KP Waran Passes On–R.I.P


October 14, 2018

KP Waran Passes On–R.I.P

 

Former executive editor of the New Straits Times KP Waran died today after a nine-month battle with cancer. This was confirmed by his wife, Sheila Singam, via a Facebook posting that was accompanied by a picture of a smiling Waran.

Image result for KP WAran

In another posting, she attached an NST news article on her husband’s demise which also detailed his many achievements, captioning it with “So proud of you, my husband”.

According to his former employer, Waran, 60, had over two decades of experience in the news and media industry and had covered conflicts in places like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Cambodia.

Bernama senior editor Jamaluddin Muhammad, who was with him covering the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, said Waran showed an exemplary character in facing difficult situations.

“He helped plan our dangerous journeys meticulously with the assistance of locals, paying particular attention to things like roadblocks, possible landmines and so on,” he said.

He recalled that the media veteran also refused to be intimidated by Serbs manning a roadblock who asked him to surrender film rolls that captured scenes of the conflict.

“He was not afraid to stand his ground when we were threatened by gun-toting Serbian troops over the film rolls despite the moment being a life-and-death situation,” Jamaluddin said.

Waran, he said, also provided constant guidance on the dos and don’ts during their time there, such as the need to always be aware of the surroundings and to always move in a zig-zag pattern in areas where snipers were anticipated.

Jamaluddin said the lessons he learned from Waran in Bosnia were put to good use when he was later sent to cover the Iraq war. Meanwhile, former colleagues paid tribute to Waran on social media.

Image result for KP WAran

“On behalf of The New Straits Times Press, I would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to the family of the late KP Waran on his demise today,” said Mustapha Kamil Mohd Janor, who is an NSTP board member and Media Prima Bhd executive director of news and editorial operations.

He pointed out that Waran served the newsroom as a journalist for the most part of his life, and contributed significantly to the operations of the newspaper.

Former NST journalist Roziana Hamsawi expressed sadness over his passing. “You were my favourite editor at the news desk. You made my years there bearable. Always kind to the stories I wrote. Always cool about everything. “Loved working with you! Rest in peace boss!” Roziana wrote.

Bernama

The long and winding road to media freedom


September 29, 2018

The long and winding road to media freedom

 

Image result for media and technology

by Dean Johns

COMMENT | There’s a political storm raging right now in Australia about suspected government-instigated interference in the independence of one of this nation’s most cherished institutions, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

This comes at a time when levels of public trust in politicians, political parties and corporate pressure-groups and media power-brokers are at all-time lows.

Even the major banks and other financial organisations, whose very existence depends on trust, have been exposed by a royal commission into their activities that Australia’s ruling coalition for years fiercely denied the need for, as systematically dishonest to the point of criminality in many of their dealings with customers.

Image result for rupert murdoch

And far too many of Australia’s commercial news media are controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s (photo) News Corp, often more accurately referred to as News Corpse.

 This is an organisation that so confuses media freedom with media feraldom as to have disgraced itself several years ago in the UK phone-hacking scandal that led to its closure of its dreadful News Of the World, but not, unfortunately, its equally sordid Sun – or, if you prefer, the Shun – and continues to disgrace itself today with its Fox News in the US.

In Australia, it peddles such right-wing-partisan apologies for “newspapers” as The Australian, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, all of which pander to their proprietor’s personal, commercial and political interests by shamelessly slanting their news to fit his views.

And into this very bad bargain, the Murdoch media in the UK constantly campaign against publicly-owned media like the BBC in the UK and the ABC in Australia on the dubious, self-interested grounds of “unfair competition” for print readers, air-media viewers and internet “eyeballs”.

Australia’s government has been responding to this campaign by slashing the ABC’s budget whenever possible, and constantly making complaints about what they choose to perceive as its left-wing bias.

As a result, the ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie was recently fired by the corporation’s board of directors for reasons that the chairman of the board Justin Milne refused to publicly disclose.

