Malaysia's more racialised media

Malaysia's more racialised media

A number of religious controversies in Malaysia this year have led observers to ask if Malaysians are becoming too sensitive to perceived insults to their race and religion.

At a seminar at the Institute of South-east Asian studies last month, Malaysian media experts gave their take on racialised media and its effect on freedom of expression in Malaysia.

Why is the media coverage in Malaysia mostly racialised?

Malays are the majority race, comprising about 60 per cent of the population in Malaysia. Thus the Umno-led government has to ensure that this majority ethnic group reads, listens, watches news from only one source.

The idea is that if the Umno-led government allows the Malays to accept the fact that there is an alternative (multiracial opposition party), then there is a possibility that the Malays will realise that there is no need to hold onto the party to protect their race. Hence, race-based politics will die a natural death.

That's why Umno-BN "went all out" on that theme during the last election: "If you do not vote for Umno-BN, it means the end of Malays, the end of Islam, the end of everything."

There is short-term gain for Barisan Nasional (BN) as this ensures it controls the politics of Malaysia. The long-term problem, however, is that after such an intensified racial campaign for the past 30 years or more, there are bound to be Malays who believe this propaganda as real.

Many begin to believe in racial supremacy. This is bad for a multiracial Malaysia.

Some people say that not many Malays read Utusan but ideas in Utusan have become the script for TV3 or RTM, watched by millions, and, in the long term, people start believing it.

I've seen comments on the Internet that say: "He may be corrupt, but he's Malay, so it's OK. He's still our people." That's racism. Not all Malays think like that but some do.

Which is why after the last general election, Utusan Malaysia (the official Umno paper) can come up with a headline like "Apa lagi Cina mau?" or "What more do the Chinese want?"

It's a form of demonisation, attacking the Democratic Action Party as a Chinese-only party and Chinese bogeyman, as if its only (reason for) existence is to destroy the Malays.

Mr Wan Hamidi Hamid has spent 25 years in journalism, and has worked at Berita Harian, New Straits Times, The Star and The Sun, as well as The Straits Times in Singapore. He is now editor-in-chief of Rocket Publications, the newsletter of the Democratic Action Party.

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