Irked by media frenzy over Pak Lah book, editors postpone launch

(MM) – The editors of the just-released book on Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s years in power have decided to postpone the book launch, citing concerns over its “politicisation” and sensationalisation by media organisations in their reportage of certain contents.

“Awakening: The Abdullah Years in Malaysia”, a book on Abdullah’s (picture) or “Pak Lah’s” short reign as prime minister who succeeded Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, features an exclusive interview where the usually quiet man finally speaks out against his detractors.

In the short few days following its release, the book earned loud headlines in the media with heavy focus given to Pak Lah’s words on Dr Mahathir and what the former prime minister described as “unwarranted attacks” on his person that eventually led to his ouster.

Acknowledging the media frenzy, book editors Prof Bridget Welsh and Prof James Chin said in an open letter to Malaysians today that the official launch, scheduled in Kuala Lumpur on August 16, will be postponed to avoid “further misunderstandings”.

“We hope to hold a panel discussion about the book, with multiple perspectives from different speakers, in Singapore and elsewhere after the official KL launch,” they said in the letter they jointly signed, adding that in the meantime the book should be available in bookstores.

Welsh and Chin said the book was meant to be a “serious reflective collection” by scholars and practitioners but in the unexpected media attention that followed its release, selected parts of the book were sensationalised, specifically the interview with Pak Lah.

“The media dynamic has taken on a life of its own, with nasty unjustified attacks on individuals, including some of the contributors and editors,” they lamented.

Welsh and Chin observed that while some media had reported directly from the book, there were others who wrote without even seeing the book, reporting from other media reports, some of which were erroneous.

“These are not in the spirit of the season,” they added, referring to the ongoing Hari Raya celebration, “…nor do they reflect the substance or the intention of the collection itself.”

Welsh and Chin, both political analysts, also noted that some media outlets had wrongly referred to “Awakening” as “Pak Lah’s book”.

They pointed out that this was inaccurate as the book was a collection of multiple views from different persons, including politicians across the divide and academic observers.

“We worked to have a balanced collection and part of the balancing was to give space to Pak Lah himself to put himself on record on his tenure.

“We reached out to a wide variety of individuals in bringing together over 30 authors. This is a serious collection aiming for a reflective discussion of the premiership of Malaysia’s fourth prime minister.

“Throughout, our effort was always toward promoting understanding. If one reads the book itself, one will find diversity and a range of views on multiple issues,” they said.

“We call on the media and blogging community to act responsibly, to read the book before making assessments and to avoid erroneous speculation,” the duo added.

Explaining further, Welsh and Chin also denied that the book’s release had been deliberately delayed to after the May 5 general election, saying it was because the project involved multiple contributors, which lengthened the entire process.

The earliest release and launch date, they said, had been after Hari Raya.

“No one asked us to delay the release of the book for any reason,” they said.