And now the chairman himself has been asked by the rest of his board to resign following claims that he had bowed to pressure from Australia’s recently-replaced prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (photo) to propose the sacking of two senior ABC journalists that Turnbull “hated”.

Or at least that’s the plot so far in outline, and anybody interested in exploring it in more detail or following it further would be well advised to do so here.

Meanwhile, this sordid affair should serve as a salutary reminder to citizens of Australia and many other countries never to take their relatively free news media for granted.

And as a timely reminder to Malaysians that the media freedom that most, if not all, of them have dreamed of for so long will not be won quickly or easily.

Lapdogs, not watchdogs

As the much-admired elder statesman Lim Kit Siang said last week in his speech to a large audience assembled by the Sydney branch of Global Bersih, Malaysia now has the chance to transform itself from a kleptocratic black hole to a beacon of enlightenment, probity and progress, but this achievement may take years if not decades.

And I would add that it will never happen without genuinely free, independent and unbiased news media to serve as the people’s watchdogs over whatever government is in power, and also over every other aspect of the nation’s economic, civic and social activities.

The first steps in this direction have already been taken, of course, by Malaysiakini, Sarawak Report and several other pioneering portals dedicated to the dissemination of respectable, responsible and above all, independent news and opinion.

But for 20 years now, they’ve been the tiny exception to the rule imposed on the majority of Malaysia’s so-called “mainstream” media which have served not as watchdogs for the people but as lapdogs for the repressive, corrupt and otherwise criminal and now mercifully defunct UMNO-BN regime.

This is largely due to such unconstitutional laws as the Printing, Presses and Publications Act, the far-too-widely-applied Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act and the Anti-Fake News Act.

So firstly, if Lim Kit Siang’s version of what I presume to be Pakatan Harapan’s vision for Malaysia is to be eventually realised, all of UMNO-BN’s anti-press freedom laws must be repealed.

Next, or even simultaneously, legislation has to be enacted forbidding political parties or their backers from ownership of news media, and requiring political parties’ shares in existing ones to be immediately surrendered or sold.

But changing truth- and independence-repressive media laws might be one thing, and changing media culture quite another, given that the managers, editors and so-called “journalists” of the mainstream media have been so long and apparently so happily serving as pet propagandists for filthy rich politicians and their cronies.

Anybody who imagines that many or even the majority of these panderers will change their spots beyond switching their craven allegiances to those they see as the new or latest people in power must be dreaming.

As must anyone who fancies that a great many of these ‘presstitutes’ will in future refuse to take bribes for suppressing or playing up stories, depending on who’s the highest bidder for their services.

But this poses the question of how to quickly replace these people, or re-educate enough of them in everything from the ABC to the XYZ of basic news reporting, let alone such advanced versions of the profession as investigative journalism.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practices as a writing therapist. Published compilations of his Malaysiakini columns include “Mad about Malaysia”, “Even Madder about Malaysia”, “Missing Malaysia”, “1Malaysia.con” and “Malaysia Mania”.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

How ASEAN can be resilient


September 11, 2018

How ASEAN can be resilient

Borge Brende and Justin Wood / Khmer Times
Image result for wef asean 2018 vietnam
ASEAN has long been praised for its ‘open regionalism’ whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. 

 

As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Unless ASEAN remains united as a bloc, write Borge Brende and Justin Wood, it will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.

Is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) resilient enough to thrive amid the regional and global transformations taking place today? While the global economy continues its broad-based expansion, disruptive economic, geostrategic, and technological forces may threaten Asean’s gains of recent years. To survive, Asean members must make important decisions about the role of their community in regional affairs. With the right choices, the region can convert disruption into an opportunity for a resilient future.

ASEAN has undergone an impressive turnaround in the past five decades. A region of turbulence, disharmony, and underdevelopment in the 1960s is today one of relative peace and economic success. Much of the credit belongs to the community-building efforts of the countries under the Asean umbrella. But the region also benefited strongly from the post-World War II global architecture and institutions that promoted inward flows of investment and outward flows of exports.

