Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why Politics?

When I introduce myself as a journalism student, the subject inevitably veers towards politics sooner or later. I’m not sure if this is my own doing without realising it, or just the residual effect from the heightened socio-political awareness after last year’s general election. Nonetheless, people whom I have spoken to are also often quick to point out that they hate politics.

“Politicians are jerks!” I was told. Even when I acknowledged that as fact he’d just go on and say “Seriously! Just wait until you meet one”, as if I needed anymore convincing. Given the recent politicking and… much much more, their sentiments are quite understandable. Yet, we can’t afford to simply shut down and cave in, sheltering from the disgusting political intrigue. On the contrary, the more politicians treat their voters trivially, the more we should be aware of what they are up to.

Politics - as so eloquently described by my political science textbook - is all about “who gets what, and how”. When someone claims to represent your interests, it is vital that you keep him on a tight rein. If you are not controlling the agenda, someone else will (including the politician himself), and you’d better pray that he’s doing it for charity. Don’t complain when you wake up one morning and to find the road near your house is blocked and you have to use the tolled highway to get to work.

Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist of Stanford Prison infamy and author of the book Lucifer Effect: The Science of Good and Evil, said that “Power without oversight is a prescription for abuse.” While I doubt even the highest level of socio-political activism will put an end to self-serving politicians, I believe politicians will continue to ignore their public as long as they believe they can get away with it. Although every country, democracy or not, has its share of political intrigue, what we have here in Malaysia is uncommon. Hence, I believe our politicians should have a lot more eyes on their actions, and make sure they feel the heat at the polls.

Do this now, while we still have some semblance of democracy. Before it turns into a case of two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

-- Pastor Martin Niemöller

Politics is none of your business?
Think again.


PS: Politicians disgust me too.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Journalism and Public Relations

For those of you who didn’t know (that’s probably all of you), I’m taking public relations class along with journalism class this semester. The perspective this provides has been most amusing.

Journalists often have to work with PR officers for their news. In fact if the deadline is tight, that’s all they might have: materials given by the PR officer. In the age where news circulation is plummeting and one paper after another is closing down its bureaus or even the paper altogether, this is in fact often the case. There will be little chance for second opinions, never mind things like ICIJ’s (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) year-long investigation into links between tobacco companies and smuggling operations. The few journalists who managed to keep their jobs have to cover more news in less time, and working closely with PR officers, for better or worse, is just one time-saving method.

On the other hand, PR officers rely heavily on journalists to get their message out. Nothing beats getting free publicity via media coverage. Although the PR officers have less control over it (duh… its free. What did you expect?), and the editor/journalist might decline to publish it, at least media reports are deemed more credible by readers (and its free!).

Now the fun part.

Both sides regard themselves as professionals, hold high ideals, and consider their services a public service (yes, even the PR people).

While studying both disciplines however, I can’t help but sense a different view between of this sense of idealism and what the other party thinks. At best, the views are very “pragmatic”, as a means to an end. At worst, it is of mutual suspicion and veiled contempt.

The fact that investigative journalism exists and its practitioners are very highly respected speaks volumes about what journalists (and the public) think of PR officers. Dig around a little. If you find some mess and publish it, you’re public hero #1. No, that’s mostly the PR officer’s employer’s fault. Its not really their fault other than the fact that their ideals include “tell the truth” =p

On the other hand, my PR notes have sentences that read:

“…in editorials around the country, the media debated its own role in escalating the scare and subjecting business and consumers to the fear and disruption of unsubstantiated product tampering claims.”

--(On media coverage of copycat complaints during the 1993 Pepsi Syringe Scare)

“All you have to do is: know reporters deadlines; recognize how they like to be pitched; tell the truth; and always be available. Pretty simple, right?”

-- On media relations

I can’t help but think the the first quote was written with a sense of satisfaction, and the second… I’m not sure what to say of it.

I’m not sure how will I benefit from this revelation either. Maybe I’ll come to appreciate better when I actually go to work, or maybe even next morning once I get some badly needed bedtime. Nonetheless, It is an interesting observation.

Its nice to see both sides of the coin.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Crime and punishment

I was on my way to the lunch, and to buy some stationary to “modify” my keyboard a little.

It should have been a brisk walk, a short route which I had taken many many times before. Unfortunately, not this time.

At Jalan Menara Gading 1, the rows of shop houses right in front of my uni, and right between the uni and its off-campus hostel, a mob was in the process of smashed anything made of glass at a hair saloon. Their hands armed with sticks, their faces covered by a motorcycle helmet with its visor lowered. A few of the gang waited outside with their getaway motorcycles keeping watch.

I stood on the opposite side of the road with other spectators. All shaking their heads, all crossing their arms, all clucking their tongues, and all powerless. How many people? How many motorcycles? I don’t know. I was frightened.

Where’s my camera? At home. And no, not even a handphone camera would do. The trouble with cameras is that they’re too conspicuous unless I can find a well-hidden vantage point. They have lookouts don’t they? Police? They look like they’re wrapping up. No chance of getting here in time. What should I do? What should I do?

One of the mobsters gave one final whack and the shop window, and they’re on their way out.

I continued on my journey think of what I just say. Before I even take a turn into the next street, a snatch theft. I’m certainly familiar with this one. The victim was a girl, mercifully unhurt although I’m not sure if the robbery was successful. In fact I wouldn’t have seen it at all if she didn’t shriek. Someone gave chase.

I continued on.

What could I have done?

In hindsight, I should have at least went into the shop and see if anybody was hurt. I had first aid training didn’t I? Pfft… idiot. Perhaps I could at least try to commit to license plate numbers to memory, but I didn’t even attempt to move to somewhere I could see it. Pfft… coward.

Sigh… what a day. 45 mins later when I paid for my food, my hands were still trembling in fear. I wonder if the cashier noticed.

Gun lobbyist have long argued that an armed citizenry is the solution to this, because the act of calling law enforcement officers by itself is a risky act, never mind waiting for them to show up. Personally, I think this would create more problems than it would solve. Besides, crooks would always came prepared and with the element of surprise.

I feel it is unlikely for the perpetrators of what I have witnessed today would ever get caught. At least, not for today’s incident.

In a society where law enforcement is lax and the police has zero credibility in every area except crowd control and suppressing demonstrations, who can fault me for finding the idea of an armed citizenry tempting for a moment. Hope is scarce when the outlaws would always have the edge against the inlaws (pardon the pun), yet I’d hate to see it descend into the darkness called “state of nature”.

I wonder what happened behind the scenes to have inspired such violence. But more importantly I wonder:

What should I have done?

What should we do?

Nothing feels as helpless as witnessing an injustice yet powerless to do anything about it, whether bystander or victim.



Sigh… I need a hug.


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