Virtual Politics in Southeast Asia: Leaders Must Blog

Partyforumseasia: Obviously many voters like to feel close to their leaders, and subscribing to their blogs seems to provide this feeling. This, in turn, obliges the leaders to set up their own websites. Singapore’s Straits Times, 24 June, provides an overview, here is a selection for Southeast Asia, that is the rulers. The opposition figures may be interesting as well and a comparison of the number of followers…



Phil & Sing


Backlash for Malaysia’s Partisan Media?

Apa lagi Cina mahuPartyforumseasia: Taking up PM Najib’s unfortunate formula of a Chinese tsunami with the infamous headline “Apa lagi Cina mahu?” (What else do the Chinese want?), the UMNO owned Utusan Malaysia newspaper has exposed its own partisanship to a degree that undermines its credibility even more. The domination, if not control, of the media by government and ruling coalition, blamed among other shortcomings for the uneven political playing field, starts to create a backlash in the era of internet reporting and social media. With the credibility of the partisan media, their economic success is also threatened. An article in the (link:) 2 June Straits Times (Singapore) gives a number of interesting details. And nota bene at the same time the saying goes that the best coverage of domestic developments in Malaysia is supposed to be published in Singapore (and vice versa).
By the way, the first political riddle in the childhood of the author of these lines was: “What lies at your doorstep in the morning and lies? Answer: The newspaper…
See also the following link: Malaysia’s Dilemma
Malaysia papers 1
Malaysia papers 2

Addendum to “Controlled media” vs. “Alternative media” in Malaysia

Partyforumseasia: If this is serious it is probably too late for a decisive impact on the GE13, but it is a rather dramatic introduction for the alternative broadcasting “Radio Free Malaysia”:

RADIO FREE MALAYSIA  Press release: Sunday 24th March 2013

Malaysia’s newest independent radio station begins broadcasting on Monday night. Radio Free Malaysia will be available on Medium Wave at 1359kHz each night between 9pm and 11pm local Malaysia time. The highlight of the first show will be a full-length exclusive interview with the PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim, who, like other opposition figures, has been largely excluded from Malaysia’s mainstream media so far. RFM represents a ground breaking venture, because it will be transmitted from outside of Malaysia and therefore is not subject to licencing by the federal government. The station therefore aims to be free of the political interferences that have caused Malaysia’s media to become recognised as one of the most restrictive in the world. “RFM will be free of political censorship by the ruling BN coalition and plans to provide a platform for alternative ideas and viewpoints”, explains founder Clare Rewcastle Brown, who is basing the programme out of the UK.
“It is well known that all press and broadcast media currently operating in Malaysia are forced to unquestioningly support and promote the ruling BN coalition and to denigrate the opposition parties, while excluding them from the chance to put their own policies and agendas before the people”.
“It is unacceptable that Malaysia poses to the world as a democracy and is about to hold a general election, and yet it is only members of the ruling coalition (in power for the entire 50 years since independence) who are allowed to have their voices heard by the people”.Radio Free Malaysia is a sister station of the existing short wave programme Radio Free Sarawak, which broadcasts on shortwave for the benefit of indigenous communities in East Malaysia. However, the new nightly programme will operate completely independently on the more accessible Medium Wave band and use only Bahasa.“A separate team has come together to run this show and their remit is to provide two hours a day of the sort of programming that people have been unable to find on any other mainstream radio or TV in Malaysia”, says Rewcastle Brown. “Just a few days ago one independent station was forced to withdraw an interview with Anwar Ibrahim from broadcast owing to political pressures [ do not intend to be bullied in this way and now we can bring people the interview that the authorities have tried to ban”
“Anyone wanting to find out what the opposition policies and arguments actually are will now be able to tune in to our show, which can be accessed on any radio set in Malaysia and find out. At last people without access to the internet will have the opportunity to make a more informed choice at the ballot box.It is has also been of widespread concern that mainstream media outlets are being used by BN to spread politically motivated slanders and allegations about opposition figures and their policies, while at the same time refusing to allow them the space to answer the allegations or defend themselves in any way.
“Our short two hour programme provides a very limited opportunity for people who have been attacked in the media to exercise their right to reply. It is not much, but it is better than nothing and I anticipate that people from all over Malaysia will be intrigued to be able to tune in for the first time to the opposition’s response to the barrage of attacks they have been subjected to. We intend to punch above our weight, because we are providing a much needed service unavailable elsewhere”, said Rewcastle Brown.The programme will also focus on stories, which have so far been the subject of a disgraceful blackout in the regular media, because they are judged inconvenient to BN. Only the more free on-line news platforms have been allowed to give proper coverage to such matters as the Scorpene submarine contract scandal; the corruption scandals involving the Chief Ministers of Sabah and Sarawak; the murder of the model Altantuya; the so-called ‘cowgate’ scandal and numerous other cases of corruption and controversy involving those close to the BN government.These matters are waiting to find a place on Radio Free Malaysia, so that a wider public can be made aware of the issues that have been suppressed in their regular newspapers and broadcasts, which are subjected to total censorship by ‘News Controllers’ answerable to the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture, say the producers.“We would certainly be very pleased to also do interviews with any BN figures of significance who are willing to appear on our show”, confirms Rewcastle Brown. “However, they will not be getting the deliberate soft ride they are always accustomed to from the licenced media. We will ask tough questions about tough subjects, which as the people in charge of making decisions for the country they ought to be answering”.Rewcastle Brown confirms that she will not be determining content. “There is a team of Malaysian producers and presenters who will be running Radio Free Malaysia, we are merely operating out of the UK in order to avoid censorship.”.Radio Free Malaysia will also be operating a call in line so that listeners can take part in the show the toll free number is 1-800-815-309 and callers will be able to leave messages and their number at any time of the day.The Radio Show will also be accessible on-line via podcast at its website station, which is operating independently of major donors, has launched a drive for donations via its website. We will not be able to maintain the project unless enough members of the public come to our help to support our costs. However, we are hopeful and confident that the millions of Malaysians, who are longing for a more free and open media will support us and keep us afloat.