Today, this global backdrop is in a state of profound transformation. The benefits of free and open trade are being questioned, international institutions are being challenged, new geopolitical powers are rising, and – despite ups and downs – the global economy continues to tilt further toward emerging markets. All of this creates an opportunity for new and competing visions of how the world should be organized and run.

Alongside rising geopolitical uncertainty, ASEAN countries must grapple with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The exponential development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, precision medicine, and autonomous vehicles is transforming economies, businesses, and societies.

ASEAN members will feel the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution acutely. Consider the future of jobs. The working-age population in the bloc is increasing by 11,000 people daily and will continue to grow at this rate for the next 15 years. This demographic expansion is happening just as many existing jobs will be substituted by intelligent automation and AI. Systems of taxation that rely on labour income will come under pressure. National budgets will be challenged at exactly the moment when Asean members must increase their investment in reskilling labour forces and developing infrastructure for this new age.

Image result for 4th industrial revolution wef

Or consider the future of manufacturing. Technologies such as 3D printing and cheap industrial robots are enabling products to be made in small, highly-customized forms rather than large batches of uniform goods. For ASEAN, the shift from centralized global supply chains to localized production systems could have a serious impact on export revenues and the investment by which it is driven.

Faced with these disruptive shifts, ASEAN must strengthen its community. Economically, regional resilience can be bolstered by building a genuine single market: ASEAN has 630 million citizens with rapidly rising spending power. Fully implementing the ASEAN Economic Community will be key. With a strong regional market, ASEAN can drive its own economic destiny, rather than relying on demand from external markets, and will be better insulated against potential protectionist shocks.

Creating a single market for services will be critical. Here, especially, ASEAN members must respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, tackling issues such as harmonization of rules governing the use of data. New technologies – including digital platforms, big-data analytics, and cloud-based services – do not recognize national borders and function best when they operate at scale. With a single digital market, ASEAN can develop truly pan-regional services in finance, health care, education, and e-commerce.

Of course, ASEAN should not build a fortress that keeps out the world. Indeed, the bloc has long been praised for its “open regionalism,” whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. This approach has been integral to its economic strategy from the beginning, and continues with the soon-to-be concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership joining ASEAN with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

Strengthening the political-security community is equally essential. With the architecture of global governance being challenged, ASEAN members must make their voices heard if they want a world that supports their interests. Individually, Southeast Asia’s countries carry little weight; collectively, however, they represent almost a tenth of the world’s population and nearly 5 percent of its GDP.

Historically, ASEAN has played a pivotal role in facilitating regional relationships, giving rise to the notion of “ASEAN centrality” in Asia. In 1993, the bloc established the ASEANn Regional Forum – now with 27 members – to foster dialogue on political and security concerns. It established the East Asia Summit, currently with 18 member states, in 2005.

Today, however, the geopolitical context is evolving. As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Many observers believe that other countries are undermining ASEAN n unanimity by developing dependencies with individual countries, built on investment, trade, and assistance. Unless it remains united as a bloc, ASEAN will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.

The so-called ASEAN way, characterized by consensus-based decision-making and non-interference, has served ASEAN well, and the bloc would be unwise to jettison it. But a reassessment is needed if ASEAN is to speak with a strong voice on regional matters, rather than allowing dissenting voices within the group to prevent the adoption of collective positions. Given that existing global institutions are being challenged, and given the rise of Asia in global affairs, Asean must reinforce its ability to influence the debate.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on September 11-13 and will provide an opportunity for such a reassessment. In an increasingly uncertain world, the need for the countries of ASEAN to deepen their community and their commitment to integration and collaboration is stronger than ever.

Copyright Project Syndicate 2018.

Borge Brende is President of the World Economic Forum; Justin Wood is Head of Asia Pacific and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum.

 

 

A Traumatized Malaysian Press Feels its Way


August 15, 2018

A Traumatized Malaysian Press Feels its Way

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Three months after the voters showed the door to the Barisan Nasional, the coalition composed of Malaysia’s ethnic political parties, the media the parties have owned for decades appear at sea, uncertain if they have been unshackled from the parties that own them, unsure of their new freedom, as is the new government.

