Media Frenzy Finds Anwar Guilty As Charged

October 17th, 1998

I think it is an accepted fact that the Malaysian press is far from free - accepted because some form of control or self-censorship is seen by most Malaysians as being necessary to ensure 'responsible' reporting. I would have been very surprised myself if I had seen articles in the local media in full support of the sacked deputy. But reporting 'responsibly' and being 'self-censored' is one thing - joining forces with the powers that be to unrelentlessly attack the man's character long before he had been brought before a court of law is quite another matter.

No one, not even the most ardent government supporter, will deny that Anwar Ibrahim underwent a 'trial by media' long before he was brought before the High Court and charges were pressed. Affidavits were published in afternoon tabloids even before any court of law had seen them. Day after day, Malaysians were subjected to lurid descriptions of the alleged sexual activities of the man - and he hadn't even been charged for a single offence yet.

The Malaysian media finally sunk to its lowest depths ever when an opinion piece from one of the country's widest-read English dailies actually called for 'errant' foreign journalists to be detained without trial under Malaysia's Internal Security Act. These are journalists asking for other journalists to be detained without trial. And these people are supposed to be the guardians of the freedom of speech, thought and expression in Malaysia?

I was a journalist myself. I was working for a local English daily when it was shut down by the government for five months during the infamous 'Operation Lallang' of 1987. I know how carefully local journalists have to tread and how they have to report 'responsibly'. But there is a big difference between not taking sides and joining in for the kill.

Like their political masters, our local media has now completely lost their credibility - which is why even more Malaysians now have to look outside of Malaysia for news on our own country.Wjile the powers that be are creaming themselves hoarse calling for the foreign media to be more fair, I would like to throw that same call to our own Malaysian media - if they indeed have the courage.

Media control is certainly not a new phemomenon. Even Anwar Ibrahim can be accused of using the media to engineere the downfall of former Deputy Prime Minister Ghafar Baba some years ago. At the time, it was Anwar who had the media by the balls (pardon the expression). Only a fool would have not known that the Ghafar Baba was getting all the bad press at the time and his days were numbered. Unfortunately, people have accepted media manipulation as a matter of course, shrugging their shoulders and moaning in acceptance ..." .. politics .. it's a dirty game ..."

But the press attacks we have seen over this past month have gone waaaayyyy beyond 'dirty'. The press were not out to just discredit - they were out to kill. They read more like pornography than beacons of freedom of speech. With rare exceptions such as The Sun, all the major English and Malay newspapers launched concerted attacks that were merciless, unremitting and, from my point of view as a former journalist, utterly unethical.

I must confess that when I first heard of Anwar's sacking, I was shocked - but relatively unmoved. Like many people, I thought this was coming and it is an internal UMNO affair - let them sort it out themselves. If there was one thing that first pushed me squarely into the Reformasi camp, it was this Nazi-like journalism that followed the sacking. Ensuing events - the detentions, the brutal beating of demonstrators, the famous black-eye, the mass public outrage - simply entrenched my feelings that powerful men were making a mockery of the institutions of freedom, justice and democracy which our founding fathers worked so hard to build.

Anwar may have once had the press by the balls. But he never used it to crush to a pulp somebody else's. He never used it with the blatant viciousness and pure evil intent that it has been used this past month.

The latest farce certainly shows that High Court Judge Augustine Paul's gag order on the media isn't going to stop them from making sure the Reformasi movement becomes a Reform-mati movement. Women in tudungs quietly singing and chanting under a tree in front of the istana are "prostitutes" screamed one newspaper last week - even the police had the sense to see through this lie and denied it. And very cheap prostitutes they must have been too - just RM30-40 for a whole afternoon's work! Whoever wrote this trash obviously does not know what the going rate per hour is! They also must have been really desperate for business, risking a "trick" that would have guaranteed the watchful eyes of at least dozens of policemen!

However, I do believe there were a number of prostitutes involved. They were the ones with the cameras, notepads and press tags.

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