reporting.

Like them, I never shied away from speaking the politically inconvenient truth and like them I will through my blog, twitter and Facebook accounts and other peaceful means hold men and women in positions of power– be they in  politics, public administration,  and business–to account for their decisions and actions. Threats and intimidation would not work with us.

Today, Gan, Chandran and their team are facing existential threats from UMNO-sponsored and Najib-supported Red Shirts led by that despicable. irresponsible,  and racist Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos.

By threatening the news portal, the Red Shirts are breaking the law. But as things stand today, the hooligans are above the law because they are connected to UMNO, which controls the levers of power in Malaysia. Even our Inspector-General Police has no guts to stand up to the Red Shirts.

Image result for Din Merican and Kamsiah Haider at Bersih

Together my wife Dr. Kamsiah. G. Haider, I stand in solidarity with Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan and the Malaysiakini team. They deserve our support for doing their job splendidly.

I hope you, my loyal readers and friends around the world, will also stand up for Malaysiakini and freedom of the press. We all face existential threats from forces more powerful than us, but let us be reminded by William Shakespeare that “cowards die a thousand times”. –Din Merican

Malaysiakini controlled by its journalists, not outsiders

by Zikri Kamarulzaman

 Malaysiakini is under the full control of its journalists and editors, not its investors or outsiders, said the independent news portal editor-in-chief Steven Gan.

“When it comes to outsiders or even Malaysiakini shareholders influencing our editorial, that is completely impossible,” Gan said at a press conference following the red-shirts rally outside the news portal’s office in Petaling Jaya today.

Gan said even the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), which owns 29 percent of Malaysiakini, had no say in the website’s editorial policy.

He explained that the two had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) when the venture capital made the investment 10 years ago, agreeing that the latter would have “no editorial say” in Malaysiakini.

Gan was responding to red-shirts leader Jamal Md Yunos, who said Malaysiakini’s editorial was not independent and that it bowed to the will of American business magnate George Soros.

Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF) is one of 50 MDIF investors and funders, which include a number of European banks. Malaysiakini had also received funds from the OSF for two KiniTV news programmes in Sarawak.

Gan said the real influencers in Malaysiakini’s editorial policies are its journalists.

“We have daily meetings, and all Malaysiakini journalists and editors decide on what to report and follow up on,” he said.

Image result for Premesh Chandran

Elaborating on the company’s shareholders, Gan said that he and Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran (above) were the majority shareholders, a total of 59 percent. Besides the 29 percent owned MDIF, 12 percent are owned by Malaysiakini staff.

Meanwhile, he said there was only one politician among the scores of shareholders in Malaysiakini.

Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah, who is from the opposition PKR, has a very small stake after investing RM5,000 in the company 17 years ago when he was a human rights lawyer. “That was 10 years before he decided to run for Parliament. His share is 0.001 percent. It’s really minor,” Gan said.

Up to 700 red-shirts had turned up for the rally against Malaysiakini this afternoon, which lasted about two and a half hours.

The protest was spurred by leaked documents which allege that Malaysiakini, Bersih and Merdeka Centre were being funded by the OSF.

Jamal had originally wanted to hold a rally in Dataran Merdeka, but moved the location to Malaysiakini’s office after Kuala Lumpur City Hall denied both the red-shirts and Bersih permission to gather at the historic square.

Intolerance, violence and the media we need to defend


May 4, 2016

Intolerance, violence and the media we need to defend

by Howard Lee | What You Think | Malay Mail Online

In a casual living room setting filled with diplomats, writers and bloggers, the conversation eventually turned to a question about whether a blogger can be considered a journalist. The room was undecided, compounded especially by bloggers who felt that they could not represent journalism in any professional sense. But one participant, highly regarded in our journalistic circles, brought it all back to the ground by giving this basic definition of “journalist” – “someone who keeps and writes a journal”.

While in no way definitive of the journalistic profession we are familiar with today, it does highlight what every society needs: Someone who is able to share the stories of a community, using media that extends beyond the scope of a one-to-one conversation. Journalism, when view in this way, is not about whether you have a press card or if you get paid to write for a bona fide newspaper. Journalism is about applying the skills of the trade for an audience that needs to read the stories you want to tell, and doing so with the best ethics that you can put into every single word. Around the world, these journalists do not just fill large corporate newsrooms, but also work for small town newspapers, local radio and community newsletters.