Image result for Malaysian Press

 

The papers include, among others, the English-language New Straits Times and the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia, owned by companies affiliated with the United Malays National Organization; and the English-language Star and the Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association. The Malaysian Indian Congress also publishes local editions.

The attitudes of the mainstream editors and publishers are unknown and spokespersons ignored requests for interviews from Asia Sentinel.

“There have been no real changes except that the mainstream media have reverted to journalism 101, reporting and analyzing without prejudice,” said Jahabar Sadiq, the editor of the independent online Malaysian Insight. “There isn’t much pressure on any media by any side of the political divide.  It’s still early days for this government and the opposition is trying to find its feet.”

Reporters at press conferences seldom ask challenging or tough questions, as was true in the past. The mainstream press has largely turned to praising the policies and actions of the Pakatan Harapan government, as Sadiq noted, without a serious examination of the issues, of which there are plenty.

After decades of circumspection out of fear of dismissal and worse, journalists are reluctant to criticize issues which  dominate social media such as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s proposal for a new national car project, his dominance of Khazanah Nasional, the investment arm of the government, the repressive religious actions of the Department of Islamic Advancement of Malaysia (JAKIM).and government-linked companies (GLCs), most of which have been run by cronies of the previous government and which for years have lived off fat government contracts.

Image result for Zunar

Malaysia’s Cartoonist, Zunar

In the run up to the May 9 general election, the mainstream media, on instruction from the Barisan and its leading party the United Malays National Organization would attack Mahathir, its fiercest critic. Now, they have switched their attack to former Prime Minister Najib, who faces corruption charges over 1MDB and other issues. In fact, Sadiq said, there are moves to take over the establishment media and bend it to favor the new government, as if the new government hasn’t quite got the idea of a free press right.

“Obviously we were heartened by the new government’s move to lift the travel ban and drop the pending sedition charges against cartoonist Zunar,” said Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “And we were also encouraged by the government’s stated commitment to scrap Najib’s bogus ‘fake news’ law.”

Image result for The Fate of Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan

Malaysiakini’s Duo, Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan

But, Crispin said, “until Mahathir’s administration follows through with that commitment and moves to scrap various other laws on the books used to intimidate and harass the press,  journalists will still be at risk. It should also drop the various charges pending against journalists, including those filed by the previous government against Malaysiakini.”

Mahathir’s government “promised a democratic revolution upon its election – there would be no more meaningful way to make good on that vow than by freeing the press,” he continued.

Some 35 laws remain on Malaysia’s books that restrict freedom of the press.  One of them is the infamous sedition statute, which was used against a long string of academics, journalists, opposition politicians and others.

 

And shockingly it was used again in July, two months after the long-suppressed opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition came to power, against Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, a lawyer with the Center to Combat Corruption and Colonialism, who questioned the power of the country’s nine sultans in a democracy. Fadiah was questioned by  the Police on July 10 for an hour. She claimed the right to remain silent and the case is hanging fire.  But the incident raises serious questions over the commitment of the new coalition to the right to free expression.

The alternative media, including the major online news portals, Malaysiakini and Malaysian Insight, continue to play their role as the conscience of the nation and try to present a balanced view to the public.

The Pakatan Harapan administration may have promised more press freedom, but unless reporters have more integrity and rise to the challenge of scrutinizing the new coalition\ by asking tough questions of its ministers, and their policies, little will change. They are easily fobbed off with remarks like “It’s Mahathir’s prerogative” to do as he pleases.

The election promise by the new government of increased press freedom has ostensibly been welcomed. At July’s Malaysian Press Night 2018 for the 2017 Malaysian Press Institute (MPI)-Petronas Journalism Awards, Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, urged the press to play a critical role in the nation’s political transition towards a mature democratic country.

Claiming that his government was more open and willing to embrace press freedom, he said: “Journalists do not have to worry about receiving calls from the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) or other ministers. In fact, it is okay to hold more debates. Hopefully, no editor will be summoned anymore just because some pictures are ‘not interesting enough’.

