The media in Malaysia is treading on egg-shells. When it emerged that the front page of The Star, on 27 May, had upset a small minority of Malaysians, all hell broke loose. The Star was accused of insulting Islam and disrespecting Muslims.
The Star’s front page had featured a photograph of Muslims praying. Above it, but separated by a line to demarcate the two different stories, was the headline which read “Malaysian terrorist leader”.
Anyone who can read, would have seen that these were separate news item, but for reasons known only to themselves, the detractors decided to sensationalise the issue.
As a result of this, several police reports were lodged against The Star, which is now being investigated for sedition and attempting to incite religious enmity.
Why was The Star singled out?
Oddly, both the Straits Times and Utusan Malaysia also featured similar stories on their front pages, so why was The Star singled out?
The police are investigating who was responsible for publishing the photo and headline. The Star has been rumbled and without prompting, suspended its editor-in-chief and another editor. Meanwile, the Home ministry has issued a showcause letter to The Star.
The chorus of condemnation came mostly from some political parties and Perkasa; some of them urged that The Star’s printing permit be withdrawn.
The sad thing is that the message of the headline, which is to report on Malaysians being involved in terrorist activities has been neglected. Instead, we harp on about the placement of the headline and the photo, and ignore the story about terrorist Malaysians.
This issue of the placememt of a photo beside the headline is a distraction from the real news, in that amongst us, Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise. We throw our hands up in horror that Malaysians are fighitng alongside ISIS in Syria, or in southern Philippines. We are shocked that Malay girls are willing to marry ISIS fighters, having formed romantic liasons on the web.
Malaysians would like to know how Malaysians are lured into terrorist activities, be attracted to bloodshed and be aligned to ISIS? They want the authorities to stop this scourge, yet we do little to nip extremism in the bud, even when Muslims have been found to be in the wrong.
We once had principled journalists
Few people will realise that in the 50s and 60s, Utusan Melayu, which had offices in both Malaya and Singapore, gave voice to the people, and they carried legitimate stories of public concern. Many Malay journalists and intellectuals fiercely defended Utusan’s independence, one of them was the late Said Zahari, a former editor of Utusan Melayu, who refused to bow down to the politicians.
Even fewer people realise that Said led the only strike by Utusan reporters but he was later imprisoned by the Singapore government for 27 years. This is the price he paid for refusing to compromise his principles, for refusing to bow down to government dictats, and for refusing to back off, from reporting the truth.
Today, editors and newspaper owners shudder at the slightest provocation from certain sections of the community. As the 27 May Star incident has shown, the response from nationalist and Islamic groups is usually hostile, with the oft repeated cry, that Islam is being attacked. They make every attempt to shut down these newspapers. No debate is encouraged. No discussion is entertained.
Said paid the price for refusing to sugar-coat his news.
One hopes that the nation will not, one day, pay the price for ignoring the unvarnished truth, about Malaysian terrorists in the making, in present day, muti-cultural Malaysia.