Hornbill Unleashed

November 6, 2009

Umno-haters’ and Barisan-baiters’ Club

By Pak Bui

create-new-blog-commoncraft-0The explosion of political blogs and internet news sites over the last five years has left our Ministry of Information hacks and our mainstream Malaysian TV and news editors staggering, dazed and confused.

The pent-up emotions of the Malaysian public have been suppressed for half a century under a BN mass media mafia. Now set free by greater public access to the Internet, these emotions have swept over the blogs and comments sections of internet news portals.

Any glance through my favourite sites, the usual suspects like “Hornbill Unleashed” and the various Malaysia news portals (Today, Kini, Mirror, Insider and the Nut Graph), yields a huge chunk of readers’ comments. I admit many of these are repetitive, ignorant and even bigoted, hidden behind pseudonyms. But there are some carefully considered and informative views and heartfelt appeals for justice too.

There are, also, the occasional salvoes by Umno cyber-troopers. Now and again, Umno propagandists wade in with their racist comments, particularly on Malaysia Today, aiming to convert heaven-knows-who. These half-literate cyber-troopers are, despite the “glamour” of their titles, armed only with rusting pea-shooters and water-pistols. They repeat tired Umno drivel, that only Umno can ensure Malay dominance, and that Pas is helping Chinese take over Malaysia, and so on.

blogs-animThe most apt riposte is usually delivered via a democratic vote of all the other readers. The chance to vote comments up or down means the jaded Umno racist invective is quickly buried under a mountain of downturned thumbs. RPK publishes all comments, just as Hornbill Unleashed does, as long as they are not obscene or incendiary. It makes me smile to see these comments being treated as they deserve, with this electronic coup de grace, rather than being deleted by the webmaster.

The mainstream Malaysian media have reacted predictably, by turning up their own partisan volume, trying to drown out dissent, and trying to build up their own news websites. But the Utusan, the Star and the NST are poorly equipped to fight this virtual war. The KTS mouthpiece, the Borneo Post, and the Naim organ, the Eastern Times, are even worse off, and more laughable.

These slavish newspapers have failed to compete with the appeal of the new electronic media, and certainly cannot match the higher quality of foreign news channels, like Al-Jazeera, the BBC, the Guardian newspaper, the New York Times, and the Washington Post – all of which are accessible for free.

As an example, the BBC’s coverage of the official seizure of 10,000 bibles in Bahasa Melayu in Malaysia, because they contained the word “Allah” for God, has been streets ahead of the coverage in Malaysia’s mainstream media. Lively interest has ensued in this Malaysian exercise in arbitrary power: the news story was the seventh most popular worldwide, on the BBC’s news website.

A word of warning

Yet I do find it a little discomfiting that most comments we read in Malaysian news websites and political blogs are one-sided: almost exclusively anti-establishment. This is perhaps inevitable, since those who read electronic news are likely to be better educated and less likely to swallow the BN propaganda dished out on national TV and in newsprint, than other Malaysians.

These anti-government comments are also subject to a well-known source of political bias. Members of the public who support political parties considered conservative, racist or self-serving, such as the right-wing Republicans in the US, the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, the Tories in the UK, or the PAP in Singapore (or every single self-serving BN party in Malaysia), tend to keep quiet about their allegiances in public. It seems they are embarrassed to admit to their allegiances.

Therefore, opinion polls taken before elections, for instance, tend to underestimate the support for the more conservative parties, since many respondents will say they “don’t know” or say they intend to vote for the more “progressive” left-wing party. The “silent majority” seem to stay silent in straw polls.

silent-majority-no-moreIn the same way, well-educated middle-class supporters of the BN parties in Malaysia do not appear to be very vocal during political debates on the internet, and we do not hear or read many of their comments. This is a shame, since it stymies substantive debate.

As a result, our political blogs and websites often resemble a club of like-minded punters, a sort of Umno-haters’ and Barisan-baiters’ gathering.

In praise of dissent

There have been published studies of a disturbing pattern in political blogs in the United States. There is impressive participation in political blogs there, but it is clear most readers gravitate to blogs that express only their own particular political views and opinions. In short, it seems readers like views that agree with their own, and enjoy having their opinions validated and their prejudices reinforced.

Americans tune in to some extremely offensive, racist and sexist rhetoric on Talk Radio to stoke their prejudices. One example is the Savage Nation, the third most popular Talk Radio show in the States. Its radio talk host Michael Alan Weiner was banned from traveling to the United Kingdom because he “fostered extremism”.

This pattern of homing in on blogs, radio shows and TV programmes that reflect the political pundit’s own views is very much apparent in Malaysia, too.

But I would argue that there is good reason to read other sources of news and comment, including the NST, the Star and even the hapless Borneo Post. More wide-ranging surfing for news and views is important, if only to hear dissenting points of view, even if they are often hard to stomach.

Dissent is the source of all debate and, therefore, of better understanding of any given political issue. No dissent, no progress.

So the next time you switch on your laptop or desktop, pause for a moment, and ask yourself: must I read only websites and blogs whose views tally with my own? Am I just another member of an anti-establishment club?

