Our racial media diet

When we reach 40, we are advised by doctors to change our diet and lifestyle in order to avoid the dreaded coronary disease that has become the number one cause of early deaths.

Similarly, we could look at our regular intake of news in our “media diet” and decide whether we should forego reading any of it.

Or should media companies contemplate changing the news diet dished out to Malaysians?

If the media in this country continue providing the staple diet of nasi lemak and roti canai reports, plus “teh tarik kaw” writing, the nation will be in for an early racial or religious heart attack.

Take Suhakam’s recent announcement of “enforced disappearances”. Civil society was not surprised at news that people have disappeared by “state command”.

What is shocking is that the Suhakam commission was brave enough to make that conclusion, and in the full limelight of the online media.

That is more surprising to me than the disappearance. Readers unfamiliar with Malaysia must understand that we citizens have been used to committees investigating something that is an open secret.

One is reminded of Anwar Ibrahim’s “black eye” incident in 1998, and the finding that then-police chief Abdul Rahim Noor was the culprit.

Now, how did Malay dailies react to news on the enforced disappearances? I read all the Malay dailies, scoured through their pages. None of them carried the earth-shattering pronouncement by Suhakam.

One daily did print a rebuttal by a politician on the findings, buried on page 8.

Two possible hypotheses need to be put to test.

First, Malay readers do not care about the enforced disappearances, probably because the ones who disappeared were a Christian, a “deviant” Muslim, and a Malay who converted to another faith.

Every week, the Friday sermon tells them that the enemies of Islam are the LGBTs, the Shia Muslims, the progressives, moderates, human rights advocates, and those who interpret religion using their logic.

There used to be “Nasrani” and “Yahudi” added, but these were taken out some time ago.

So are Malays in Malaysia apathetic towards the disappearances of the fathers, husbands, sons and daughters of Malaysians?

The second hypothesis is that the Malay news media care only about what Malays are fed to believe and do not see it as their responsibility to change media consumption.

I did an investigation into how non-Malays are portrayed in Malay dailies, using just one edition of newspaper, so of course this does not stand academic scrutiny.

I have been around “educated” Malays in conversations, WhatsApp groups and meetings enough to know how Malay dailies have been presenting non-Malays in the following constructs.

Firstly, non-Malays are loved and even adored by Malay dailies in the sports section. They become very Malaysian if Lee Chong Wei delivers the cup. Even if a Chinese superstar athlete joins DAP, they would probably still love him.

When it comes to health, Malay dailies don’t care who gives opinions as long as the person has a Dr title. In this case, they are quite colour- and race-blind.

The same with education, and to some extent, business.

In other sections, such as community, lifestyle and food, non-Malays are almost always depicted in a negative light.

I am making this allegation based on the Malay dailies in my hand on that day.

We should put Chinese or Tamil dailies, or those in Sabah and Sarawak, to the test too.

What is the staple diet they provide to Malaysians? If they follow the same pattern of racial stereotypes, consciously or unconsciously, in the choice of news and manner of reporting, then we are in deep trouble as a nation.

Our staple diet is killing our ideals of being a Malaysian, indeed an enlightened human being.

I don’t want to tell minister Gobind Singh Deo to draft a new policy about news selection and reporting. We should stop looking at politicians for solutions.

We must wash our laundry ourselves even if it means having to do it the old-fashioned way.

Malaysians must expand their news diet. We should read news about positive things from other faiths and cultures. Don’t settle for a one-race news diet.

Media owners who keep dishing out such content are destroying the country, bringing the nation to a point of strife between the cultures.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.