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Reform and Journalism

Reforming the Press

It was like one of those romantic movies with the courtroom drama and the heroes and the heroines in the thick and thin of the parts and the actions. But only this one is for real.

When the popular prosecution witness buster, defence counsel Christopher Fernando asked Anwar Ibrahim who is Wan Azizah to him? He replied ' She is my beloved wife'. The courtroom almost burst into tears moved by such profound lovingness and a family relationship as it should be. You should have seen the effect on the supporters outside and the whole country. No wonder they the Anwar Ibrahim family are celebrities although not by their own making and not in the circumstances as it should be. Definitely they are not like what a newspaper attempted to insinuate with that raved American presidential couple.

Anwar Ibrahim was no ordinary witness either and his quickfire answers and witty tussles drew wonders and assured his fervent supporters that he certainly is a fighter and defender of the truth.. His composure and confidence showed. There was never any doubt about him.

However, the antagonistic press and the slanted media tried very hard from day one of his sacking from the government to continuously vilify and "crucify" him without any just cause nor valid facts. It was simply character assassination of the worst order without any sympathy nor sense of fairness. Journalism was being vulgarised.

As it has been said throughout this embarrassing episode of Malaysian political life, thinking citizens just do not believe in those media and press anymore. For they have become adverse to the barrage of the "naba fasiq" - news purveyors of evil and malice.

Suddenly the biweekly newspaper of the Islamic Party, the 'Harakah' experienced booming sales printing 6 times its usual circulation. Compared to this, mainstream newspapers saw a marked declined in sales. Even the cartoons and political parodies in Harakah seemed more popular being less party but people oriented and became the people's favourite humour. Finally, people saw the truth, that the Islamic Movement could reach out just taking that principled stand, advocating truth and justice and by publishing and printing the facts. Newspapers had only need to tell what is as it is, the truth and nothing but the truth and then you can sell. Magazines and other publications rushed to put in their front cover pictures of Anwar's family, the wife and the children to get better sales.

Other sources of information that did not just come through the grapevine were the internet and the foreign media. The internet became the first in news and gradually seemed to confirm generally whatever was conceived as virtual rumours. The infamous black eye and the goings on behind the scenes, the stories and the struggle for truth and justice was all the more real for it was confirmed as it happens. The foreign press became the victim of xenophobia and unrelenting source for an anti foreign misinformation hype. The foreign press in being not only Western but also included the Asian and ASEAN media , neighbours who did not take kindly to having democracy and justice being trampled on even by the their long-time allies. Although this flow of information is uncontainable especially in the urban environment, those nasty press and media people are being orchestrated to reach out and influence those heartland and the rural folk. These people form the bastion of support and the lifeline of the present regime.

Without the internet, no one would know of the valiant heroes of the sprouting and fledgling reform movement as is recently narrated by Sabri Zain in his brilliant writings. Even what started out in the cyber world as rumours were found to be true. Descriptions of Anwar's beatings and tribulations were already spread through the internet and the grapevine in the very first week of his Rambo styled detention. Now it is becoming clearer. Here Anwar is vindicated but at a painful price. Just as Dr Wan Azizah tirelessly pursues and travels round the nation in championing truth, justice and reform, the tainted press and the media will as always harp on the trivial and the irrelevant ( 'irrelevant', curiously becoming the most infamous legal term used in jest in coffee shop banters and casual chats). Any minute chance of obtaining bad publicity will be pounced upon. But the internet and the other alternative press people tell the world the real ups and downs, the fortunes and the tribulations of the family of reform, her friends, supporters, symphatisers and the cause. Aung Suu Kyi would definitely be proud of her.

As the Qur'an enjoins us to beware of evil people bringing false news and also to have faith that even though they may conspire but they can never defeat Allah's plan. 'La tahzan innallaha ma'ana' - Have no fear for truly Allah is with us.

Hamdan Muhammad Hassan

2 March 1999.

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[Currently, he is a Senior Civil Engineer at the University Science of Malaysia. He is involved in youth activities with the Muslim Youth Movement in Malaysia. He is also the President for the Muslim Staff Association in his university.]

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