Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mugabe holidays in Malaysia

I just received an update from Avaaz.org on the latest situation in Zimbabwe. An extract from their newsletter:

“Zimbabwe's crisis - cholera, hyperinflation, hunger, and Mugabe's brutality - keeps worsening. But as the stakes rise, the movement for change is growing stronger and bolder. The European Union just tightened sanctions targeting Mugabe's regime. Hunger strikers in Southern Africa, trying to deliver a petition to leaders Monday, were blasted by riot police shooting rubber bullets. And Tuesday morning, after all-night talks, Mugabe's latest attempt retain control collapsed as the opposition refused to join a false 'unity' government that would leave Mugabe's party in power, political prisoners in jail, and Zimbabweans' urgent needs unmet.” (end of quote)

Of course, Mugabe doesn't have to worry about things like cholera, hyperinflation and hunger. He's just had a nice vacation in Malaysia.

How sad that the country in which I live chose to let this brutal dictator holiday on its shores. They should have kicked him out on arrival.

Oh, I almost forgot, they couldn't do that because Petronas – Malaysia' national oil company – has big investments in Zimbabwe.

I wonder if Mr Mugabe got a private tour of the Petronas Twin Towers? Or maybe he preferred to keep his feet on the ground fearing that someone might kick him off the top. (What a service to the world that would be!)

Monday, January 26, 2009

The bias of the Malaysian press

One of the English language dailies in Malaysia carried a big story today – the defection of a government politician to the opposition. It was something that had been predicted by the opposition for some time and which the government had constantly been telling people would never happen.

According to the story in The Star the crossover had left the leaders of the Barisan Nasional (the ruling coalition) in a state of shock.

But where was this big news story. On page 1?

No, the front page story comprised a photo of a happy family celebrating Chinese New Year and an innocuous story about the fact that the use of debit cards in Malaysia was growing by 13% per month.

Page 3 then? No, that page comprised a photo of Kuala Lumpur's empty highways (after the CNY exodus) and a 'colour story' about the resilience of people born in the Year of the Ox.

The story about the defection to the opposition was buried on page 12. And the other English language daily, the New Straits Times, didn't even carry the story at all.

Now of course if it had happened the other way around – a member of the opposition defecting to the government benches – then it would have been all over the front pages, and probably occupied another two or three pages after that.

After the opposition made its massive gains in the election last year – despite the blatant bias of the government controlled mainstream press – the new Information Minister promised that in the future there would be more balanced coverage.

Hollow words it seems.

Or maybe the papers have been entrenched for so long in reporting only government propaganda, that they are no longer capable of recognising what is news.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Malaysian roads to be star rated

The front page story in one of the local papers, The Star, today featured an announcement by the Malaysian Transport Minister that roads in Malaysia were to be star rated like hotels – which according to The Star would cut the road toll by 30%

This will mean the worst roads will be rated one star and the best roads five stars.

The announcement was in response to a story a few days ago that there had been 5,976 road deaths in Malaysia in the first 11 months of 2008.

That is an appalling figure. It means that Malaysia's annual road death toll of about 6,500 persons is four times that of Australia (around 1,600 a year), even though both countries have a similar population.

It clearly reflects the lack of regard for road rules in Malaysia, and shows the effect of a small but significant percentage of drivers that use the roads like a racetrack and show utter contempt and disregard to others who may be driving more safely.

But that's not the point of this commentary. The point is that nowhere in the story did it explain how rating the roads would cut the road toll – and the story didn't say who had made the claim (which is bad journalism in itself).

The story didn't carry a byline, so perhaps it was written by a junior reporter who didn't have the initiative to ask the question “how”.

One of the problems with journalists in Malaysia is that there is a culture of not challenging authority, and this often flows through to press conferences and not being prepared to challenge statements made by Ministers and others in authority.

I recall once I was observing a press conference by a Malaysian Minister and a young female reporter asked a searching but extremely relevant question to the Minister. I could see looks of surprise on some of the other reporters' faces that she had the 'audacity' to ask such a question – and clearly the Minister didn't like it.

Instead of answering the question he scolded her by saying: “Don't ask questions about subjects that you don't know about lass – leave that to the experts.” It was clearly a question he didn't want to answer (and probably didn't know the answer to). It was a question that should have been followed up by other journalists in the room – but they had got the message from the Minister and left it alone.

The quality of journalism unfortunately still has a long way to go in Malaysia.