Few would disagree, but some believe that there has been little change. Some 35 laws remain on Malaysia’s books that could potentially limit press freedom.

Prior to the election, political appointees enjoyed prominent positions on mainstream editorial boards and few politicians felt any fear, even during press conferences, of serious exposes. Editorial boards still control what the public reads.

To the casual observer, the mainstream media has always been full of praise for the ruling party, but fiercely critical of the opposition. With new editorial guidelines under the new government, many hoped that things would change.

The people who doubt the critical role of the free, self-regulating press to expose acts of corruption, deaths in custody and illegal practices need to remind themselves that many of these horrors would never have been in the public domain, but for the few people who were prepared to write about them, publish the reports in the papers and demand that action be taken to help society’s most marginalized people.

In the past, the institutions and the key people involved would close ranks, silence criticism and turn a blind eye to public concerns. Those who made the reports and who dared to give a voice to victims, were threatened and charged with various trumped-up offences, to silence them. In some cases, they were killed to stop action being taken.

De Tocqueville and the French exception


August 14, 2018

Liberal thinkers

De Tocqueville and the French exception

The gloomiest of the great liberals worried that democracy might not be compatible with liberty

 Print edition | Schools brief

Image result for alexis de tocqueville

HE IS the most unusual member of the liberal pantheon. Liberalism has usually been at its most vigorous among the Anglo-American middle classes. By contrast, Alexis de Tocqueville was a proud member of the French aristocracy.

Liberalism tends to be marinated in optimism to such an extent that it sometimes shades into naivety. Tocqueville believed that liberal optimism needs to be served with a side-order of pessimism. Far from being automatic, progress depends on wise government and sensible policy.

He also ranks among the greats. He wrote classic studies of two engines of the emerging liberal order: “Democracy in America” (1835-40) and “The Old Regime and the French Revolution” (1856). He also helped shape French liberalism, both as a political activist and as a thinker. He was a leading participant in the “Great Debate” of the 1820s between liberals and ultra-Royalists about the future direction of France.

Image result for alexis de tocqueville democracy in america

In 1849 he served briefly as foreign minister (he died a decade later). He broadened the liberal tradition by subjecting the bland pieties of the Anglo-American middle class to a certain aristocratic disdain; and he deepened it by pointing to the growing dangers of bureaucratic centralisation. Better than any other liberal, Tocqueville understood the importance of ensuring that the collective business of society is done as much as possible by the people themselves, through voluntary effort, rather than by the government.

Tocqueville’s liberalism was driven by two forces. The first was his fierce commitment to the sanctity of the individual. The purpose of politics was to protect people’s rights (particularly the right to free discussion) and to give them scope to develop their abilities to the full. The second was his unshakable belief that the future lay with “democracy”. By that he meant more than just parliamentary democracy with its principle of elections and wide suffrage. He meant a society based on equality.

Image result for alexis de tocqueville democracy in america

The old regime was predicated on the belief that society was divided into fixed classes. Some people are born to rule and others to serve. Rulers like Tocqueville’s family in Normandy inherited responsibilities as well as privileges. They were morally bound to look after “their people” and serve “their country”. Democratic society was based on the idea that all people were born equal. They came into the world as individuals rather than as aristocrats or peasants. Their greatest responsibility was to make the most of their abilities.

Terror and the state

Many members of Tocqueville’s class thought that democratisation was both an accident and a mistake—an accident because cleverer management of the old regime could have prevented the revolution in 1789, and a mistake because democracy destroyed everything they held most dear. Tocqueville thought that was nonsense—and pitied his fellow blue-bloods who wasted their lives in a doomed attempt to restore aristocratic privilege.

The great question at the heart of Tocqueville’s thought is the relationship between liberty and democracy. Tocqueville was certain that it was impossible to have liberty without democracy, but he worried that it was possible to have democracy without liberty. For example, democracy might transfer power from the old aristocracy to an all-powerful central state, thereby reducing individuals to helpless, isolated atoms. Or it might make a mockery of free discussion by manipulating everybody into bowing down before conventional wisdom.

