On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Preyed on by the foreign press

Those supposedly present, Datuk Ibrahim Ali and Tan Sri
Rahim  Thamby Chik, could not recall  such a meeting taking place.

The Straits Times quoted a Malaysian official as saying the purported leaked
document was based  on a transcript which
had been  posted for more than a month on  one of the reformasi websites.

Quoting from the document, the  Business
Times report also said  the circulation
of a national Bahasa Malaysia daily had plunged, a  falsehood perpetuaed by certain  quarters.

The fact is that almost all national newspapers recorded an increase in their
sales since September, as verified by an independent  audit body.

There are many such documents  and
letters, purportedly official, in  the
“disinformation campaign''  against the

Foreign reporters, who do not  verify
their stories either due to  complacency
or sloppiness, are  likely to fall prey
to such lies.

Those familiar with Malaysian  politics
will tell you political discussions, of all level of politicians,  take place almost nightly.

These unofficial chit-chats are  never
minuted, let alone put in formal reports. Often, there is no follow-up to matters

Our politicians often do not refute such inaccurate news reports,  preferring to dismiss them.

But the danger of such an approach is that without a denial,  these news items can sometimes  be accepted as true.

It will be better for the leaders  to put
their foot down and insist on  a
clarification or ask for their  stand to
be published.

Last week, some foreign media  took a
hostile reaction towards the  changes in
the Cabinet.

Some implied that the changes  are a
sinister ploy to strengthen  the Prime

There's nothing unusual about  the
changes. No sane leader would  appoint
rivals to key positions. It's  really
stating the obvious.

It is normal to reward loyalists, 
whether in business or in politics.

There have been suggestions  that
Malaysia should consider imposing circulation curbs on the foreign press to
counter negative reporting.

The administration cannot be  blamed if
it suspects the foreign  press of having
a hidden agenda.

For the past 18 months, foreign  reports
have been carrying quotes  and comments
from the same government critics.

The views of these academicians  and
leaders of non-governmental 
organisations are taken as gospel 

Their motives and how representative their views were had never  been questioned.

But we should not just blame the  Western
reporters with their dial a-quote methods and predictions of  riots and a collapse of the Malaysian

Even some Malaysian newsmen  working for
these foreign news  agencies sometimes go
overboard  in running down their own

A human rights activist, unheard  of
until a few months ago, has been 
upgraded to be “a leading opposition dissident'' and a politician  with a record of being rejected in  every election has been labelled as  an opposition leader.

Neither do these reporters point  out
that in multi-religious and  multi-racial
Malaysia, the political  inclination can
be very segmented.

The views of people in Kepong,  Gua
Musang and Sentul can be  very

The foreign media, for example,  must
find out why the majority of  Malaysians
are against demonstrations.

Despite criticism of the Government being authoritarian, has the  foreign media admitted that Harakah and
Rocket are sold openly although the rule insist that these  publications are only for members.

Surely, a harsh government will  not
tolerate such abuses. In fact,  no
officials from these parties  have been
hurled to court.

There is this feeling now that to  make
them more accountable and  accurate in
their reporting, the international media must bear the financial and legal
implications of  their reports.

At the same time, our ministers  and
officials must learn to make  themselves
readily available to put  their views

It might not be a good idea to  curb the
flow of information as the  same versions
of these publications also appear on the Internet.

What our leaders need to do is to  insist
their side of the story  is published, in
the form of letters to the  editors, if
they feel the need to correct a false report.

The National Economic Advisory  Council,
for example, has taken the  right step by
setting up a media  team to monitor print
reports  worldwide.

The team, which includes former 
journalists, has made it a point to 
clarify inaccurate reports.

We must accept that there will  always be
a cacophony of media  voices. We cannot
shut off all these  contradictory views
but we can insist the official views be carried 

False reporting by the foreign  media has
led to people overseas  forming wrong
conclusions about  Malaysia, as in the
case of US  Vice-President Al Gore.

It has also affected the economy.  Fewer
tourists are visiting the  country.

Reformasi taxi drivers who bad mouth the country to their passengers ought to
understand the consequences of shooting themselves  in the foot.

The Government must deal with 
contradicting views intelligently, 
with hard facts and convincing arguments.

Our ambassadors, for example,  must
cultivate the friendship and  support of
newsmen in their countries.

Even prejudiced foreign newsmen can change and be more impartial in their
reporting if they  understand the
background of a  particular

Rhetorics from opposition politicians and NGOs may be appealing  but in the end, the voice of reason  will prevail.

Moderate Malaysians, who form  the
majority, appreciate the need  for
compromise in a multi-racial and multi-religious country.

Democratic rights certainly need to be expanded in Malaysia. Even our local
media must admit  its weaknesses and take
a serious look at itself to improve its image.

We must realise political and economic stability will always be our

If the foreign press is truthful, then they must admit that the country,
Government and economy have remained intact.

As we visit our Muslim friends during the traditional Hari Raya  open house this week, we must not forget that
racial harmony still  prevails.

There have been no massive retrenchments, no sharp hikes in the  prices of food items but an improved stock
market as we go  through the

All these are not too bad for a country which has been written off  by the critics.

Only if we can see all this will we realise that there is mala fide, or  bad faith, on the part of the foreign press
in its reporting of Malaysia.