Radio Free Malaysia (RFM)AM/MW 1359 kHz, 2100-2300 nightly

Also: Toll free number: 1-800-815-309


Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2013 11:42:24 +0000

Subject: Please circulate Widely

From: info@sarawakreport.orgTo:

And remind people that teething challenges may make for a rough and ready start, but we will improve each day!

Malaysia election: “Controlled Media” vs. “Alternative Media”

MediaPartyforumseasia: One of the most controversial items in the “level playing field” debate is the Barisan Nasional government’s monopoly on the official media landscape in Malaysia. Will this traditional advantage for the ruling coalition continue to tip the scale in the upcoming election? In an article published by the Straits Times, Singapore, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chief Executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in Kuala Lumpur, looks into the chances of the “Alternative Media” to catch up:
Media plays a crucial role
By Wan Saiful Wan Jan, also published in Singapore’s Straits Times 22 March 2013

Prime Minister Najib Razak presented his “annual report” last Tuesday evening, informing the country how good his administration has been in achieving key targets under the economic and government transformation programmes. Indeed he has done well.  Most of the targets have been achieved. According to Najib’s projection, if everything goes to plan, Malaysia would qualify as a high-income nation before 2020.
Right on cue, mainstream media in Malaysia went into overdrive to report what Najib said.  The frenzy surrounding Najib’s latest announcement would probably continue for at least a few more days. Good news like this will not be allowed to fade.  After all, several TV channels continue to broadcast clips highlighting promises made by the government in their national budget announcement back in October last year, just to make sure voters don’t forget how “generous” the BN government is.
On the other hand, the alternative media is also in overdrive.  There are quite a few outlets who would call themselves alternative media and they do have a  sizeable following.  In the quest to present the “other” side of the news, they inevitably end up publishing reports that are seen as mainly against BN.  In fact, since Tuesday evening, many have been working hard to show how Najib is wrong, arguing that things are not as rosy as portrayed in his speech.

