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MGG: Goebbels Goebbelled
By M.G.G. Pillai
12/1/2002 4:08 am Sat
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed, is a
frustrated man these days. He is what makes Malaysia move, and
to make that stick, no mainstream newspaper would dare write what
happens, only so the Emperor in Putra Jaya would not be offended.
Trying to second guess his thoughts is a chancy business, as
several former editors-in-chief of UMNO-controlled newspapers can
attest. Often, the Bernama version of an event is printed, if
for no reason than to mollify their mea culpas. The options
narrow by the day. UMNO and the National Front has to come to
terms with the reality that the young Malay, in the universities
and out, are alienated from it.
Recently, the newspapers reported that UMNO
counterintelligence officials caught eight undergraduates for
trespassing. They implied they were opposition spies spying on
UMNO's operations room for the Indera Kayangan byelection in
Perlis. How they found out all this before it kicked off before
nomination day is one mystery that probably would never be
solved. An opposition website tells a different story: that
they were picked up elsewhere, brought to the National Front
operations rooms and accused of skullduggery. Police reports are
made. The universities send in disciplinary staff to monitor the
role of undergraduates, who are told they have no business at an
election campaign. How would they know who they are, assuming
that they do their work conscientiously, when they cannot
distinguish their own undergraduates in their own campuses?
But all this is to show the Great Man the opposition are
composed of rascals who would not even allow the National Front
to campaign in a clean byelection. The right to disrupt, in the
National Front's view, is limited only to the National Front;
all others break the Election rules and regulations.
But is Dr Mahathir satisified? The news item was meant to
tell Malaysians that undergraduates must study and if they want
to be active in the political campaigning, there is only one
political party it can support without the police asking
questions. Even if the news report is true, and truth in
mainstream reporting is subjective, and published in all
seriousness, it backfired. It got the undergraduates even more
incensed with the government and it gave the obverse view that
UMNO and the National Front faces even more problems with the
In other words, instead of concentrating on an election it
has the edge on, it has to go into dangerous territory of
university campuses to mollify the undergraduates. That to most
UMNO stalwarts is an even more tenuous fate than Daniel's in the
lion's den. Worse, when the former editor-in-chief of Utusan
Malaysia is transformed as the government's hatchet man to rein
in the press, the picture is complete.
So, Dr Mahathir is miffed the story is badly handled. He
misses the irony. If in the Prime Minister's view a routine
story of opposition skullduggery is wrong, how much credibility
can we give other reports in these selfsame newspapers of
opposition activities? There is a fine line between propaganda
and news reporting. If there is no desire on the part of the
newspaper owners for an independent press, there would not be.
The government does not want one, and allows it only the
unfettered right to praise it. The opposition is ignored, except
when it is riven. So, the opposition view of the Indera Kayangan
byelection is the DAP's refusal to campaign and the split that it
caused within that party.
When you hobble the reporter from covering news as it
happens, it becomes how all news would be covered. He would look
over his shoulder whenever he writes. Any pretence of fair news
reporting is lost if he has to. In Malaysia, that is the norm.
When mainstream newspapers insist that all reporters are the
Goebbellian representatives of the government in power, the day
is not far off when what they write misrepresents even the
government's good news. When the main UMNO-run mainstream
English-language newspaper has an editor-in-chief who fancies
himself Dr Mahathir's Dr Goebbels, even the good doctor must
worry about his press coverage. As he no doubt does.