A Reformasi Diary by Sabri Zain

Face Off

by Charles Tan, Chief Editor

Publication: myScissors.com
Section: Publication
Author: Charles Tan
Publication Date: 15th, November, 2000

Devi Asmarani of the Straits Times Indonesian Bureau wrote a feature, 'New Era Has The Media On The Boil', tracking the backlash of the sudden press freedom within the nation, with increases in lawsuits, demonstrations and media watch groups. He noted that "Indonesians are growing wary of reckless journalism."

Similarly in Malaysia, Sabri Zain reported another situation, in which Malaysians lost faith in the media because of its self-censorial attitude and the spreading of official propaganda pertaining to the sackin

Both cases demonstrate the loss of press credibility in these two countries as a result of losing journalism's core of ethics- reporting a situation objectively.

In reporting a situation objectively, a journalist has to remove his own bias and view the whole picture in a more comprehensive light, and as far as possible, presenting both sides of an argument. Not always easy, but certainly desirable.

If a writer aims to be argumentative, and to take sides, it will require a stronger line of reasoning to win people over.

Face Off, on that level, reads more like a personal account of the Reformasi movements in Malaysia and as such may not have achieved that balance.

Sabri Zain's essays are passionate about the people's causes, detailing their resentment against the dictatorial Malaysian government. He writes about demonstrations, police brutality in crushing demonstrations, opposition parties gatherings and the trials that took place.

They often include anecdotes, personal observations and experience which makes interesting reading.

For example, in The September 20 1998 entry, when he was at a demonstration, he recalled that 15 years ago, "a young student leader from the Malaysia Islamic Youth Movement- I think his name was Anwar Ibrahim- delivered a speech at Bukit Kerinchi to the protesting students. I was there too. Today, my apartment block rests on that very spot where he talked to them.

How things have changed and- and not changed."

Other examples include coded language such as, "shopping" as a term for holding reform movements or a conversation with a 60 year old man who quipped that, " Cops are ordinary folks like us. It's only the top people that are cruel."

Sabri's satires are light and ease reading the book.

A good illustration is 'Protecting Your Child from Politically-Explicit Online Material' in which he subversively advises parents how to prevent their children from visiting Reformasi websites by putting pictures of the Prime Minister beside the computer.

Though the book has succeeded in capturing the voice and plight of the demonstrators, detailing their fight for justice and struggle towards liberal democracy, it will still need a more balanced approach in working out both sides of an argument to convince people who do not believe, are sympathetic or have alternative access to the realities of the situation, especially understanding the cause and purpose of the Reformasi movement.

Cynics may perceive it as unbalanced journalism or political propaganda.

Yet, its human interest angle has achieved what other media has neglected, with its many moving narratives such as people shouting Mahatir undur (Mahatir Resign) and the cruel treatment towards OKT (Orang Kena Tuduh) or the accused locked up in cells with little medical treatment.

Objectivity is after all a fine line to tread but a much more impartial treatment will perhaps convince observers to make up their own minds far more successfully.