Mission impossible delivered

By Sim Kwang Yang

To understand the moribund state of the news media in Malaysia, you have to refer to the world press freedom ranking over the last few years.

In the 2008 global index on press freedom released by Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF, or Reporters Without Borders), Malaysia crashed to the bottom quarter of the 173 countries surveyed.

The number one ranking has been shared by Iceland, Luxemburg, and Norway, with UK at 23, Japan at 29, and United States at 36.

Malaysia fell eight places from 124 in 2007 to 132 in 2008, firmly behind other Asian nations such as Timor Leste (65), Indonesia (111), Thailand (124), and even lowly Cambodia (125)!

We who love and work in Malaysia all our lives know our national media well. The large media conglomerates are all owned by companies either controlled by the ruling political parties or their cronies. They are the very embodiment of crony capitalism at its best.

They form the hegemonic instrument for the monopolistic propagation of the grand national narrative created by Umno and their side-kicks in the Barisan Nasional. The journalists there sing the hymns of what historian Eric Hobsbawm calls “official nationalism”.

In short, the Malaysian mainstream media is the most powerful weapons in the hands of the ruling elite to dominate the national conversation, to create a one-dimensional and uni-directional worldview of the citizenry so that all other discourses will be exiled to the remote margin. It perpetuates political power for the ruling BN coalition.

If the national media is a mirror that reflects our national soul, then our Malaysian media is an opaque and cracked mirror.

Paradoxically, the Malaysia media remain a great commercial success story. That is probably because the Malaysian audience had no other choice. They have probably accepted this role for the media because they know no other form of journalism.