“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone's feelings.”
- Denis Diderot
[Writer’s note - This article is not the product of the urging or influence from anyone from Malaysiakini and is the writer’s comment on the deplorable charges against Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan]
The charges against Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan for doing his job is the kind of harassment that soon turns into something more, something darker, that totalitarian regimes inflict upon their journalists.
When simply reporting what was said is considered offensive, obscene or false, the whole charade that this is a democratic country comes tumbling down like a deck of cards. When a journalist is barred from reporting what was said or done, this truly becomes the ‘see no evil and hear no evil’ profession that old-school journalists have been struggling against for years.
Think about this for a moment. Steven Gan and Malaysiakini were not making any value judgments on what they uploaded. They did not comment on what they posted, they stayed within the confines of established law and merely reported the news.
It was not Steven Gan or Malaysiakini that claimed that the attorney-general (AG) was not fit for his job and should resign; they were reporting on what a critic of the AG said during a press conference. Furthermore, and this is also important, is it really “obscene, offensive or false” for a citizen of this country to call into question the credibility, fitness for office or the resignation of a public official?
When I first started writing for Malaysiakini, I made it clear that I was not interested in sugar-coating my words or merely writing polemics against the Umno establishment. I made it clear that what I wanted to do was explore the political terrain, maybe step on a few toes and write about the things Malaysians think about but rarely say in public. I was more interested in slaying sacred cows instead of finding cash cows to praise and perhaps benefit from.
Steven Gan made it clear that I could write whatever I wanted so long as it was within the confines of the law. He made it clear (even though I had written otherwise), Malaysiakini was an independent news organisation and all opinions were welcomed. The editorial team he leads has always made sure my articles were kosher or halal if one is so inclined by fact checking and more rarely, editing out certain words or phrases that were indeed (even to me) crossing the line.
Over the years not only have I been critical of Umno but also the opposition, the way Islam is practiced in this country, the Indian community, the Chinese community, the Malay community, Bersih. ABU (Anything but Umno), Malaysiakini and even myself. Throughout all this, Steven Gan has always been supportive even going so far as allowing me to slay sacred journalistic cows - in Malaysia at least - by criticising other writers and opinion pieces under the Malaysiakini banner.
No doubt some writers have had negative things to say about Malaysiakini and Steven Gan and these folks may not necessarily be supportive of the Umno regime, but all this as Steven often says is part of how the system works.
A losing battle
This may not seem important to people, but Steven Gan has always encouraged contrary opinions and attempted to highlight news that many organisations even the so-called alternative press, most often chooses to ignore.
This is trickier that it sounds. With daily Umno provocations, the idea that there are marginalised groups out there ignored by mainstream political parties and they warrant a spotlight too is an extremely difficult position to advocate when you are attacked from all sides for either not doing enough to report the news (that people want to read) or doing too much to “destabilise” the country.
At this moment, the Orang Asli in Gua Musang are fighting a losing battle, Maria Chin Abdullah the chairperson of Bersih and electoral watchdog’s manager Mandeep Singh have been arrested and apparently, there are hungry red-shirts waiting to attack their fellow citizens for exercising their democratic right to free speech and assembly.
These are all important news stories but we would not have these stories if the regime continues attacking the journalists who report them. We would not have these stories if journalists decide that it would be better to report news that the Umno state does not consider offensive, obscene or false.
Some years back, I wrote that my main gripe was the ‘alternative media' is slowly becoming one big echo chamber (if it's not already), and any real objective analysis gets in the way of the business of reinforcing bias.
I wrote the following earlier this month when the whole George Soros issue cropped up again:
“All this is about silencing voices that disagree with the official narratives and the actions of plutocrats and corrupt officials that are ruining this country. All this is about silencing conflict that has remained hidden beneath a veneer of civility. All this is about silencing freedom of speech and expression of the average angry Malaysian.
“This is not just about journalism. This is about silencing us.”
Some folks will argue that Malaysiakini has an agenda. These same people will say that there is very little difference between propaganda organs of the Umno state and the opposition. They say this in attempt to discredit Steven Gan and Malaysiakini.
I say there is a great difference between Steven Gan and the Awang Selamats of Malaysia. Steven Gan has not lied for the Umno state and claimed that this was the function of news organisations beholden to the state. Steven Gan and Malaysiakini have not demonised a specific community for political gain. Steven Gan and Malaysiakini have not fabricated news for the profit of their political masters.
All Steven Gan did, as the editor of Malaysiakini, was to report the news. If reporting the news is considered offensive, obscene or false to this regime then we are truly in trouble. If reporting the news means reporting only what the government wants us to know, then the Umno regime should just call off elections and declare emergency rule in perpetuity.
If the Umno state wants to make Steven Gan the poster boy for what happens when you report the news, they could not have picked a more worthy candidate.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.