In part 1, I discussed about the coverage by The Stream on Malaysia in which I’ve voiced out the misconceptions placed on the story. In this part I’ll be discussing what do I mean by “The Malaysian Context”, as well as some personal thoughts about the episode.
The Malaysian Context
Since I’ve called out to The Stream that they’ve gotten the Malaysian context wrong, it’s only fair I try to define what do I mean by The Malaysian Context, in the broadest sense possible. I can’t really say that my observation is correct, so I would like any Malaysian who reads this to add more information on the context I’ll be putting up because, again, this isn’t me representing the entire country. And this isn’t just from The Stream alone; actually, many foreign medias who did their short or long pieces on Malaysia seemed to have reported the country on what looks like it on the surface level. I was given the rationale that, in order to cater to the audience, Malaysia has to be presented from all sides as possible even if it does seem like it is only existing the surface level.
But I can only partially agree to the idea that foreign media cannot go into in-depth reporting. I thought back in 2007 when the first Bersih march commenced, and subsequently after that, AJE did a perfectly justified and balanced reporting. Teymoor Nabili, whom I believed has been transferred to Doha now, did some extensive report that was about the problems in Malaysia, and not just from an ethno-centric point of view. Indeed, after that facepalm moment in The Stream, I did ask myself whether if by any chance Teymoor Nabili will come back again, especially since he did blog about Bersih 2.0 when, technically, perhaps the Middle Eastern affairs would’ve been his field of concentration.
But that’s not to say those surface levelled perception isn’t existing. Far from it, it’s becoming stronger than ever among Malaysians because perceptions of our country are being challenged. But the biggest problem with only trusting surface-levelled reports and knowledge is that you’ll only get that much from the people of Malaysia. So here’s how I break it down on what Malaysia is:
1) There are people who are complacent and accepting the current Malaysian context that everything is defined by race, religion and class status. They’ve been in Malaysia for so long, they’ve accepted the common rhetoric. We’re all stable, happy, fine, comfortable. We don’t really need the system to be adjusted. So maybe Chinese and Indians don’t get as much rights, that’s not an issue as long as the basic needs are catered to, as long as we get jobs, have chances to have families, practise our languages and pursue our education of choice (we have national and vernacular schools), we’re okay, we’re good, and we generally don’t need to worry about anything else as long as the policy covers everyone’s basic needs. This is, what I think, was what the foreign media saw, and what they saw wasn’t wrong, I give it that. It was just the general mood that has been around.
2) There are people who are just anti or pro government all the way. They will defend to the death what Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat manifestos are because they were sick and tired of the politicking from both sides. Any news on them and it’s all round BN or PR bashing time whether it’s online or offline. Every media report is scorned, every report, even if the government or alternative parties was doing something appropriate and good, they were being distrusted and they questioned their every move. That is, in my opinion, playing into the rhetoric where opposing is the only key to win an argument and the only thing they want to hear out of the entire discourse is somebody who agrees with them.
3) The apathetic bunch where nothing concerns them. They saw Malaysian politics as a form of mudslinging, scandals, that they just don’t want to care about, because it dominates practically every breathing space. It was always about the noise and not the voice. Youngsters who grew up with little to no political affiliations were further pushed away because they find the process messy and unwelcoming. Political parties once upon a time have to organise plenty of roadshows to engage with the young minds, to tap into their inner thoughts and to understand why do they shun away from the very institution that builds the nation of Malaysia, so to speak. They can be curious, they can ask questions, but after they get the answers they remained uninterested to act on what they know about. Many young Malaysians remained unregistered as voters even after achieving 21 years old because that’s how much they cannot trust their politicians, or how much they are not willing to be involved in raising issues in this country.
I’d stop at this three because those were the political layers I saw that does not have the race and religion angle in it. But recently with this new wave and after tasting freedom of expression and discourse amongst the young, two more groups emerged from Malaysia:
4) The Bersih generation. The generation who currently seeks to deconstruct the very identity of what defines Malaysia that the government tried so hard to sell to international arenas. That each strong identity portrayed will only result in more clash and divides played out by politics. They were inspired by Bersih 2.0 even as they were fearful of the repercussions of the authorities. Bersih 2007 was a successful march but very reliant on support from the political parties, which includes BN and PR. Bersih 2.0 had a huge turnout from a newer generation, and now they are finding out different initiatives to contribute, or they continued to be inspired enough to produce videos like this below, urging the younger generation to stand up and voice out their dissatisfactions.
5) Lastly, and most importantly, the rise of prominence to the civil societies and platforms. The gray areas of Malaysia has been set in motion again after a sudden vacuum left by the sudden departures of a number of activists to take up political seats in the Parliament and State Governments. New and refreshing initiatives like Undi Malaysia (Vote Malaysia), Green Voters, Occupy Dataran (Occupy Square), they are all set up to establish a space for discussion and to bring up the awareness in Malaysians. People who are interested in bringing the crowds together for an open talk about the sentiments and issues of the country besides the noise generated from politicians and the government. They operate on the idea that It shouldn’t matter where these people stand, whether are they staunch BN or PR supporters, or even just the middle ground, platforms are given to them so that discussions, discourse, the very thing that fuels democracy may continue to rise. They are also champions of other rights like human rights, sexuality rights, democracy, and so on.
