Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sir, What is Malaysia Today?

One of my students who read my previous posting asked me about Malaysia Today. What is it all about? Who’s behind it?

I briefly explained that Malaysia Today is one of the most popular internet news portal in Malaysia. Raja Petra Kamaruddin is the one who is running it. Then he asked me about Raja Petra. I told him that Raja Petra was former Director of Free Anwar Campaign, a website which was set up for the purpose of getting local and international support for Anwar’s release. The website was closed after Anwar’s release in September 2004. Raja Petra then started Malaysia Today. But Malaysia Today gained much publicity when it became Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir’s tool to attack Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Well, in fact, Raja Petra had been attacking almost all UMNO top personalities including Dr. Mahathir himself. [The student was puzzled at this stage].

But I went on telling him that Raja Petra also has a soft spot for Islam in his writings. Then the student asked me whether he is an ulama’ - a learned and pious one? I said I’m not sure about that. But I asked him to read Raja Petra’s postings and decide for himself whether he is an ulama’ or not. I don’t like to judge people.

But my student was still curious to know more about Raja Petra and Malaysia Today. I was so sorry that I couldn’t tell him more. But I did ask him to search in Wikipedia and promised to post in my blog a news report about Malaysia Today which I keep for my own research purpose.
Here is the news report:

Malaysia Today thrives on Umno rivalry
Bede Hong
Dec 8, 06 12:06pm

Rivalrous Umno politicians are feeding political website Malaysia Today with its content, claimed the organisation’s founder Raja Petra Kamaruddin.

“We are perceived as an opposition website, despite the fact that we have been fighting the opposition. But you would be surprised, the bulk of our readers are actually from Umno. The bulk of information we get is from Umno.

“As an opposition aligned website, it’s impossible to get that information,” he said.

Raja Petra (left), who penned the infamous Khairy Chronicles that colourfully detailed the personal and political life of the country’s youngest political stalwart Khairy Jamaluddin, was speaking at a media forum organised by the Asian Institute for Development Communication (Aidcom) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

He said Malaysia Today benefited from the infighting in Umno and competition among its members.

“I mean, if you are president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, so what. How far do you go? But if you are president of Umno, you become prime minister, so everyone wants to be president of Umno. So in that sense, there is a need to topple and sabotage each other. So those in the ruling party use us (Malaysia Today) as prostitutes, if you wish.

“They give us information, because so and so wants to smear the other guy, so he can topple the other guy, so the other guy can topple the other guy. Everybody gives us information because everybody wants to topple everybody. This is how we get information,” he added.

Sex and politics

According to Raja Petra, controversies are Malaysia Today’s boon.

“Anyone in the media will tell you that only two things sell. Sex and politics! And since most politicians here are involved in sex scandals their (stories) sell even more,” he said.

He also defended Malaysia Today against critics who accuse it of publishing unverified information.

“How do you ‘quantify’ certain information when an Umno meeting or cabinet meeting is going on? One of the guys (at the meeting) sends us an SMS and says ‘you know what the prime minister just said, you better whack it on the Internet’.

“The mainstream media cannot publish (these things) so we need the alternative media. We have to trust the source, of course. After we publish it, there will be many denials. Ninety-nine percent of the time, what we have been told is true,” he said.

On the same note, Raja Petra conceded to keeping certain news items ‘cloudy but short of distortion’ in order to elicit a response from the government.

“There are times when, I won’t say we distort the news, but we keep it a bit cloudy because we want them (the government) to admit. There would be cases where we report certain things, and we leave certain things out, because we know the government would deny.

“And if we do not have the (full) evidence, we report part of the story, knowing that the government is going to give the proper story, which is actually the story we want anyway. And we just want them to admit it,” he added.

Mahathir era was freer

Raja Petra also pointed out that the alternative media received its ‘best endorsement’ from its former nemesis Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“On the eve of the Hari Raya celebrations, Mahathir said the people should not trust the mainstream media. He said to go to the Internet for the truth,” he said.

Despite being held under the Internal Security Act during the former premier’s tenure, Raja Petra claimed that the Mahathir era had more room for freedom of expression compared to the current administration under Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

“During Mahathir’s time, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah went against him, crisscrossing the length and breadth of this country with (former deputy premier) Musa Hitam (to criticise Mahathir). And Mahathir did not stop them. Tengku Razaleigh was able to rent halls and get police permits for his talks.

“That being the yardstick, Mahathir allowed criticism. You are free to speak, but you are not free after you speak.

Racial sentiments

Meanwhile, malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan, who was also one of the speakers at the forum, said the government should not blame the media for stoking up racial sentiments and contended that it was politicians themselves who were guilty of the act.

“The government has been emphasising that journalists be responsible, that there is no such thing as absolute freedom. That is increasingly becoming like an old record. It’s playing the same old tune but Malaysians have grown up.

"The people who are really fanning racial sentiments are not the reporters, they are the politicians. The people who are talking about bathing in blood, they are the politicians, not journalists. The people who are talking about using the keris, they are the politicians, not journalists,” he said.

The two-day forum, funded by ECM Libra Avenue, also saw the participation of Berita Publishing editor-in-chief Kadir A Jasin, Bangkok Post editor-in-chief Pichai Chuensuksawadi, News Straits Times executive editor Rajan Moses and political blogger Jeff Ooi.
Well, I hope this helps my student to figure out the answer to his question.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Dr. Marzuki,

    I used to enjoy RPK's writings on MT. There is even one time he sent Islamophobists dumbfounded when they say Muslims came conquering the world with violence, having a sword in the right hand and Qur'an in the left, which he refuted by saying that Muslims do not hold the Qur'an with the left hand because it is used for istinja'.

    I believe his attitude has changed as he gets carried away in bringing down the BN government. He can be too condemning at times and cease to be objective, despite claiming that he is maintaining a blog that is fair on media reporting.

    I used to participate in MT discussion especially during the anticipation period of Lina Joy's court decision. After a while, I too ceased to participate. I believe as of late, non-Malays and liberalists have been the only ones hogging the comments section of articles posted in MT. They feel that the govt have been repressing them of their rights, and much venting of anger is seen daily in their comments on whatever issue that is posted. They bash anyone who does not see eye-to-eye with them and RPK's use of vulgar words is celebrated in the course of doing so. The only educated Malays around were equally bashed, and due to "santun" characteristics of the Malays, they have shied away from further participating. The others lack the command of English language to be able to communicate their ideas well. Hence they all "merajuk dan menyepi diri".

    The only Muslim Malays left to comment in MT are the ones who are apologists, and Western educated and articulate but liberalist-thinking individuals.

    My thinking is to get more Muslim intellectuals to participate in discussions to offset this.