Speech monopoly more terrifying than media monopoly

By LIU HONGQIANG
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

When we are passing down our verdicts on media monopoly based on the numbers, we will find ourselves easily falling into the trap of numbers, especially for the conventional print media where a dominating number is often construed as monopoly and all the papers owned by such media corporations would be seen as "What I say goes," without taking into consideration of the fact that the mother company needs to differentiate products of similar nature in a bid to attract different categories of consumers to maintain their respective competitive advantages.

On the other hand, it is also commonly perceived that media players that are numerically disadvantaged would most definitely provide a platform for dissident voices. Without we realising it, we are constantly finding ourselves standing on the opposite side of the numerically dominant and any slightest moves could be spontaneously interpreted as ill-intentioned aggressions that must be crushed at all costs.

This is that kind of stereotyped reactions of many contemporary online media and social networking sites in this country. What makes things worse is that they have resorted to making inciting remarks to cook up public emotions and create confrontation and animosity. This is particularly true on a number of specific issues where the slightest hint of dissident views have to be wiped out or vilified, so much so that online expression has been monopolised by them.

In contrast to the diverse expressions on print media, the borderless nature of online media and the trend of their increasingly broader acceptance in the future have made speech monopoly on online media all the more heinous than the print media.

The August 28 Sin Chew Daily headline story of an interview with PAS deputy president Mat Sabu on the implementation of hudud law once the Pakatan takes the helm of Putrajaya, serves as a perfect point of reference.

Media, be it the conventional print or online electronic media, need to tread cautiously when quoting politicians in news reports, and this has resulted in the two different versions of headlines on the evening edition and the following day's morning edition of Sin Chew Daily ("has decided" vs "has the intention").

"PAS will implement hudud law once Pakatan wins the general election" was a news report based on the remarks made by the party's president Hadi Awang after its political and election bureau meeting on August 25 as carried in Harakah, that PAS would implement the hudud law through democratic procedures once the party won the general election, as Sin Chew had perceived that the issue was of much concern among the Chinese community in Malaysia and had therefore conducted an interview with Mat Sabu on this issue.

In a written statement to the press on August 29, Mat Sabu nevertheless clarified that he had not talked about PAS tabling the hudud law in the Parliament if Pakatan won the 13th general election, during his interview with Sin Chew.

There is an obvious disparity between the two, which could have either been caused by a difficulty in understanding the language used, or each side having its own agenda and trying to distort the facts.

Sin Chew later published the details of the interview, proving that it had not intentionally fabricating the story. In the meantime, the newspaper also published its interviews with other key party leaders such as PAS Spiritual Leader Nik Aziz, secretary-general Mustafa Ali, information chief Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and PAS Supporters Congress president Hu Pang Chaw on the same issue and there was consistency in their remarks. Sin Chew's reports were in no way fact-distorting pieces meant to alarm the Chinese community or demonise PAS.

As PAS' deputy president, if Mat Sabu felt that Sin Chew had distorted his speech and had attempted to create panic so that voters would stay away from the party, then he should instantly clarify his stand with Sin Chew or even sue Sin Chew in a court, instead of seeking justice from the online media which had little clue of the actual interview content, so that not too long after the newspaper's morning edition hit the street, online media published in the afternoon a report on Mat Sabu refuting the Sin Chew news article, fervently echoed by users of online social networking sites, even though Sin Chew reiterated that it had indeed verified the reports before publishing them.

As for PAS, even I myself, who actually have more Malay acquaintances than Chinese ones, know quite little of the party, let alone the Islamic penal code. Recognising the fact that the readers have every right to know the truth, Sin Chew came out with the report as it knew this issue was of much concern among the Chinese community., while most online media chose to shun it.

Secondly, when PAS president Hadi Awang made the remark that his party would seek to implement the hudud law through democratic procedures, online media never did anything that would enlighten their Chinese readers of the whole thing.

Thirdly, what is so wrong with PAS tabling the hudud law motion in the Parliament if Pakatan were to win the next general election? Implementing hudud law has always been the advocacy of PAS, and whether the same would be passed in the Parliament is another matter. Besides, it is unlikely for PAS to back down just because of the objection from DAP or PKR. As the party's deputy president, there is logically nothing wrong with Mat Sabu revealing such a party aspiration and there is absolutely no need of him to avert this issue at all.

Fourthly.if Malaysians want to see change, they have to weigh the pros and cons themselves. As a neutral newspaper, all that Sin Chew needs to do is delivering the facts. The immediate defence on the part of online media and social networks, even their own interpretations of Mat Sabu's speech, was nowhere near the "independent" spirit or "democratic thinking" fit for the contemporary Malaysian society.

Fifthly, we all know that Taiwan's Liberty Times is a pro-DPP newspaper for the simple reason that the ruling party has to always come under the verbal assault of the opposition. As such, online media have never shied away from proclaiming their alliances with the opposition front.

Even as we do not think the same way, we should at least be able to respect each other's candidness instead of defiling them as undemocratic.