Sir Larry Siedentop, an Oxford academic, points out that Tocqueville’s contribution was to identify a structural flaw in democratic societies. Liberals are so preoccupied by the “contract” between the individual on the one hand and the state on the other that they don’t make enough room for intermediate associations which acted as schools of local politics and buffers between the individual and the state. And, he was the first serious thinker to warn that liberalism could destroy itself.

Tocqueville worried that states might use the principle of equality to accumulate power and ride roughshod over local traditions and local communities. Such centralisation might have all sorts of malign consequences. It might reduce the variety of institutions by obliging them to follow a central script. It might reduce individuals to a position of defencelessness before the mighty state, either by forcing them to obey the state’s edicts or making them dependent on the state’s largesse. And it might kill off traditions of self-government. Thus one liberal principle—equal treatment—might end up destroying three rival principles: self-government, pluralism and freedom from coercion.

Tocqueville feared his own country might fall into the grip of just such an illiberal democracy, as it had in the Terror, under Maximilien Robespierre in 1793. The French revolutionaries had been so blinded by their commitment to liberty, equality and fraternity that they crushed dissenters and slaughtered aristocrats, including many members of Tocqueville’s family. His parents were spared, but his father’s hair turned white at 24 and his mother was reduced to a nervous wreck.

He was worried about more than just the bloodshed, which proved to be a passing frenzy. The power of the state also posed a more subtle threat. The monarchy had nurtured an over-mighty state, as French kings sucked power from aristocrats towards the central government. The revolution completed the job, abolishing local autonomy along with aristocratic power and reducing individual citizens to equal servitude beneath the “immense tutelary power” of the state.

By contrast, the United States represented democracy at its finest. Tocqueville’s ostensible reason for crossing the Atlantic, in 1831, was to study the American penal system, then seen as one of the most enlightened in the world. His real wish was to understand how America had combined democracy with liberty so successfully. He was impressed by the New England townships, with their robust local governments, but he was equally taken by the raw egalitarianism of the frontier.

Why did the children of the American revolution achieve what the children of the French revolution could not? The most obvious factor was the dispersal of power. The government in Washington was disciplined by checks and balances. Power was exercised at the lowest possible level—not just the states but also cities, townships and voluntary organisations that flourished in America even as they declined in France.

The second factor was what he called “manners”. Like most French liberals, Tocqueville was an Anglophile. He thought that America had inherited many of Britain’s best traditions, such as common law and a ruling class that was committed to running local institutions.

Of liberty and religion

America also had the invaluable advantage of freedom of religion. Tocqueville believed that a liberal society depended ultimately on Christian morality. Alone among the world’s religions, Christianity preached the equality of man and the infinite worth of the individual. But the ancien régime had robbed Christianity of its true spirit by turning it into an adjunct of the state. America’s decision to make religion a matter of free conscience created a vital alliance between the “spirit of religion” and the “spirit of liberty”. America was a society that “goes along by itself”, as Tocqueville put it, not just because it dispersed power but because it produced self-confident, energetic citizens, capable of organising themselves rather than looking to the government to solve their problems.

Sleeping on a volcano

He was not blind to the faults of American democracy. He puzzled over the fact that the world’s most liberal society practised slavery, though, like most liberals, he comforted himself with the thought that it was sure to wither. He worried about the cult of the common man. Americans were so appalled by the idea that one person’s opinion might be better than another’s that they embraced dolts and persecuted gifted heretics. He worried that individualism might shade into egotism. Shorn of bonds with wider society, Americans risked being confined within the solitude of their own hearts. The combination of egalitarianism and individualism might do for Americans what centralisation had done for France—dissolve their defences against governmental power and reduce them to sheep, content to be fed and watered by benevolent bureaucrats.

