A Reformasi Diary by Sabri Zain

A brief (but helpful) guide to reading the Malaysian Press December 28th, 1998

Malaysian journalism has taken the skill of writing between the lines - saying something without actually saying it - to an art form. And Malaysians have always found that the best news is usually nestled reading between those lines.

Take, for example, reports in the local media last August that there was no rift between the Prime Minister and his Deputy. The PM was even willing to "kiss him on the street" to prove the point. Foreign visitors may have well thought "Oh, how nice" (though this kissing business would indeed have seemed a very risky proposition, considering the nature of the sexual accusations that were to emerge later). But being masters at reading between the lines, we Malaysians knew that meant that Anwar’s days were numbered and he’d be out in the street in a matter of days.

Reading this meek, docile ‘responsible’ journalism that we Malaysians have come to know and love is a fine skill that is acquired over years of brainwashing. It is something which needs a little getting used to if you are a foreign visitor. We present below an actual news story issued today by the national news agency BERNAMA, accompanied by a running translation of what the lines actually mean, so our foreign visitors may have some idea of the basic guidelines involved in ‘interpreting’ news they might find in a local newspaper.

KL can now focus on economy, says Second Finance Minister 

JELI (Kelantan), DEC 28 1998 — Malaysia’s ability and success in tackling its political crisis within a short period had strengthened the fundamentals for an economic recovery next year, Second Finance Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed said yesterday. 
[Translation: Malaysia’s top leadership is trying hard to convince itself and the Malaysian people that it has tackled its political crisis, despite reports of hundreds of people flocking to join the opposition parties every week and damning revelations of political conspiracy in the Anwar Ibrahim trial likely to emerge in the coming weeks. Its Second Finance Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed is also promising an economic recovery very shortly - in fact, exactly the same rosy prediction the current First Finance Minister made exactly one year ago]

He said the country could now focus fully on efforts for an economic recovery. 
[Translation: He said the country could now focus fully on efforts to bail out ailing crony companies while it still can.]

"We have successfully tackled the political crisis, a major success in 1998 and important for us to face 1999 as we have laid a firm foundation for economic recovery," he added. 
[Translation: "We have successfully cleared the streets of demonstrators by beating the crap out of them, a major success in 1998, and we have laid a firm foundation for an even more oppressive police state in 1999."]

Speaking to reporters after handing over dividends to Felcra Bhd settlers here yesterday, Datuk Mustapa said Malaysians had shown a maturity and gained invaluable experience in managing well during the political crisis. 
[Translation: Datuk Mustapa said "OK, we know we screwed up big time during this political crisis. But hopefully our servile press has managed to convince at least a few immature, stupid idiots out there that everything is just hunky dory. We also gained invaluable experience and learned our lesson - next time, don’t beat the guy up to a pulp until after the trial"]

For next year, the minister said Malaysia would continue with its existing financial policies of fiscal expansion and monetary easing. 
[Translation: For next year, the minister said Malaysia would continue with its exisiting financial policies - expansion of crony bank accounts and easing money out of the pension funds of ordinary Malaysians.]

Following the government’s success in tackling the political and economic crises, he said Malaysians were confident the government would administer the country well and effectively. 
[Translation: Following the government’s dismal incompetence in tackling the political and economic crises, he said Malaysians were now convinced the country is run by a pack of jack-asses and a General Election is the last thing on Earth the government would want right now]

He called on people to remain united to ensure an economic recovery and for the country’s image to be cleared following the negative and misleading reporting by the foreign media. "It is a regret that the much improved situation here has not received foreign-media coverage unlike recently when some tourists even cancelled travel plans to Malaysia based on the foreign-media reports," he said. 
[Translation: He called on people to remain united by continuing to blindly believe the government propaganda in the sheep-like local media. "Here we are, trying to desperately fool ourselves into thinking that everything is just fine and dandy, and the foreign press stubbornly insists on continuing to report the facts. So what if we ordered the cops to go out into the streets and beat the living daylights out of those demonstrators, and a few tourists cancelled their trips to Malaysia - can’t the foreign press just let bygones be bygones?" he said.]