Anwar’s claim that the that media is free to criticize the government does not stand the test of experience

Our journalists and newspapers likely don’t need to be arrested or banned because they are most likely doing the bidding of the government. Why would the government want to arrest or ban anyone or any organization that does what it says?

Nehru Sathiamoorthy

When Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was asked why Malaysia had fallen 34 places to 107th, compared to 73rd last year, in the press freedom index, he replied the rankings are irrelevant. What is more important, he claimed, is that his government is open to criticism.

To prove that his government is open to criticism, Anwar then claimed that his administration has not had any journalists arrested or newspapers banned for their criticism of the government.

Well, rather than believe that his claims are true and look highly upon his administration for believing in the freedom of the press, I will attribute the fact that our journalists and newspapers were not being arrested or banned during Anwar’s reign as an indictment of the low level of journalism we have in the country.

Our journalists and newspapers likely don’t need to be arrested or banned because they are most likely doing the bidding of the government. Why would the government want to arrest or ban anyone or any organization that does what it says?

Let me just give you two examples as to why I believe that our newspapers and journalists are most likely doing the bidding of the government.

Last year, Anwar claimed in 2023 that he cannot be held responsible for saying “hari ini kita jadi kerajaan, besok hari minyak turun” because he only said it 15 years ago. This, despite the fact that there was video evidence of him saying it as recently as 2022.

But do you know how many of the mainstream media had reported about how Anwar had blatantly lied? Zero.

Mainstream newspapers like The Star, NST, and FMT reported Anwar’s claim that he only said “hari ini kita jadi kerajaan, besok hari minyak turun” 15 years ago, but none of them dared to show the video that disproved of Anwar’s claim.

Also last year, when Radzi Jidin, the former education minister, and Anwar Ibrahim got into a shouting match in parliament, the very next day, MACC was knocking on Radzi Jidin’s door to investigate him for corruption. Now, any media practitioner worth their salt should have asked whether Anwar was using the MACC to intimidate those he didn’t like with the move, but again, other than smaller platforms like MalaysiaNow and renegade media portals like Malaysia-Today, no one else carried the story.

These two examples are just two of the countless examples that prove how it is impossible for Anwar to be running a government that can accept criticism freely. If I were to put a little more effort thinking of examples of how the government has likely suppressed or colluded with the media from asking uncomfortable questions, I could probably come up with a dozen in 10 minutes. Heck, in the last one and half years, I have probably written more than a 100 articles about the subject. But rather than cite any more examples, I will just leave you, dear readers, with just these two, because I am perfectly confident that I don’t have to try so hard to prove to you that what I am saying to you is true, because you probably know it is true from your own experience and observation, even before I said it.

Incidentally, both MalaysiaNow and Malaysia-Today have faced situations where they have been rendered inaccessible to a large section of internet users in the country, although the government denies any responsibility. The unofficial blocking of MalaysiaNow was later on lifted, amid widespread condemnation of the move, but Malaysia-Today is still inaccessible to most internet users in the country till today.

So much for Anwar’s claim that his government has never attempted to ban any media outlet. As Noam Chomsky has observed: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

What this basically means is that Anwar’s government will only allow you to vigorously criticize the government on subjects that the government approves of, so that it will always be able to answer your criticism in a way that will make it look good.

The media, for example, was allowed to criticize Anwar for using the K-word against Indians last year because Anwar already had a great answer prepared for the criticism, that will make him look like a humble, understanding, yet misunderstood guy who is so big-hearted that he can apologize for his actions even when he not done anything wrong.

When he cannot answer a criticism, however, like why he said “hari ini kita jadi kerajaan, besok harga minyak turun” repeatedly up to 2022, but claimed that he cannot be responsible for saying it because the last time he said it was in 2008, then the media is not allowed to criticize him, lest it makes him look like a liar or a buffoon.

The fact of the matter is that a government like Anwar’s, which is all image and no substance, cannot possibly tolerate a truly free press that will look past its image to investigate what it truly stands for at its core.

If a truly free press did relentlessly put Anwar to test, Anwar would come up looking like the proverbial “emperor with no clothes.” He only looks good if everybody believes what he tells us about himself. If we were to look at him as he is with our own two eyes however, like the emperor with no clothes, we would see that he really has nothing to offer.

Anyway, my point here is that it is impossible for Anwar to be leading a government that is able to take criticism because only people who know what they are doing, have a clean conscience, behave in a straightforward fashion and are comfortable being who they are, warts and all, are able to put themselves to test.

People who pretend that they are better than who they are, who delight in secrets, who enjoy participating in intrigues and subterfuges and who do not know what they are doing but expect to be respected for their action, probably enjoy a free and open discussion that will test them to the core in the same way you would enjoy rubbing salt on a wound.

They can claim that they enjoy it, but you would be a fool to believe it.