On Facebook, Twitter, and the death of Malaysian media

All government newspapers are tools of state propaganda. Even a first-year Universiti Sains Malaysia student of journalism can tell us that. Even a padi farmer in Arau can preach that pertinent point to his children. Those who buy and read government-owned newspapers are news junkies subjecting themselves to Official Knowledge crafted to suit the need of the owners of the means of producing propaganda.
Azly Rahman

“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” (Noam Chomsky)

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” (Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826)

Is the death of distance nearer to us than our jugular vein?

Which stream is the mainstream media drowning in? It has forced us to drink too much from the River of Forgetfulness. It has shaped the consciousness of Malaysian citizens – they are now happily indoctrinated, blessed to be alive in a totalitarian state and constantly reminded by the state to count their blessings.

Nicollo Machiavelli once said that, to maintain power, pretend that you are religious and moral, even if you are allowing the Devil within to take charge.

That public image must be doctored by the media, the fourth estate. ‘Perception management’ is big business, especially in this age of political makeovers.

The business of Asian-despotic style of journalism is to tell doctored, nursed, and massaged truths that mask the ugliness of class and the modern caste system.

Perhaps our system of education has helped us become educated at a level enough to consume truth that is produced by the state-owned media companies – to have enough education to believe that what is real is actually an illusion constructed by those who owns the means of constructing reality.

Basic literacy means to have enough skills to read the newspapers, never having the skills to question the truth produced by these artifacts of state-propaganda.

Death of state propaganda

Totalitarian regimes thrives on a seemingly ‘free media’. When the media become conglomerates and giants, gobbling up small alternative media that tells alternative truths, the people will be in danger. The media becomes a King Kong atop the Empire State building, arrogantly pounding its chest after gobbling up production-houses of little truths.

When media control becomes interlocked with political parties and business interests, the selling of lies and half-truths become more savvy, sophisticated and salivating. The story of poverty and why people become poor will not be told – the truth will hurt and bring governments down.

In the movie ‘Entrapment’, starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, this point is made clear: we allow Hollywood to promote the Petronas Twin Towers and we make sure that the world does not see the ugliness of our bantusaan/setinggan areas.

But the point on the print and broadcast media was mainly relevant before the advent of the Internet – before the birth and proliferation of bloggers. We now have a post-modern condition that threatens the survival of whatever dignity and respect is left of the government-controlled media. Welcome to the age of the imminent death of state propaganda.

The story of how we discriminate flood victims and take advantage of the helpless will be told in greater detail. The story of how much we pay our voters in a democracy that is hideously deformed will be narrated, published, and pod-casted.

We are all, in our own way, turning into journalists telling our own truth. We will soon no longer need daily newspapers to tell us half-truths. We need our cell-phone cameras, our blogs, and our will to speak truth to power.

Gutenberg’s legacy

The Internet is now such a powerful medium that it is threatening the print media – the Gutenberg creation that is being crushed under its own weight. Never underestimate how the Internet will become a powerful tool that will transform nations or even bring down corrupt governments.

I recall in the summer of 1998, in a discussion with classmates interested in anthropology at Columbia University. I presented a scenario of the changes in Malaysia as the nation becomes ‘cybernated’.

Taking the Laman Reformasi and Free Anwar websites as cases in point, I argued that this will be the next wave of democracy and free speech. It is going to be a war between the Grand and the Subaltern narratives, between Print and Digital Technology, between the elite of the print media and the digital proletariats.

Manuel Castells, Lorenzo Simpson, and Robert McClintock – scholars of Internet and social change – have written a great deal on this.

The fast rate of Internet penetration in Malaysia will see the proliferation of ‘citizen journalists and commentators’ who will continue to exercise their rights to free speech. Nothing can stop the bloggers from providing alternative truths or truths that matter or even – as of late – truths and nothing the truths.

The bedrock of the print media will be shaken as the microbes of voices in the wilderness continue to brew. The screenshots of social change will become a collage of radical social criticism and become a tapestry of voices of conscience that will engulf print media from head to toe. Such is the case of the metaphor of change. 

There is a sense of panic, fear and trembling of the world of Print and Broadcast Literacy that Cyberspace a.k. a. the Internet is threatening the foundation of how knowledge is produced and propaganda crafted.

Tools of domination

All government newspapers are tools of state propaganda. Even a first-year Universiti Sains Malaysia student of journalism can tell us that. Even a padi farmer in Arau can preach that pertinent point to his children. Those who buy and read government-owned newspapers are news junkies subjecting themselves to Official Knowledge crafted to suit the need of the owners of the means of producing propaganda.

All government newspapers are used to skillfully silence and kill opposing viewpoints, albeit couched in some proclamation of free speech. It has been used to engineer risings, uprisings and downfalls. It has been bought and sold by those who have the means to buy and sell politicians.

The same goes for the government-owned television stations. They are shapers of consciousness. As a professor of media Neil Postman once said about television, “… thanks to television… our children (have) four eyes and no mouth”.

Look at what is shown on television. What are our children watching? How much are they reading? How much junk is being funneled daily into the heads of our children? Through the television programmes, how much money is spent by advertisers to shape us and our children into consumers; those who buy things they do not need and consequently suffer by having to crave for objects of desire that define the symbols of social class they are in?

How many television channels do one need? Who benefits from the selling of mental junk to our children?

Can’t we Malaysians organise a week of no-newspapers and a week of no-television campaigns to teach us to flush out junk from our consciousness?

The print and broadcast media has become tools of mental domination and purveyor of the post-modern totalitarianism. Those who participate in owning, writing, producing, editing and selling the ideology are partners with the regime of totalitarianism. They have become a citizen of the state of ‘Oceania’ as in George Orwell’s novel 1984. They are, in the word of media theorist Stuart Hall, decoders and encoders of state propaganda.

The Internet is different. It is a protean technology – it is multi-medium and still has the potential for more interactivity. It speaks to us and lets us speak – unlike newspapers, radio and television.

The death of distance is near. How much longer will newspapers and television survive?.

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While the opinion in the article is mine, 
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