With the 10th Sarawak election, probably the most competitive in the state’s history, moving into the final 72 hours, BN, which is losing its advantage in the urban constituencies, is seen to be tightening its grip on the mainstream media.
While Internet sites including Malaysiakini and Sarawak Report, which have been publishing critical reports against Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, were under cyber-attack, mainstream TV channels have received instructions to black out the opposition’s mega rallies.
Reliable sources in Umno-linked media giant Media Prima told Malaysiakini that all the TV channels under the group had been instructed not to air news related to the opposition’s nightly ceramahs in the urban areas which have been attracting audiences in the thousands.
“Footage of the mega rallies cannot be aired at all even if the news is on other election matters,” an insider told Malaysiakini.
Media Prima owns almost all private tv channels in the country - TV3, ntv7, 8TV and TV9. Both ntv7 and 8TV that air news in English and Mandarin language are seen as more balanced and critical compared to the others.
The local Chinese dailies, which mostly serve the Chinese population in the cities, are also under pressure after BN lost ground in the cities.
“Although we did not get any instructions, we have to be careful in reporting the news about both sides. I don’t think we can give a 60:40 ratio of coverage to BN and the opposition, we have to change to 70:30,” said an editor from a local Chinese daily.
At the beginning of the election, Chinese dailies were seen giving more coverage to the opposition but the trend had changed after the opposition managed to create momentum in the urban constituencies.
‘Our coverage has shrunk significantly’
“In the last two or three days, our coverage has shrunk significantly,” said a DAP campaigner who is in charge of media relations.
“The space for our news has become less and they were placed at the bottom of the page. Previously our statements were published in full but now only a few paragraphs or just one paragraph appears,” he noted.
A glaring example was shown by this Monday’s United Daily News where the word “Pek Moh” (‘white hair’, referring to Abdul Taib Mahmud) and Taib’s alleged corruption on opposition banners had been blurred in the photographs published.
There were 11 photographs of campaign banners of both sides printed on page 18 and 19 of the daily, but four of them were blurred.
On the local English and Malay dailies namely Borneo Post, Utusan Sarawak and Utusan Borneo, there has hardly been any opposition news since before nomination day.
It is also learnt that an English daily based in Kuala Lumpur has flown its top editors to Kuching to monitor the reports of their bureau here on the state election.
The opposition has been complaining that they could not convey their campaign messages to the voters in the interior due to the blackout by the English and Malay media.
In the past week, many press conference held by the opposition in small towns and rural areas were not attended by mainstream media journalists.
For instance a press conference held by DAP Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi and Klang MP Charles Santiago, together with DAP Simanggang candidate Leon Donald at Sri Aman hospital yesterday to question Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s announcement to construct a new hospital, was only attended by journalists from local Chinese dailies and Malaysiakini.
Another press conference held by them this morning in front of the Sri Aman fire station was forced to be cancelled because no journalist turned up.