by Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Who Should the Finger of Blame Be Pointed Towards
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad claims that actually it is the Press who self-censor. This allegation – repeated several times – was perhaps the most startling revelation made by the ex-premier in his speech at the Bloggers Universe Malaysia (BUM) dialogue in Subang Jaya on May 16, 2009.
“In Malaysia, usually censorship is something that the media itself carries out. You don’t have to tell them, ‘Look, don’t do this, don’t do that’. They somehow or other have got this ability to gauge what is it that the leadership wants. So during my time, you may have noticed that there was a good lot of praise for me. It was almost as if nothing I did was wrong,” Dr Mahathir said.
Is this culture of sycophancy practiced by our chief editors the main reason why we have had such a strong pro-Umno and pro-government media all these years? Is this self-censorship the main reason why the opposition parties, and other organizations and individuals that have put out views and policies counter to those of the establishment have been denied fair coverage in the papers?
By Dr Mahathir’s own admission, the editors had tried to read his mind – “they believed I would not like [something] and that I would object” – and slanted their stories accordingly in their attempts to please him.
“… mainstream media, in particular the New Straits Times and the Utusan [Malaysia], they sort of second guess you as to what you want to be printed in their papers, and they did it”, he revealed to the rapt BUM gathering.
What now after this disclosure?
The Fear Factor in Self Censorship?
We can accept Dr Mahathir’s judgement on the situation of censorship in the media at face value or we can challenge it.
Is he speaking the truth or is his view reflective of the selective amnesia that many readers see as increasingly being practiced by our former Prime Minister in his bid to cover up the authoritarian excesses of his regime and to deflect the blame onto innocent parties.
To what extent was the self-censorship an outcome of the fear factor arising from the repressive legislation condoned or reinforced by the Prime Minister during his period in office. Perhaps the Official Secret Act, the Internal Security Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act which Dr Mahathir tellingly omitted mentioning in his speech, played a major role in conditioning the way the mass media reported on developments in the country.
In my view – and I am sure this is shared by all those who cherish a free and independent mass media and who want to see our media ethics and standards especially in relation to political reporting uplifted – we need to discuss and analyze this issue of self-censorship further so that the sins and omissions of the past are not carried forward into the future.
Call to Chedet and MSM Editors
We hope that the venerable Tun can use his ‘chedet‘ blog to write further on this issue of self versus externally generated censorship of the Malaysian mass media, and the impact that this has had on truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability.
We also need the editors of the mainstream media (MSM) – in particular those who served during the long period of Tun’s premiership – to step out from the shadows and to confirm or deny his public accusation.
Dr Mahathir also made a further allegation that when he fell out with the then sitting Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, MSM editors bent the other way to please his successor. “So reporters were not allowed to interview me, and the sub-editors were not allowed to print anything that I said or I did.”
Perhaps the journalists may have succumbed to pressure from the political owners of the newspapers to demonstrate the paper’s loyalty to the power of the day, and have now come to regret the cost to fair reporting and journalistic ethics.
Or perhaps the editors censored their reporters because they thought media should be in full agreement with the policies and activities of the ruling party, to the extent that they did not see it important or necessary to include dissenting views. Even when these came from a long-serving ex-premier they were earlier “full of praise for”.
Or, just maybe, the self-censorship pervading the entire media industry is simply due to ‘higher values of patriotism and sense of national duty’ because our media practitioners truly believe the government is always right.
Let us hear from the editors their side of the story in this morality play taking place in our mass media so that we can understand better why our newspapers have failed to live up to their responsibility in reporting truthfully to the Malaysian public.
Roll of Honour
|Group editors / editors-in-chief|
|Utusan Malaysia||Zainuddin Maidin
Abdul Aziz Ishak
|Berita Harian||Ahmad Sebi Abu Bakar
A. Kadir Jasin
Ahmad Nazri Abdullah
Ahmad Rejal Arbee
|The New Straits Times||Munir Abdul Majid
A. Kadir Jasin
Ahmad A. Talib
Syed Nadzri Syed Harun
|The Star||VK Chin
Ng Poh Tip
Wong Chun Wai
|Sinchew||Lai Teik Guan
Liu Juan Quan
Seow Yi Zhao
Phor Ah Liek
|Nanyang||Chu Zhi Chun
Teo Bak Kim
Fong Shi Neng
Lee Shu Pan
Wang Jin Ho
Hong Song Jian
Chong Qi Zhang