A DAP Member of Parliament as a columnist for an MCA owned paper? Are you out of your mind? Have you forgotten the numerous attacks and falsehoods written by this paper against your party? Do you need to be shown the MCA newspaper advertisements during the general election which used your comments made on a Star video interview to frighten the Chinese voters? Don’t you know that they are desperate to ‘rebrand’ themselves after the fiasco that was the GE13 coverage? Why do you want to help them in their efforts?
These questions feature prominently as I write my inaugural column for the newspaper's online section. It was not an easy decision to make. Some of my party leaders still have ongoing lawsuits against this newspaper. Many Pakatan supporters who were disgusted at the Star’s general election coverage have stopped buying the paper. I will probably get flak from some of my supporters and perhaps even party members for agreeing to write this column.
So why do it? I give three reasons.
Firstly, to test and to hopefully inch forward the boundaries of media freedom. I am a firm believer in the need for not just economic progress but also democratic progress. While I will not call Malaysia a democracy yet, we have taken clear steps towards becoming one since the 2008 general election. People are no longer afraid to speak out on the failings of the government or to blog, tweet and use facebook posts, likes and shares to voice their opinions. The younger generation no longer lives under the cloud of fear of May 13th.
The media landscape has also changed. The proliferation of various online news portals, especially in English, has increased public access to information, including news about Pakatan Rakyat. At the same time, news consumption habits are also changing, with limited growth potential in the printed press. The Star is obviously feeling competition breathing down its neck, especially in the online space. As such, it can no longer rely on biased one-sided coverage if it wants to maintain its position in the market. While the Star is not about to become Malaysiakini in terms of news coverage, it does seem to be trying to at least give Pakatan Rakyat slightly (my emphasis) more coverage. If the Star is genuine in wanting to give more space to contending voices in its pages (online, in this case), then this effort should be encouraged as part of a larger process to broaden media freedom. I am but doing my small part.
Secondly, I am not the only ‘alternative’ voice who has been offered space by the Star. New (and newish) columnists such as Fahmi Fadzil - political secretary to Nurul Izzah, the MP for Lembah Pantai -, Wan Saiful Wan Jan – CEO of IDEAS – and Syahredzan Johan – Chairpersons of the National Young Lawyers Committee in the Bar Council - are people whose opinions I respect and whom I admire as individuals. We are joining the more ‘seasoned’ columnists, some of whom have consistently voiced out opinions which are critical of the powers that be – Azmi Sharom and Marina Mahathir come to mind. Having different columnists voice out their opinions on a variety of issues is a healthy development in the media landscape. I hope that my column will complement the other columnists by adding another perspective on issues of national and local importance.
Thirdly, I hope to use this column to directly respond to issues that have been raised in mainstream media that does not give balanced coverage to Pakatan Rakyat. This would include, for example, key events in the parliament, news coverage of party elections including the upcoming DAP elections as well as government scandals and wrongdoing. This would also include rebuttals of accusations and attacks against Pakatan Rakyat.
I see this as a small social science experiment in media freedom. Only time will tell if it will work out positively for all the stakeholders involved. And there’s no better time to try to push boundaries than when we celebrate our 56th year of liberation from our colonial masters.
The push for liberation must continue especially in the arena of media freedom and God willing, we will make slow but sure progress.
The views expressed are entirely the writer's own