13 Comments »

  1. To be fair, we should read both mainstream and alternative media 🙂

    Comment by Lavender — January 19, 2010 @ 11:08 PM | Reply

  2. so where is the real raw unfiltered holy unbiased truth??this thing happens everywhere..like letterman vs rush limbaugh

    Comment by orang marang — November 13, 2009 @ 8:45 AM | Reply

  3. Too much of a good thing can be dangerous. That’s why there should also be some form of self control in blogs. However it should be used to filter irrelevant rubbish and sometimes downright racist and foul language used by some bloggers rather than anything else. Go to Sarawak Talk and you know what I mean. Not all of us can write well but everyone of us has some opinion so blogs are good avenue for us to express ourselves. Currently anti-establishment sentiments are aplenty because we have a stinking and corrupt government who just wouldn’t listen to us. Hopefully if we keep up the pressure, things might change for the better. And that, is the reason I blog.

    Comment by AhPoot — November 7, 2009 @ 9:05 AM | Reply

  4. Just as you said, they are half-literated and possibly not well educated. Their comments are rather frustrating to read. It is as if they didn’t get the point. Not just so-called BN Cybertroopers. I have a feeling that there are more and more of PKR Cybertroopers too.

    Comment by roxy — November 7, 2009 @ 8:27 AM | Reply

  5. How can we not turn to internet news when all the mainstream news are filled with spins and propagandas to make the govt looks good and fair? On top of that, all only feature UMNO/BN is right all the time in everything the govt does whereas the PR oppositions are all wrong all the time. So, it balanced up the overall news when net/blog-news tells the otherwise. The readers are not stupid fools that they can’t see credible news or they don’t know what to and not to swallow.

    Comment by jamos — November 7, 2009 @ 5:27 AM | Reply

  6. We need the kind of journalism that is intended to shine a spotlight on abuse of power and failure to uphold the public interest, and by so doing to give the public the information needed to produce positive change.

    Malaysians need an institution like ProPublica, http://www.propublica.org/, to extend the practice of investigative or “accountability” journalism. The institution can empower citizens by creating a database enabling anyone to review budget and federal stimulus spending down to the kampong level. Bloggers can dig into the database to produce stories on the impact of the spending in their communities. At least, with that institution, we can minimize the threat to accountability and thus to our democracy.

    Read more here http://tinyurl.com/sarawakjournalism

    Comment by Peen Keening — November 7, 2009 @ 3:38 AM | Reply

  7. It is not true that malaysia today do not delete posts they don’t like. I can assure you it is not due to technical reasons. It would seemed that they too have a scissor of their own.

    Comment by Morning Dew — November 7, 2009 @ 12:13 AM | Reply

  8. […] if the news is of any significant  and we do not take any political divide in our audie61 blog. Like our friend SKY said,’Tell them the ending of your story and fill them in instead of just giving them with a […]

    Pingback by Blogging”Fired up or Lazy” « Audie61’s Weblog — November 6, 2009 @ 10:10 PM | Reply

  9. Seriously speaking, the news from TV1,2 & 3 that are fed to us or to me for that matter contains lot propaganda, scripted to suit the power to be. Everything, almost everything that are said or shown are sickening. I serously think that the government of the day has gone nuts. Didnt they have this so-called “think-tank” body. Or rather this “think tank” body’s only thinking are to let the general masses / the public behaving like an idiot. Everything said are but correct and should be adhered to? I saw nothing about evaluative news, critical thought of the script writer.

    Thanks to the world of blogs. Now i can unleash my displeasure.

    Comment by tsunami unleashed — November 6, 2009 @ 5:22 PM | Reply

  10. I would like to read other sources of political news apart from internet blog sites , especially mainstream media, but their contents invariably make me want to puke or fly into a rage. Both conditions are bad for my well being, hence avoidance of mainstream media is a healthy practice. Umno-Barisan politicians created this situation for themselves through overindulgent use of hypocrisy and shameless spin in their controlled media. If they allow independent reporting and dissenting views, then perhaps my health may permit the occasional peek.

    Comment by clearwater — November 6, 2009 @ 5:00 PM | Reply

  11. For the past two years I’ve only RTM1, RTM2 and TV3 to watch, i.e. if I have the opportunity and time to turn on the TV. Almost every time I turn on the TV, I would be presented with either very low grade local TV series or talk show that’s designed to either drum up praise for Barisan Nasional or to belittle the Pakatan Rakyat.

    Although sometimes I feel like I want to vomit watching those shows, I do enjoy watching them as it makes me feel more superior than those pea-sized brain people who produce or host the shows.

    I came across this site which I think whose writing and strange sense of humour is worth reading; http://humanityinmotion.blogspot.com/

    Comment by Iskandar Zulbryner — November 6, 2009 @ 12:46 PM | Reply

  12. It’s hard not to be anti-establishment if you read the real news from online sources and not the filtered NST, Star and Utusan news. The hypocrisy of this govt is unbelievable. The public is treated as fools and any garbage can be pushed down their throats.

    The anti-establishment sentiment is the response of right thinking people to the BN govt’s litany of injustice, unfairness, hypocrisy, corruption, abuse of institutions and protection of wrongdoers. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Comment by KB — November 6, 2009 @ 10:05 AM | Reply

  13. There used to be some very good writers on the conservative side in America. The late William F. Buckley was a staunch defender of good English and style as well of his political programme. A few literary people are still left on the US Right. (Aha! A “found” pun.) Do we Malaysians have anybody whose writing is worth reading quite apart from his/her political stance?

    Comment by 'Nother fellow — November 6, 2009 @ 8:09 AM | Reply


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