Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Journalists and Alternative Media Turns to the Gutter

It seems that the apparent sense of ‘anonymity’ offered by the Internet through its many forms of social networking has triggered an open season for gutter journalism, if it is journalism at all.

There are two facets to this cyber persona; the first is aimed at the gullible legions of fanatic near mindless users of the hard-trending social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and the likes. Secondly, to circumvent the hallowed rules of the Fourth Estate, where proper attribution and objective writing is paramount.

Above all, the one obvious face of the web-based media is guerrilla warfare. It is about hit and run, unabashed propaganda, and endless spins and counter spins at its most vicious. It is nascent alternative journalism (or citizen journalism) both sacred and profane in the still much untamed frontier of cyberspace.

Alluding to what chairman of the board of Trustees of Yayasan 1Malaysia Dr. Chandra Muzaffar wrote in The Star on July 27, this is a” new, powerful divide that confronts 1Malaysia.” He was referring to the propensity of the web media to cause worse political polarisation.

He sees the “new and powerful” divide that separates the Barisan Nasional (BN) and its supporters on one side and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat on the other.

This is, indeed, a matter of deep concern as it has gone beyond the usual loyalties commonly evident in democratic systems, where political parties vie for support from the populace.

This trend or for want of a better word, this disease, has become so contagious that it has even converted once good-standing scribes to the despicable ranks of gutter journalists, who will not think twice about penning slanderous, vile and smutty comments for their side.

One may ask, “Whither good journalism?” as the wilderness of the Internet is the new frontier of today’s journalism, despite the adamant stand of the old school of thought, which idea is still effectively being sold to the government.

The reality is whether we like it or not, the attrition posed by the new media on the mainstream newspapers is here to stay. The government can ignore this at its own risk.

The protracted development or maturing of the nation's set of cyber laws remains wanting so long as the mindset of the authorities are not in tune with the new technological landscape, that is information technology.

It will forever remain insurmountable with the inability of the likes of the police, courts or even the Malaysian Commission and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to bring offensive and delinquent acts on the Internet to book.

This lacuna in the country’s cyber laws is among the reasons why the perpetrators are brave and getting braver each day. Their acts have become so brazen that it has even affected the once good journalistic judgment of media practitioners once they unleash their persona in cyberspace.

The result is fanatical pandering to the views of only one side and totally dismissing the positives of the other. There is no more will to engage in rational and balanced discourse on national issues. There is no such thing as giving credit where credit is due. All that is needed is vicious spinning of issues.

Their spirited endeavour to spin has given rise to a culture of spouting vile, vulgar epithets and foul, filthy language. The failure to stem the strident march of this negative culture has, in turn, given the perpetrators more opportunity to cause further damage, to the extent that they have even dared to touch upon racial sentiments and issues that are taboo in Malaysia.

Never mind the impressionable youths, whose playground today is the Internet, but what about the aforementioned journalists? Where do they place intellectual and journalistic credibility in the cyber dimension?

Without credibility founded on proper attribution and research, they are all relegated to that hell hole that is gutter journalism.

As observed by Dr. Chandra, the undercurrents of this BN-Pakatan polarisation caused by too much freedom in the media are directly communal.

While BN is seen by many Chinese as Malay, there is a growing sentiment within a segment of the Malay community that despite its claimed multiracial persona, Pakatan is controlled by the DAP.

The proof of this lies in the fact that PAS has given way to the DAP by relegating its Islamic state war cry to the back burner, while PKR’s open pandering to the Chinese is evident of its ‘kowtow’ posture in deference to the DAP.

The collusion of the opposition parties in such a manner and the polarised perception in Malaysian society is caused by freedom – freedom exercised irresponsibly.

The gullibility of the public in cyberspace has even persuaded the mainstream newspapers and TV to emulate their ways, hence sacrificing objectivity and rules of the game.

To make matters worse, even the NGOs have become partisan and blinkered in their views. They are either posturing towards one party or the other, without regards to the principles upon which they are founded.

Such flagrant disregard for professionalism, level-headedness and objectivity has become attractive fodder for desperate politicians on both sides of the political divide. With that the picture is complete.

We have come to a stage where a moratorium is desperately needed to clean up our act. If we fail to do this, all the lofty slogans of transparency, credibility and integrity that have been promoted thus far by the government and the opposition pact will be meaningless.

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