|Engage not with the media, but the rakyat|
|Monday, 13 April 2009 07:06|
It is not known if Abdullah, particularly in the early days of his premiership, did this on his own accord or had abided by the views of his advisers (the latter view is believed to be the case) — that is, to take this approach when journalists asked for his response to “ultra-sensitive” issues.
Regardless of the real master tactician behind it, the objective was obvious — clear and subtle control of the media. Through this approach, the previous administration had hoped that “sensitive” and “awkward” issues, particularly those seen to be detrimental to the administration, would not be brought up in the mainstream media.
How could journalists raise particular issues in their articles when they were told by the country’s chief executive that the question was never asked?
They could not even write to say the prime minister declined to comment on the matter. What matter, what issue? The question wasn’t even asked — it was just pure Malaysian journalistic ineptitude!
In the meantime, some of the unanswered questions gave further impetus to the swirling and festering of rumours and allegations on cyberspace, without any of it being officially countered. However ludicrous or false such rumours were, they began to breathe a life of their own — and there were many.
Some quarters may not agree but the powers-that-be must “engage” not with the media, but the people. Granted, not all rumours and falsehoods on cyberspace will stop no matter how vigorously an issue is being handled, tackled or resolved in the mainstream media.
But this should not detract from the fact that the mainstream media must never be the government’s mouthpiece. The government’s and the respective media outfit’s credibility is at stake — the rakyat will be the judge of that.
The onus is on the government, be it at federal or state level, to explain their policies and issues to the rakyat. However tough those issues could be, they must be answered satisfactorily, not to the media, but to the rakyat. You silence the media, you silence the rakyat.
It is not known if the new administration under Datuk Seri Najib Razak will take a different approach with the media, particularly party-controlled outlets, but one thing is for sure, the tactics of old will not work anymore and they should not be allowed to work, not when the new media is nipping at their heels.
As Najib rightly puts it, the era of “the government knows best” is over — checkmated partly by the era of information technology.
Since taking over the helm, Najib has shown his willingness to lead the transformation of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). Street and blog feedback suggests a guarded response. Actions speak louder than words. Najib knows this and has asked that he be judged by his actions, not rumours.
His diction has been very encouraging so far — review of the Internal Security Act (ISA), transparency, accountability, service to all, political and institutional renewal, vibrant, free and informed media, reporting without fear of consequence — and of course, his tagline — One Malaysia, People First, Performance Now.
These are values and principles that should be safeguarded as a matter of course. Najib has taken over the helm at a time when the rakyat need to be assured of these.
That just goes to show how far back the country has regressed — particularly in “acts” of silencing of the media, the abuse of arbitrary power and reacting with impunity via the police, the ISA and the Sedition Act to silence political dissent and tighten the grip on power, the disregard of Rule of Law (the principle is one of the pillars of the Rukun Negara, as we have been reminded often times enough) by discarding the principle of separation of powers and no judicial review of ministers’ actions.
It was Karl Marx who said in The German Ideology (1845): “But the more these conscious illusions of the ruling classes are shown to be false and the less they satisfy common sense, the more dogmatically they are asserted and the more deceitful, moralising and spiritual becomes the language of established society.”
After more than five decades of independence, it is only now that the BN government acknowledged “the era of government knows best is over”. A small group of politicians determining what is best for people is akin to a dictatorship, however benign it may be.
Contrary to what is happening in the United States, in which the Obama administration has had to intervene massively in its capitalistic markets, the opposite has to happen here — less government.
Meanwhile, before you realised it and despite much of their misgivings, many of the “colourful” characters of the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad era have now effectively been put out of political commission. Some may argue Dr Mahathir’s hands are still seen in the new administration. That is to be expected, given the continuity of rule by BN and Umno.
For any perceptible change to occur, Najib perhaps may have to rejuvenate his cabinet regularly. Politicians, particularly the lousy ones, should not be like professional golfers (such as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus) who stay with you your whole life. Tiger Woods, maybe. Not politicians.
However bad things may be, the rakyat need to hope and to believe. The rakyat need to believe that politicians can work for them, be upfront with them, unite them. The rakyat need to believe that things can change. The rakyat need to believe this will be the age of reason.
Foremost, the rakyat need to believe that Najib and his team will engage with them through a free, independent, fair and responsible media.