Dean Johns (Malaysiakini)
Nov 14, 07
The official colour at last Saturday’s rally by the Coalition for Clean and Fair elections may have been yellow, but it looked more like gold to me.
It was a shining example by Bersih and the bloggers of the kind of mettle Malaysians need if ever they’re to rid themselves of the grey, leaden burden of Barisan Nasional (BN).
But the day sure didn’t look promising at first. Hunched over this keyboard in Sydney, I was feeling somewhat blue at the possibility that the police might succeed in preventing the rally. And even more depressed by the fact that Malaysiakini appeared to be blacked-out by heavy traffic or hackers or both.
But then suddenly I saw an email from my old mate Sham Hyder that gave me a ray of hope: “Some of our readers have been ‘nominated’ to post comments beginning from lunchtime Saturday, 10 November 2007, about events and happenings at the Dataran Merdeka gathering.
“They will receive feedback from some of those attending the gathering and will post this feedback they receive in the comments section. The network of those on the ground and those at home in front of their PCs has already been established.
“Please refrain from using this page to chit-chat or debate other issues not related to the gathering. This page is specifically for reporting about what is happening at Dataran Merdeka […].”
That was my green light to start surfing what was at first a trickle, then a stream and finally a full-on flood of eyewitness reports, on-the-spot images, YouTube news footage and instant summaries that so vividly transported me to KL that I almost felt drenched by the downpour and chemical spray and choked by the teargas myself.
But what really brought a tear to my eye was the sheer admiration I felt for the courage of the untold thousands of Malaysians who had been moved to brave the government’s threats, obstacles and aggression, and the dedication of the cyber-community in getting the story out.
This was a golden opportunity to show the government in its true BN colours, and it succeeded brilliantly, thanks in no small part to the unprovoked attack by riot police on a peaceful crowd near Masjid Jamek right on cue for filming by an Al-Jazeera news crew.
The resultant item on air was surely one of the high points of the day, featuring an interview with Jeff Ooi (left) and Malaysia’s notoriously inept and uninformative information minister Zainuddin ‘Zam’ Maidin (right).
Jeff came across with his customary eloquence, though since he’s a politician as well as a blogger these days. Al-Jazeera should have known better than to mis-identify him on-screen as an “independent journalist”.
That unfortunate glitch paled to relative insignificance, however, in light of Zainuddin’s frantic, incoherent rantings in a phone interview aired over footage of the rioting riot police, claiming that Malaysia isn’t a Pakistan or a Myanmar, as it has held elections on time every five years.
What Zam omitted to concede, of course, was that the whole point of the rally was to protest that these “contests” are marred by outrageous gerrymandering, stacked electoral rolls, flagrantly illegal levels of coalition-party campaign spending and total denial of media coverage to opposition candidates, not to mention outright intimidation and wholesale bribery of voters.
Whether the Agong agrees that there’s a problem with the government’s miserable misrule of the nation, or considers that he can play a constitutional role in alleviating the peoples’ resultant plight, is thus far anybody’s guess. But at least the leaders of the Bersih rally delivered a petition requesting his intervention, and there are plans to similarly petition his fellow Rulers.
Certainly BN in general and the prime minister in particular appear to be in no mood to address the serious realities of the situation. Having already demonstrated his impotence to effectively forbid the protestors from lawfully assembling, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi now claims that their actions are an attempt to politicise the Agong, thereby showing his ignorance, willful or otherwise, of the difference between party politics and national governance.
De facto law minister Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz has insulted the courage of the protestors by branding them as pondan. It is an insult that is especially offensive in light of the fact that one of these so-called wimps, blind blogger Alfred Ho, was part of the rally until his eyes hurt too much from teargas, and amputee Amri from Shah Alam walked the walk on crutches.
Boycott traditional media
But as predictably goblok as Nazri’s reaction has been, surely the grossest insult to Alfred, Amri and the countless other Malaysians of all races, creeds, genders and ages who rallied to the cause last Saturday has been delivered by those tireless champions of democracy, the Malaysian media.
Compared with the solid-gold performance of the marchers, bloggers and online journalists, the managements and reporters of the mainstream media have once again shown themselves in their true untrue colours.
They deliberately downplayed the numbers of people involved in the rally, failed to print or air any pictures of the event, and spun the glaring government lie that massive traffic jams in KL were caused by the protestors, not the police roadblocks put up to thwart them.
There has been a lot of talk in the past about boycotting newspapers and TV and radio stations, and it’s time to translate these threats into action. It shouldn’t be hard to do without them.
The free-to-air radio and television stations are unbearable anyway. And even if they told the truth, the newspapers are nothing but trash. An observation that also holds true for Bernama, a news agency so bent it should be re-named Bernana.
Most crucially, however, in favour of a boycott, is that the profits on advertising and sales go to into the pockets of members and cronies of BN.
The coalition is so corrupt and self-serving that it’s too yellow to face free and fair elections, and cares about nothing but the colour of your money.
Dean Johns (Malaysiakini)