This is the reality of the Malaysian media.  The way some media outlets report news is completely predictable.  Although thanks to positive steps taken by the government the Malaysian media is not as shackled as they used to be, partisanship is still in excess supply.
Of course there are exceptions and there are several media outlets that are relatively exemplary.  But that is exactly the problem – serious independent journalism are exceptions rather than the rule.
As the country inches closer to general election, the media becomes even more crucial.  Their extensive reach makes the media an extremely influential tool to persuade voters.  And Malaysian politicians know this. Some Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders clearly have good media advisors. Their use of the media to influence public perception has been very effective lately.
The Lahad Datu incursion is a good example.  In this case, BN’s strategy in handling the media is outstanding.  It is so effective to the extent that almost no one is able to debate the big elephant in the room, which is the government’s incompetence that resulted in complete failure to protect Malaysia’s borders from armed invaders. This is not at all debated in the Malaysian media.
Instead, anyone who questions the authorities will immediately be labelled unpatriotic and disloyal.  Discussions about the root cause of the incursion and which minister should be sacked do not get any space.  It seems like a senior media advisor has decided that Lahad Datu must not be allowed to damage the government, and all media reports must focus on certain aspects on the tragedy only.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is severely disadvantaged because every time someone from their side tries to raise pertinent questions, the media will jump into labelling them as traitors.  Admittedly it is distasteful to suggest that there may be political benefits from the Lahad Datu incursion.  But it must be stated that BN’s media strategy is so good, they are monopolising such benefits if there is any.  PR is completely blocked from taking even a small pinch.
Nevertheless PR is not angelic either.  Their strategy is exactly the same in media outlets that they control.  Pro-PR media does not report any of BN’s good deeds.  So, while pro-BN media spews allegations of PR corruptions and weaknesses, pro-PR media simply take the reverse position.
This situation is far from healthy.  But in a democracy, partisanship among media outlets is, in principle, not wrong.  The hallmark of a free society is when people have the freedom to speak and write what they want.  If a particular media outlet chooses to be partisan, then a free society would accept and defend their right to be so. Individuals exercise their freedom by deciding which media they want to read or watch.
Thus in a country facing an impending general election, if a Malaysian wants to listen to more than one side, all he has to do is simply buy more than one newspaper or watch more than one TV channel.  At least that’s the theory.
The challenge faced by Malaysians today is the uneven playing field. BN has almost complete access to mainstream media, be it broadcast or print.  In fact, when it comes to broadcast media, BN has almost complete domination to the extent that even a taxpayer-funded government agency could be turned into a partisan propaganda machinery.
PR’s media reach is severely limited.  There may not be written rules banning opposition politicians from the media.  But media practitioners and editors exercise self-censorship to reduce the risk of actions from authorities.  As a result, the opposition is disadvantaged in their campaign.
The real victims are the citizens.  Access to reliable information is extremely important to ensure voters vote based on knowledge.  In the case of Malaysia, the print and broadcast media are the only platforms with sufficient reach for this purpose.  The online media may be growing as an industry, but their reach is still limited.
True democracies would facilitate politicians’ access to media.  A government that truly believes in democracy would ensure the total ecosystem is one that allows for different ideas to reach the public. This general election is a test of the Najib administration’s resolve in creating this healthy environment.

Trust (in governments) is good…but rare

Partyforumseasia:   According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer (link here), in which an American market research company measures the trust in governments, business, media, and NGOs in 25 countries, the majority does not trust the governments. For Southeast Asia, the index has data only for Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore:
Trust Barometer

The figures above are for the “informed public” segment of the survey and look comparatively positive for Singapore (77% in 2011 and 73% in 2012), Indonesia (falling from 62% to 40%), and Malaysia (49% when it was included in 2012). In contrast to Western countries, the percentage of people who don’t trust government leaders at all to tell the truth looks relatively low here. The regional results are: Indonesia 36%, Malaysia 24%, Singapore 15%. But the overall distrust rates may be much higher.

Looking at all 25 countries, the deficits in credibility are shown as the difference between the expectations and the perceived reality: For the question: government “listens to needs and feedback” of the citizens the gap is 50%, for “has transparent and open practices” also 50%, and for “communicates frequently and honestly” the gap is 49%.

Partyforumseasia’s Conclusion: The survey certainly has its own limitations, not least the sometimes  rather wild changes between the years surveyed since 2000. But if we extrapolate some of the disquieting results to the political parties running the respective governments, there should be enough lessons to be learned. One important development is the growing diversification of trust in the media and the number of sources of information:
Trust in different media

Southeast Asian Media: Trust is good, control is better…

Partyforumseasia: Probably Lenin’s famous formula “trust is good, control is better” comes closer to the Southeast Asian reality than Confucius’ “rectification of names” concept. But maybe modern media ownership and its possibilities of political control are a clever combination of both. The Confucian concept may be a bit too idealistic about good intentions of ancient rulers. Today’s political parties and their leaders certainly have enough good intentions, but owning and controlling the all important media seems to be considered the safer bet for electoral success.
Nota bene: Media control quasi monopolies are everywhere: Murdoch and Berlusconi, and…

Partyforumseasia suggests to collect ownership affiliations between media and  political parties in the region, starting here with a number of Indonesian media.

BakrieMost prominent is tycoon, Golkar chairman and possible presidential candidate in 2014, Aburizal Bakrie, who controls news channels TVOne and ANTV as well as online news portal Vivanews.

National Democrat (NasDem) chairman Surya Paloh owns Metro TV and daily newspaper Media Indoenesia.

Media tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo, controls the large media network PT Media Nusantara Citra (MNC) and seems to focus his political ambition on the Hanura party.

About 3,000 private radio stations over the country may be open to political bidders during election campaigns.

But there is also good news: Kompas, the most influential and widely circulated newspaper in Indonesia is politically independent. Its owner, Kompas-Gramedia Group, controls a large networks of local papers and the Jakarta Post.