Tocqueville exercised a powerful influence on those who shared his fears. In his “Autobiography” John Stuart Mill thanked Tocqueville for sharpening his insight that government by the majority might hinder idiosyncratic intellectuals from influencing the debate. In 1867 Robert Lowe, a leading Liberal politician, argued for mass education on the Tocquevillian grounds that “we must educate our masters”. Other Liberal politicians argued against extending the franchise on the grounds that liberty could not survive a surfeit of democracy. In the 1950s and 1960s American intellectuals seized on Tocqueville’s insight that mass society might weaken liberty by narrowing society’s choices.

More recently intellectuals have worried about the rapid growth of the federal government, inaugurated by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programme. Transferring power from local to the federal government; empowering unaccountable bureaucrats to pursue abstract goods such as “equality of representation” (even if it means riding roughshod over local institutions); and undermining the vitality of civil society tends, they fear, to destroy the building blocks of Tocqueville’s America. A recent conference, organised by the Tocqueville Society and held in the family’s Normandy manor house, dwelt on the various ways in which democracy is under assault from within, by speech codes, and from without, by the rise of authoritarian populism, under the general heading of “demo-pessimism”.

It is worth adding that the threat to liberty today does not stem just from big government. It also comes from big companies, particularly tech firms that trade in information, and from the nexus between the two. Gargantuan tech companies enjoy market shares unknown since the Gilded Age. They are intertwined with the government through lobbying and the revolving door that has government officials working for them when they leave office. By providing so much information “free” they are throttling media outfits that invest in gathering the news that informs citizens. By using algorithms based on previous preferences they provide people with information that suits their prejudices—right-wing rage for the right and left-wing rage for the left.

Today’s great rising power is the very opposite of the United States, the great rising power of Tocqueville’s time. China is an example not of democracy allied to liberty but of centralisation allied to authoritarianism. Its state and its pliant tech firms can control the flow of information to an extent never dreamed of. Increasingly, China embodies everything that Tocqueville warned against: power centralised in the hands of the state; citizens reduced to atoms; a collective willingness to sacrifice liberty for a comfortable life.

Image result for alexis de tocqueville democracy in america quotes

Before the revolution in France in 1848, Tocqueville warned that the continent was “sleeping on a volcano…A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.” Today democracy in America has taken a dangerous turn. Populists are advancing in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Authoritarians are consolidating power. The most pessimistic of great liberal thinkers may not have been pessimistic enough.

Read more on classical liberal values and thinkers at  Economist.com/openfuture

This article appeared in the Schools brief section of the print edition under the headline “The French exception”

Fact-checked journalism must endure


August 12, 2018

Fact-checked journalism must endure

Image result for christiane amanpour quote on journalism

“There are some situations one simply cannot be neutral about, because when you are neutral you are an accomplice. Objectivity doesn’t mean treating all sides equally. It means giving each side a hearing.”–CNN’s Christiane Amanpour

 

COMMENT | If the media are to be socially constructive, they must rely on the journalist’s intelligent understanding and reporting of issues. This can only come about if journalists are themselves intelligently informed.

That’s the basic premise of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) seminar on media training in Kuala Lumpur in June 1973.

Journalism has changed radically since then – from the makeup and digital literacy of the readers to the multitasking required of journalists to write for a newspaper and produce an online package for the same story on the same day.

Journalists are no longer the main purveyor of news. Readers are now able to circulate their version of the same story on social media sites, which add another level of complexity to today’s journalism – the tussle between “journalistic truth” and “fluid truth”, “real news” and “fake news”. Do we even care about the truth these days?

The line separating “truth” and “falsehoods” is constantly shifting, depending on who you ask. And, the difference between real and fake news is unclear – so vague that “fake news” has become a catch-all term to mean anything that we don’t like, particularly information that strikes at our core values.

US President Donald Trump (photo) has appropriated the term to demonise the media that are hypercritical of his presidency. Trump has wilfully engaged in deceptive political tweets to mislead and disinform, as do many conspiracy theorists.

POTUS 45 is the Slayer of American Journalism–Putting Josef Goebbels to shame

Rookie and poorly trained journalists are not immune to the fake news phenomenon either. J–ournalists do misinform when they report inaccuracies because they did not do their research or quote a source out of context.