And Singapore, too, has no lack of such journalism, despite our small size that makes the concept of community media sound implausible. For too long, the ridicule of Singapore’s dismal ranking in international press freedom indices had but one saving grace: That there are still individuals committed to speaking up for their community, even if the mainstream media would not or cannot. These individuals have found their place in the (relative) freedom of the Internet, where they can express their views in their blogs or social media platforms. Unfortunately, recent years have given rise to an increasing threat of violence to such individuals.

Of course, compared to our regional neighbours, where journalists risk life and limb, face death threats and have real guns pointed at their heads while working in politically regressive regimes or societies overrun with organised crime, our woes seem laughably insignificant. But the slew of legal action brought against individuals like Alex Au, Roy Ngerng and Leslie Chew for voicing their opinions, as well as every major social-political website currently on our shores, should give us pause to ask: Are we any less under threat?

Ours is a political system of intolerance towards dissenting voices, and such intolerance has recently gotten bolder in attitude and harsher in tone. Even a teenager who posted disparaging remarks about a political leader can win the wrath of the law. Not only that, but we are starting to see a growing intolerance among our population, who have no qualms about advocating violence towards contrarian voices.

The same voices who are at times doing nothing more than applying the skills of the journalistic trade for an audience that they believe needs to read the stories they want to tell. For sure, not every case can be seen as applying standards worthy of the journalistic profession, and clearly the polish, nuancing and simple EQ of some leave much to be desired. But such factors should not, however, be justification for the State and individuals bent on reading only the “right thing” to clamp down on these contrarian voices.

Freedom of expression allows us to debate freely, disagree or come to a consensus. It lets society solve its own problems, not through the use of a gun, online lynch mob, police report or a letter of demand; but through reason and respect. Singaporean society, unfortunately, has relied too heavily and far too long on the State apparatus to resolve our differences for us, and it is clear today that it has made us more retarded in our ability to think critically and engage meaningfully. In effect, we gave up our collective right to free expression, in exchange for a police state, where we are happy only if we are all made deputies. This is not free speech. It is not even a sufficient excuse for championing responsible speech.

It is violence committed upon others who have done nothing more than state an opinion different from yours. It is violence that has consequences more lasting than simply unfriending someone on Facebook. It is violence that has seeped into our national psyche as something that is justifiable, when in reality nothing justifies it. World Press Freedom Day this year will be remembered as the day in a year where Singapore as a nation exhibit to the world precisely how narrow our minds are towards those who seek free expression.

Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power. For this, journalism must be able to thrive, in an enabling environment in which they can work independently and without undue interference and in conditions of safety.” — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

We will stand in solidarity with those who have suffered violence for daring to speak out, for so have we suffered violence. The oppression we face is the same, even if the face of that oppression is different. Singapore needs to do better, and if the duty of making it better falls on those who keep and write a journal, then so be it.

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/intolerance-violence-and-the-media-we-need-to-defend-howard-lee#sthash.MuHFq4pJ.dpuf

Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis


March 23, 2016

Blocked Site’s Closure Underscores Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

Blocked Site’s Closure Underscores Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) interviews Malaysian Insider editor

On March 14, The Malaysian Insider abruptly closed its editorial operations less than a month after the state media regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, blocked local access to its news site.

The Edge Media Group, owner of The Malaysian Insidersaid in a statement that despite the site’s “courageous news reporting” it “did not receive enough commercial support to keep it going.” In a statement posted on The Malaysian Insider website, Editor-in-Chief Jahabar Sadiq confirmed the site was closed for commercial reasons.

The closure of the English language portal comes amid a government clampdown on independent media, particularly outlets that have critically covered the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal that has engulfed Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration. In recent months, CPJ has documented how authorities have censored, harassed and threatened individual journalists and media outlets in retaliation for their critical coverage.

In an email interview, Sadiq spoke about the government pressure his now-shuttered site experienced and the broad deterioration in press freedom in Malaysia.

CPJ: Last month, The Malaysian Insider’s website was blocked by the state’s media regulator. What article did authorities cite to justify the censorship and why did they consider it sensitive?

