Selective facts in the media

It’s hard to know what’s the truth and what’s not these days. To say newspapers report far from the truth would be an exaggeration. What they report is the truth, if only a specific part of it. But then, that’s what newspapers are meant to do. They’re meant to cater to a specific audience that accepts and reads this sort of news, nodding their heads in agreement. Even in the United States, such media slanting exists; New York Times reports analytical news leaning towards the Democrats while Fox News is endlessly seen leaning away. Much can be said for the audience it caters to.

Malaysia’s media industry, however, has turned into a mess. It’s no secret that the mainstream media is owned largely by the establishment’s strings as try as they may, reports anti-sentiment or intended to shed a negative light are quickly quelled and do not see the light of day. The only final bastion of freedom the citizens of Malaysia has is the limitless fringes of the Internet and social media; and even that laws like section 114A are creeping to tighten its noose on the only freedom we have left.

The Malaysian establishment, it seems of late, has been rather fond of making a fool of itself on the public front. Psy’s RM2 million concert in Penang was no less controversial before the South Korean pop star’s performance and even during the event itself; the “Psy, Yes! BN, No!” debacle and Psy’s public refusal to toss yee sang went viral on the Internet. While the Internet community was abuzz with the news, what went reported on the mainstream media? Nothing. Only of how successful the concert was and how it was another establishment achievement in fulfilling their promise to the people.

More recently, however, is the extremely controversial detention and deportation of the Australian Senator Nick Xenophon. The senator’s purpose in Malaysia was to discuss transparency issues with regards to the upcoming general election (anyone here knows the dates yet?); pretty harmless right? The best excuse for the establishment’s reasoning behind this act was how it was a “security issue”. In what way, if one may ask? Mind you, all this news was gleaned from social media and international news reports but none on the local front.

In fact, our local front has been keeping quiet for a very long time now. Granted, things have loosened up ever since PM Pak Lah got into power and certain points of leniency were allowed during PM Najib’s current tenureship. But is the mainstream media performing its duty to the establishment or the people? This is the vital question.

Now I’ll be honest. On the political landscape, I side neither the establishment nor the opposition. Neither has brought about any substantial change to the people. The establishment has been ruling for far too long and has gone complacent and is clinging on to a power it is afraid of losing. The opposition’s direct reason for existence is to prove the establishment wrong, while unable to hold together their own internal party politics. The people are sick of this six decade-long tenureship and they’re turning to the only other option they have left: the wildcard opposition.

I’m disappointed. The media, at least to an extent, is supposed to be the voice of the people. But where has that social responsibility gone? Do we fear reporting all sides of the issue because we’re afraid of losing our job in this unstable economy? Are we afraid of standing up to the truth and telling them (establishment or opposition) that they’ve done wrong? We fear the consequence of a just action. We fear for our own safety nets being cut off when we stand up for the greater good. And that’s perhaps why the mainstream media is doomed to fail.

Let’s throw in some perspective on why this is a nationwide problem. Only a handful in the nation have the privilege to access social media. Even less of this handful have the ability to comprehend, balance out and analyse all sides of the facts given to them. The problem with democracy is how it’s a nationwide involvement. The majority of the country are uninformed and their only form of information is via the mainstream media who only seek to report a selected version of the truth. And these uninformed are the very same people who are going to go into the voting booths and mark the ballots based on what they know, which is unfortunate to say, not much of the true situation in this country.

This is where the vicious cycle will continue. This is why we’ll never see change come to fruition. When we’re only fed one side of the story and cling on to it, we grow up with the rest of our lives moulding our beliefs and lives around it — unaware that another paradigm of the truth exists. How long is the mainstream media going to lie to themselves, lie to us? Every day, international reports are continuously reporting what is starkly different than what local headlines are portraying.

As a Malaysian, I feel ashamed. Don’t you?


This article was first published in The Malaysian Insider.