Despite promising reforms, the government still controls the flow of information.
On May 2, the eve of the World Press Freedom Day, veteran minister Rais Yatim in all foolishness revealed the federal government’s desperation in not wanting to “speak the truth and nothing but the truth” concerning the Bersih 3.0 protest.
As predicted, Rais, who holds the Information, Communications and Culture portfolio, went on to defend the move by Astro to “edit” the rally coverage by both the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Al-Jazeera.
Sounding as dense as he could, Rais is of the opinion that Astro has the “right” to show only the “best parts” of the April 28 protest, which is demanding a clean-up of the nation’s electoral system.
He said Astro should “be given credit” for providing “quality” news through stylised in-house editing.
Speaking of “quality”, whatever happened to Astro’s “efficiency” in editing the word “keling” deemed deragotory by the Indians? The word was uttered by local comedian Aziz Kota on the comedy programme “Fikirlah Sendiri” aired over Astro Prima. The programme was a repeat of a show first aired last year at prime time. This only means that the producers had enough time to edit it but they chose not to.
Rais clearly is at loss for words in explaining the unwarranted breach by Astro, which, to the rakyat, explains it all – that the federal government is trying every trick in the book to portray Bersih 3.0 and its people as “anti-establishment”.
The move to salvage Astro’s already tattered reputation has resulted in Rais not only undermining the rakyat’s intelligence but also exposing his attempt at “sucking up” to the “powers that be”.
“Each broadcasting house is free to exercise its own style of eliciting the best news item for its station. Astro has to be given credit for knowing which part of the news is newsworthy and therefore they should exercise that within their rights as a broadcasting firm,” Rais had retorted.
It is clear that the ruling BN government has no intention of allowing media houses the freedom to report the unvarnished truth.
It is a sad day for the people of this country when a minister in charge of information and communications fails in his duty, all because he is more interested in playing “politics” to suit his own agenda.
To Rais, the Bersih 3.0 protest is nothing but “dirty” but no matter how extensive the cover-ups and denials, the people have witnessed yet again the high-handedness of the police in dispersing the protest.
What’s the agenda?
Astro, like Rais, is also on the defensive. Its broadcast operations senior vice-president Rohaizad Mohamed was quoted as saying that the clip was cut in accordance with national content regulations. He also said Astro had the right to edit contents from any international providers as it deemed fit.
“We are surprised and somewhat disappointed that our long-standing partner, the BBC, when, issuing its statement, did not take cognisance of the duty of Astro to comply with local content regulations,” Rohaizad was quoted as saying in a statement.
Wow! Does complying with local content regulations means doing everything and anything to hide the truth? Whatever happened to Astro’s responsibility and accountability to its subscribers?
Or was Astro forced by the “powers-that-be” to tell a different story? Has Astro “forgotten” who its paymasters are? Subscribers are already livid with Astro for its poor quality and ever increasing fees.
BBC, Al-Jazeera fuming over Astro’s antics
Astro’s actions in preventing both the BBC and Al-Jazeera from telling the truth behind the events of April 28 have also left them fuming with the satellite television’s unprofessionalism in covering up the facts.
The BBC had demanded an explanation from Astro for snipping off 30 seconds of its two-minute news clip on the Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28.
The clip, which was produced by a senior BBC journalist Emily Buchanan, gave a detailed run- down on the rally.
It was learnt that Astro allegedly broadcasted a doctored version removing three separate sequences, one of which showed a policeman allegedly firing at demonstrators.
The other two sequences were interviews with demonstrators who gave first-hand accounts of why they took to the streets demanding for clean and fair elections.
“We strongly condemn any blocking of the trusted news that we broadcast around the world including via distribution partners,” BBC had responded to the snipping by Astro.
Also demanding explanation from Astro is Al-Jazeera. The eve of World Press Freedom Day saw the Middle East-owned television station standing its ground, saying its news report was a factual account of the happenings on April 28 and any form of intrusion in its editorial policy was unwarranted.
“We have not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world.
“If Astro is indeed saying that it breached local content regulations, it would need to outline exactly what these alleged breaches were and how it arrived at its decision,” the statement said.
It also noted that the “censoring was not made clear to viewers when it happened” and that Al- Jazeera was not notified of the incident by Astro.
Report the truth or get out of the way
If Astro does not have the courage to report the truth, it is best it get out of the way and not mar the already maligned world of journalism.
Press freedom comes at a price but as the situation stands in Malaysia, the government despite its promises still rules over the media establishments.
The amendments to the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 are nothing but a sham because the media houses in the country are still at the mercy of the home minister who has the right to revoke or suspend the printing permits, that is, holding the reins of the print media.
The amendments conveniently ignored the stifling fact that most major newspapers in the country are owned by political parties.
With so much political interference, it comes as no surprise then where Press freedom goes, Malaysia is one of the worst countries in Asia, said the United States-based human rights think-tank Freedom House in its “Freedom of the Press 2012” report.
The report said Malaysia’s was ranked 31st out of 40 countries in the Asia-Pacific region where media freedom was concerned.
Does such finding shame Malaysia’s leaders or are they too busy dictating terms to media outfits?
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.