Wednesday 12 September 2012

Opposition-friendly tag unfair, say experts - Patrick Lee

Media observers say it is unfair for the ruling Barisan Nasional government to label the online media as opposition-friendly.

PETALING JAYA: Media observer groups disagreed with the sentiment that online news portals are aligned to or owned by Pakatan Rakyat.

They felt that these portals – also known as the alternative media – do not deserve this moniker.

“By design or choice, the online media raises a lot more diverse issues than the mainstream media, such as governance, accountability and so on,” said Media Defence South East Asia executive director HR Dipendra.
“By raising all of these, the current government feels that they are under attack by the online media.”

He said the ruling government’s view of online news portals as opposition-friendly might have stemmed from their coverage of Pakatan; which most traditional newspapers appear to leave out.

Even so, he added, online portals tend to be “a bit economical” about the truth, so much so that it gave the idea that they were leaning towards the opposition.

Dipendra however felt that the online media would carry on its role of questioning the government, even with a Pakatan leadership in place.

“If the government was reversed tomorrow, the online media would apply the same sort of pressure on the goverment in power. They would be compelled to question Pakatan, just as they questioned Barisan Nasional,” he said.

New era

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) general-secretary V Anbalagan had similar opinions, adding that online portals allowed for different viewpoints on issues.

“The public has the opportunity to see two sides of the coin. They can see the news in both the traditional and new media,” he told FMT.

He added that the online media had another advantage over the print media: public participation in the form of comments.

Though adding that Barisan Nasional had every right to scrutinise these portals, Anbalagan said that it was not right to slap them with the anti-government tag.

“These people (politicians) may be feeling the pinch… and unpopular or insecure, but this is a new era and everybody has to live with it, whether they are politicians or trade unions.

“When you make a statement in public, you must be prepared to be judged. You can’t run away,” he said.

At the same time, he noted that Malaysians might prefer online portals over newspapers because of government restrictions slapped on the latter.

Differing viewpoints

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director Masjaliza Hamzah said that a news agency’s independence was not so much an ownership matter but the manner in which coverage was handled.

She said it was all right for agencies to have ideological leanings, as long as they were fair in their reporting.
“If coverage is fair, given differing viewpoints, then political parties and newspapers can have [these] ideologies… but there must be editorial independence, fair coverage, right of reply and so on,” she said.

Masjaliza said that if BN forces claimed that online agencies were owned by the opposition, they needed to back this up with proof.

“You could argue about the imbalance of how the print media covers the opposition and how the online media covers BN.

“I see the online media reporting statements made by the IGP (inspector-general of police), prime minister, ministers, deputy ministers…so what is their quarrel?” she said.

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