Sadiq: Until today there is no official explanation by way of a letter to The Malaysian Insider as to the reasons for the block. All we have is a minister saying we were blocked for an article that was confusing the people of Malaysia and a foreign ministry statement saying that the article was a threat to national peace and harmony.

The news related to an unidentified panel member in the local anti-graft authority saying they had prima facie evidence to back criminal charges against the Prime Minister over a huge sum of money found in his private bank accounts. The Attorney-General had earlier said there was insufficient evidence for a charge.[EDITOR’S NOTE: Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing.]

CPJ: Before the commission’s censorship order, did The Malaysian Insider face any official harassment, warnings or threats over its critical news coverage, including of the 1MDB scandal?

Sadiq: We faced investigations for another case last year, but not related to this. However, the Internet regulator issued a general warning to all news portals last July over news coverage, specifically the 1MDB scandal, and the need to avoid using “unverified” news from other sites. There has always been unofficial harassment and threats by supporters and activists linked to the government.

CPJ: How did the government’s blockage of your news site impact your readership? Were readers able to work around the block or was your site, in effect, blacked out?

Sadiq: Our news site saw traffic decline up to 30 percent after the block. Most readers were able to work around the block and traffic remained ahead of other news portals, but eventually it affected our earnings more as advertisers pulled out. In a sense, that loss of revenue led to a permanent blackout.

CPJ: How did the censorship impact your news site’s financial situation? Do you think Najib’s government has a deliberate policy of using economic means to bring down independent online media?

Sadiq: The block led to the permanent blackout as revenue plunged. Only one advertiser insisted on putting advertisements despite the block and, ironically, it was a government agency. I have no proof that there is a deliberate policy to use economic means, but advertising agencies have told us that government-linked companies have been discouraged from advertising with us. In our time, only one bank, CIMB, which is owned by the state sovereign wealth fund Khazanah [Nasional Berhad,] has consistently advertised with us. The others did not.

CPJ: What role, if any, did government pressure play in the final decision to close The Malaysian Insider?

Sadiq: As far as I know, there is no government pressure in the decision to close down The Malaysian Insider. The shareholders had indicated from January that they wanted to sell the business and received several inquiries. But the continued block was a factor that affected the sale price of the news portal and perhaps pushed the decision [by the Edge Media Group] to shut it down rather than sell at a lower price.

CPJ: How has Malaysia’s independent online media’s reporting on the 1MDB scandal differed from the state-influenced mainstream media’s coverage?

Sadiq: Well, it is as clear as night and day between both mainly. Several mainstream print media have tried to be as comprehensive as the online media’s wall-to-wall coverage, but the threat of losing their license has curbed them. Most of them have been defending the government in the 1MDB scandal, while the online media has reported the issues and exposés reported by foreign media and whistleblower websites.

CPJ: The Malaysian Attorney-General has proposed intensifying penalties, including possible life in prison and judicial caning, for violations of the Official Secrets Act. What impact would such revisions, if implemented, have on journalists, whistleblowers and press freedom in general?

Sadiq: The proposals, if true, are chilling. No one would want to work as journalists or if they did, they would just censor themselves rather than run the risk of jail or caning for reporting something remotely seen as a secret. There are whistleblower laws but this seems to contradict the laws that seek to keep the government transparent and accountable. Such revisions, if passed, will just mean the death of professional journalism in Malaysia, and what a sad day that would be.

CPJ: What is your broad assessment of the press freedom situation in Malaysia? Is there still a future for independent journalism, or is the government effectively moving to outlaw its existence?

Sadiq: I have always maintained that there is press freedom in Malaysia and our existence was proof of it. But I guess I am wrong now–we don’t exist. There is a future, but it is under severe attack if people shy away from funding it or think that it is someone else’s problem to fund and run it. The government does not have to do much except ensure that there is enough sycophantic media to lavish praise at it while market forces and bureaucracy stops us from doing our job.

Today, news sites can only exist and do well if they don’t actually cover the real news of governance and scandals that plague Malaysia. The authorities would be happier if we covered entertainment, gossip and travel shows. Anything else threatens their well-being and, in turn, the media’s well-being.

Reprinted from the Committee to Protect Journalists website, CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin is based Bangkok in where he has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 15 years.