Thursday, July 10, 2008

‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’

My mother used to say, it takes a ‘lifetime’ to build a good reputation, but only one instance to tarnish it. As I looked back earlier today on some of the news stories of this past week or so, I couldn’t help thinking about that little bit of folk wisdom I’d first heard from her.

It was very refreshing indeed to recently hear the news that Malaysiakini is ranked the most popular online Malaysian news website. Congratulations to all of you at the news organization who have taken it this far. It is remarkable that you at Malaysiakini have, in a relatively short time, added another feather in your cap. Now, I know you did make it a point to announce your good news on your website, and you might have even taken a moment to have a ‘toast’ to celebrate among yourselves. However, it doesn’t seem to be your style at Malaysiakini to ‘rub it in’ to the other news websites – especially the ones that are the BN regime’s mouthpieces – and you’ve certainly not publicly gloated about it. So I want to take this opportunity to make a little bit more about this news of your accomplishment by sharing some brief thoughts about it. It goes without saying that ‘cyber literate’ Malaysians – and I suspect non-Malaysians too – find your kind of journalism worthy; actually, I think they must consider it more than just worthy – credible is another word that comes to mind. That’s obviously high praise by the public.

Aside from having ‘earned your stripes’ as a genuine news entity, I think you’re also performing an invaluable service of fostering an on-going national conversation about the varied and myriad issues that concern the public. For me, Malaysiakini has – aside from being a reliable and trustworthy news source - fast become a kind of ‘people’s forum’; a platform that has given us citizens, as never before, legitimate space and respect to express ourselves. This is no small contribution. Yes, to be sure, you are ultimately a subscription based outlet. But you have been, unlike our traditional so-called news outlets (like some newspapers – which are also not free), a credible facilitator of the exchange of ideas. No little feat, if you ask me. After all, a people can only progress and build a legitimate democratic culture when our voices are not muffled and when we’re not forced to endure a ‘dumbed-down,’ shallow, tightly scripted, and condescending rhetoric. Obviously, this latter situation says more about those who practice that kind of public conversation than it does about us - the public - who are subjected to it.

Yes, as you at Malaysiakini have shown, we are capable of talking with each other about all sorts of issues – including sensitive ones. And we’ll only get better at it – and grow to understand each other better - if we get to experience doing so by having those public conversations concerning all issues. You at Malaysiakini, seemingly having done a lifetime’s worth of deeds, have arguably contributed more to nudge us in this constructive direction than any other single Malaysian institution in this generation. Certainly, you've done more than most politicians have been able to do after even a whole lifetime in public life. [A few names come to mind, but I’ll leave this to your imagination.]

Now for the bit that is bad; that is, more bad news for the UMNO regime’s propaganda. Ninety-two percent!!? That is, a whopping 92 percent of Malaysiakini readers who responded to your poll “believe that Balasubramaniam’s first statutory declaration was true.” Wow!

Looks like the ‘good cop’ [Najib and Badawi] and ‘bad cop’ [Syed Hamid] propaganda routine since the outbreak of the new effort to, which I’ve referred to elsewhere, derail the ‘Anwar Ibrahim Express’ is not going over too well. Now I know, this is by no means a ‘scientific’ poll and all that. But 92 percent!? Talk about a credibility gap!

Incidentally, I think it’s a vindication of another point I’ve made previously: don’t treat the public as if we are juveniles. The more this regime continues to insult our intelligence by their transparent and unconvincing propaganda, the more they lose on their credibility.

Finally, about the ugly part from recent days. Well, take your pick. I’ve got three picks: the uncouth public behaviour of Bung Mokhtar Radin and that of Hamidah Osman, and the yet suppressed truth behind the disappearance of the private investigator Bala. In the grand scheme of things, two of these individuals have sure capitalized on that one instance to truly – in the public’s eye - diminish themselves. And as for Bala’s situation, the mere fact that he’s been forced into hiding is disgusting. [I never was a fan of fish-head curry.]

A ‘lifetime’ to build credibility and one ‘instance’ to tarnish it?

G. Krishnan