March 2, 2016
The Sultan of Perak, UMNO’s Utusan and Politics
by Cmdr S. Thayaparan
I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness.” – Christopher Hitchens
COMMENT: Utusan Malaysia has been one of my bêtes noires for a long time. However, I do not dwell on this insidious propaganda organ and the noxious brew that they spew from the cauldrons of Putrajaya, simply because what they write I consider outrage porn and no self-respecting human being should be in the business of giving them more visibility in our limited public space.
My disdain for Utusan Malaysia is based on two factors. The first are my attitudes towards freedom of expression. I have no problem with the racist, bigoted bile that this rag produces on a daily basis. What I object to is the privileged position it has when it comes to other media outlets.
Utusan gets away with everything – notwithstanding the legal damages and retractions it has had to dole out for libelling opposition figures and other public personalities – which other media outlets do not have when it comes to the UMNO state.
The second, is the fact that Utusan Malaysia has radically shifted from its left-leaning, people-centric position to one of a right wing Ketuanan Melayu state-owned propaganda organ. I will elaborate on this shortly.
HRH Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah
However, the recent statement by Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah in defending this most perfidious of propaganda organs deserves a response in a bear witness kind of way because, at the end of the day, Utusan is the ugly visage of the baser elements of this regime.
In January this year, this is what Sultan Nazrin said of the credibility of state-owned media: “News reporting which is impartial and based on half-truths is not beneficial and counter-productive. If the country’s official media institutions carry on doing this rampantly, it will eventually create a rift between the people and the government.”
I wonder if the Sultan is aware, considering his rejoinder that the credibility of state-owned media is at stake, that the Utusan editors are on public record of saying that their job is to spin for the BN government.
‘Spin we can… that’s okay’
Actually, this is what Utusan Malaysia’s deputy chief editor Mohd Zaini Hassan said in a forum organised by Biro Tata Negara: “In our style of writing, we have fact, spin and one more – blatant lies. From the point of psychological warfare, let’s not follow ‘blatant lies’, let’s not write lies. Spin we can; no matter how we spin a certain fact to be biased in our favour, that’s okay.”
Furthermore, the editor said: “But we over here, I apologise for having to say this, if there is no money, things don’t work.”
Therefore, in other words, this propaganda organ is not really spinning because they believe in a political agenda but really, cash apparently is king. So much for embodying the concept of 1Malaysia.
If the editor’s words at the forum are not enough, hear the head of the UMNO young ulama secretariat Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya, who said that deception was acceptable in Islam.
Commenting on reclaiming the “middle path of Islam”, this is what Sultan Nazrin proclaimed: “This is where the major challenge lies – in the actual behaviour of ourselves, of our leaders and of our communities and our nations.”
What does this say about the way in which Islam is propagated in this country, when an editor’s claim that it is okay to spin for the government (Umno), is endorsed as religiously acceptable, by an ulama from Umno?
Look at how it treated lawyer Rosli Dahlan
The Sultan lamented that the Malay intelligentsia abandoned Utusan Malaysia, when he said: “In its last moments, I was informed that Utusan Melayu sought and begged for help. However, it was treated like a street beggar by the Malay intelligentsia who have become captains of various conglomerates, industries and companies, who did not show any willingness to help or to give a lifeline for the continuation of a valuable heritage.”
Which is understandable. If you want to know how Utusan deals with the professional strata of Malay society, look at how it treated senior lawyer Rosli Dahlan (photo above).
Here are excerpts from its official public apology: “We hereby again, upon request and with the consent and express agreement of lawyer Rosli Dahlan, repeat the contents of the said public apology referred to above and hereby again unconditionally and unreservedly apologise to lawyer Rosli Dahlan for our said untruthful article and we regret the damage that we have caused to him.
“We further acknowledge that lawyer Rosli Dahlan has been conclusively discharged and acquitted by the court from all charges made against him by the ACA, which is now known as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).”
Utusan also accused Rosli of being a “Singaporean lawyer who did not declare his assets” and acting deceptively to frustrate the ACA. For the record, Rosli is a Malaysian lawyer and citizen who had declared his assets and gave his full cooperation to the ACA. So much for speaking up on “Malay” issues.
There is of course a reason for all of this. The real history of Utusan Malaysia is buried under a layer of muck by years of UMNO propaganda.
The Iconic Editor of Utusan Melayu
Readers interested in the forgotten narrative of Utusan Malaysia, should read former Utusan Melayu editor, Said Zahari’s memoir ‘Dark Clouds at Dawn’. For a sympatric portrait of the man, I consider a true Malaysian patriot, readers are encouraged to seek out Mariam Mohktar’s ‘This is Said Zahari: Patriotic, powerful and principled’.
Mariam elaborates on the history of Said and Utusan, stating “As the editor of Utusan Melayu, Said Zahari led a strike in 1961, to protest against a takeover of the paper by the government of the day. The government demanded that the paper conforms to its policy. Said refused to back down when confronted by an Umno man called Ibrahim Fitri, who was sent to pressure Said Zahari.”
UMNO taking over the paper had the predictable results.Hata Wahari, a former Utusan Malaysia journalist (and now DAP member) had this to say: “What is done by Utusan appears to always have something to do with Umno policy… unless they get the nod from the leadership, they won’t play up an issue.”
Hata related to me his frustration at getting alternative viewpoints using the media, to the Malays in the rural heartlands. All this, of course, is what happens when you are disavowed for doing your job and highlighting issues that are inconvenient to the UMNO state.
And no, I don’t think defending someone by calling them ignorant, as opposed to defending a person’s right of freedom of expression, means that Utusan embodies the 1Malaysia spirit, considering it’s long history of provocations, spinning and lies.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.