But when sources knowingly circulate false information and dress it up to look like real news to mislead and manipulate, that’s disinforming.

That’s pandering to the inherent biases we hold of particular issues and people. Herein lies the “fake news” menace – to deceive for political ends.

The spread of disinformation has caused the ASEAN Ministers Responsible for Information (AMRI) to jointly declare on May 10 a framework to stem the flow of “fake news”.

The Poynter Institute has also initiated an International Fact-Checking Network to counter the “fake news” phenomenon .(https://ifcncodeofprinciples.poynter.org/ )

April 2 was even named as a global fact-checking day. Computer programs are being designed to help readers sieve falsehoods from the “truth”.

Restoring public trust

Image result for Award Winning CNN Arwa Damon in Iraq

Ultimately, fact-checked and research-based journalism must endure, especially in the Malaysian media context. Pakatan Harapan’s ousting of decades of BN rule has given our journalists a shot at doing their job better.

The nascent freedom to speak truth to power, the freedom to critically report and boldly investigate should ideally lead to a positive change in Malaysian journalism. Greater freedom, however, does not necessarily lead to quality journalism.

 

Higher standards can only be achieved if the editorial leadership and newsroom environment are firmly committed to fair, accurate, contextual and investigative reporting. Journalists must be led by the facts. Only then can the mainstream media reclaim what they have lost – their public trust and credibility – during decades of acting as BN’s lapdogs.

Image result for Malaysiakini under attack

Malaysiakini–Malaysia’s Foremost Web-Paper–refuses to be intimidated by Najib Razak’s UMNO-BN Government

Decades of BN’s hold on the media and political affiliations of the top brass in the mainstream media have for too long stifled the advancement of Malaysian journalism. For too long, the mainstream media have aligned its op-eds and narratives with the BN agendas. They have pandered to the interests of those in power rather than address the concerns of the people.

Returning media to people

Which reminds me of what the former rural affairs editor of Indian newspaper The Hindu, P Sainath said about returning the media to the people.

I met Sainath at his home many years ago in Mumbai during one of my research trips. In a 2016 lecture he gave in New Delhi, he said: “We have a media (in India) that is driven by revenue, not by reality; by commerce, not by community; by profit, not by people; by narrow corporate greed, not by news judgement. Media, journalism, art and literature did not come out of corporate investments, they came out of communities and societies, we need to return them to the people.”

To return Malaysian journalism to the people, the first step is to appoint an internal readers’ advocate, or a “public editor” as The New York Times once named it. The advocate will act as an internal media watchdog of fair, ethical and accurate reporting.

 

He or she will receive and examine complaints of unfair reporting from readers and assess such complaints. The news organisation will then publish the assessment in either the letters or op-ed page.

The advocate will write a monthly summary to be published by the respective paper, and at the end of the financial year in the annual report to inform their shareholders. That’s a form of media audit.

The second step is to integrate stringent fact-checking into the daily news reporting and production. True, reporters are expected to check their stories, and have them checked again by their news editors.

With the fast turnover of news, however, this task should be delegated to fact-checkers. Their main job is to check the veracity of statements, claims and opinions of various sources multiple times. Self-regulation in the newsroom is certainly preferred to government legislation – and it works better in raising standards.

Malaysian journalists should also undergo continual professional training to enhance their skills in critical observations and analyses of issues to serve the public interest.

Training should focus on developing proactive reporting or solutions-oriented journalism, probing interviews, fact-checking, data analyses, and in depth research. An in-house training curricula can be designed alongside local and regional media training organisations.

If the mainstream media initiate these internal reform measures, we may see some improvements in the quality of news coverage and analyses. The media will in good time earn back the public trust, and consequently maximise its profitability.


ERIC LOO is Senior Fellow (Journalism) at the School of the Arts, English & Media, Faculty of Law Humanities & Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia. He is also the founding editor of Asia Pacific Media Educator.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.