I’ll admit, I was hoping The Stream featured more on the last two groups, particularly since most of them are avid users of the social media. But perhaps we all have different ideas on what are we using social media for, which makes it even harder to figure out who or what sort of social media audience you’ll be getting as the programme comes along. I did notice that The Stream has a certain staple social media audience already, ever ready to pitch in their ideas and ask their questions, that it’s possible that looking for new contributors to the story may have been a little harder than usual. But some of the Malaysian social media users, I noticed, have said their fair and balanced piece after the show was broadcasted, so it still leads back to the unfortunate timing and the lack of time to engage Malaysian social media users and the time of broadcast.
Personally, I love The Stream
I love that programme to bits ever since I’ve discovered it say, one month ago. It debunks the very idea of how social media was viewed in the eyes of the traditional media. When other media cooperations tried so hard to fit social media into their frame, The Stream, did the complete opposite, and build a frame around social media, which in turn, made it a very interesting, refreshing programme. For that innovation to merge the new and old media, really, kudos to Al Jazeera English because it wasn’t found anywhere else yet.
To be fair, I wasn’t too fond of how some Malaysians react to this episode. They thought they were expecting another showdown between the “moderators” (they are hosts, mind you!) and the guests. They thought it was homework the hosts and the Stream team should’ve prepared before they record the show. They were spectators, they were waiting for the hosts to ask the smart and witty questions, to challenge the guests and finally get a gist of how they present themselves. Unfortunately, they were only partially correct, because the questions should have came from them. The format of the programme was to have them becoming the contributors to the show by presenting Derrick and Ahmed comments and posting more videos detailing what they want to hear from the guests. I guess The Stream is a very new concept in the Malaysian shores. It has never been done before, and people thought it was the same old thing.
However, if anything at all, that video of the foreign student showed me just how much I’m not aware of the foreign policies and laws implemented by our government towards foreign students or foreign workers. If anything at all, this episode is a portrayal of what our image was like through the international lens: that we’re messy, we don’t know how to handle our own problems, we’re unaware of what accusation was hurled against us. To which I have to say, even I can’t help much because our society is so engrossed in our local politics that we often forget how we look or sound like in the international arena. This is an issue that was left in the backburner because we couldn’t be bothered with improving the system, that it turns into this messy international image that Malaysia has conjured. Naturally, I felt like defending the country from these allegations but I have to keep reminding myself that there must be room for discourse and hopefully a chance to dispel these images that certain foreigners hold on Malaysia.
The Stream had its debut only during February this year, so give or take it has existed for only six months. Within these six months it has made an impact in different social media communities in different countries. It was always refreshing to see what other stories that are uncovered, and already it has made an impact in the Middle East, the USA and Europe. Its penetration was lesser so in this region and East Asia. If other media institutions have gotten the context wrong for so many years, who am I to diss a new and growing programme? In fact, I encourage this sort of conversation. It’s good to know what sort of image are we putting up against the international arena. For too long Malaysians are so warped within our heads that the only time we get to know what are we like in another person’s perspectives was through the international media or articles posted about Malaysia. The local media often will not bother with such rhetoric because frankly, if they have to address every misconception about Malaysia in regards to race and religion, they won’t have time to even report about other issues that are tantamount to Malaysia’s growth.
That is why in the middle of all these new developments, I’m finding myself writing for this blog, SEA Youth Say So. It’s a new initiative set up by us youths who had gone through a media camp that binds us South East Asians together. A social experiment to see just how much more do we want to know about our neighbours. I think with the repeatedly inaccurate or insufficient reports, plus the often glamorous but unrealistic ties between ASEAN countries, it has prompted us to show our side of South East Asia that has never been seen before. Even though as a Malaysian, my country is considered one of the functioning powerhouses of South East Asia, I find it very hypocritical when we fail to understand our neighbours like Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, even the Philippines but always look forward to please the big countries like China and the USA and claim them as partners. It’s enough. I want to learn and know more about my neighbours or what’s happening somewhere else that sometimes it isn’t featured in our own media. I’m sure all the contributors here agree that they just want to present their side of the story.
I’ll end this post with what I thought was the best episode that defines exactly what The Stream is all about. A week after the screening of the Bahraini documentary “Bahrain: Shouting in the dark”, it received plenty of strong responses from both pro-government and anti-government supporters. In order to pull a balancing act, The Stream has engaged with a pro-government blogger, and a human rights activist to answer questions via Skype on their views pertaining to the documentary. The episode left a very big impression on me, that some day, Malaysia could have a similar platform where debate was focused and matured, instead of the usual mudslinging and unintelligible statements and rhetorics. And this episode is unlike The Stream’s episode about Malaysia, where everything in
this episode feels focused, prepared and to the point, so of course, I do think that Malaysian episode was just one bad apple when they have done better jobs previously, and I will keep supporting the programme.
If you prefer the gorgeous human approach, Follow Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, digital producer and co-host of The Stream on Twitter. Don’t worry, he’s nice.
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