On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Did the media really misquote you?

BLAME the press – that’s what some squirming politicians do as they fumble after putting their foot in their mouth.

It’s an occupational hazard that journalists have to put up with.

After all, politics does not necessarily draw the most honest, righteous and noble individuals although almost all politicians would put up their hands and vouch that they possess all these values and more.

But anyone without a Machiavellian streak and a tinge of cunningness (a more polite euphemism for dishonesty) is unlikely to survive long in the job. Not even at branch level for most major parties.

Thanks to US President Donald Trump, easily one of the most unpopular persons on Earth, the words “fake news”, which he has made popular, are now being copied here by some of our own politicians or some of their spin doctors.

These words were used in a recent press statement by an Umno politician against the media although the whole thing didn’t sound like it came from him. It was just too “polished”.

Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya issued a statement which read: “In their reports and headlines, both the local and international media had given the perception that I condone rapists being allowed to marry underage victims to avoid punishment. This is inaccurate and misleading and borders on fake news.”

He went on to say that “it is regrettable that inaccurate media reports had misled the public and caused an unnecessary outcry.”

The media reports he was referring to involved his verbal fiasco while he debated the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017.

This lawmaker, perhaps to save his own skin following the storm he created, tried the age old, tested formula – deny, deny and deny. Blame and intimidate the press.

He caused the outcry and then blamed the press for causing “unnecessary outcry.” Brilliant.

Well, unfortunately for Shabudin, most people have watched the video and could clearly hear and understand what he had said.

For some reason, some of his fans decided to pick on The Star and the reporter who wrote the news item, forgetting that other news organisations, both online and print, all carried similar news.

Of course, that press statement completely omitted the fact that Shabudin spoke about how nine-year-olds who had reached puberty were ready, physically and spiritually, for marriage. To be blunt, ready for sex.

In a face-saving gesture, he also said he was “mulling” taking legal action against the media. He should really thank the media for making him an international news sensation because prior to this, most Malaysians didn’t know of his existence.

We won’t be wrong to suggest that most of us cannot remember a single sentence he uttered at the Dewan Rakyat before this.

But Shabudin has company. He isn’t the only one who has committed such a faux pax. The latest is former Selangor DAP state executive councillor Ronnie Liu.

He posted on Facebook following the open support by Selangor PKR for PAS’ Private Member’s Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act or RUU355, asking “apa ni” (what is this) and that “it is hard when there are friends like this.”

He went on to say that he expected the MCA, SUPP and MIC to bash PKR and that the DAP, Amanah and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia will be “shot.”

It is a predicament that the Selangor DAP and PKR face in the state – the relationship with PAS is strained and the Islamist party is already on the verge of severing ties with PKR now.

But the irony is that, despite the hot air, PAS continues to sit with DAP and PKR every day to run the state government.

It is business as usual. Every week, they all sit together, probably pat each other in the back, in cozy company, as they deliberate the papers at the state executive council meeting.

The crux of the news issue, however one might interpret it, is this: why is PAS still in the state government and why did the DAP support PAS in the 2013 general election?

Liu, in his FB post, said he backed the late PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat then but not the current leader Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. But is there any difference?

Nik Aziz was committed to setting up an Islamic state and to be fair to PAS, it has consistently stated its goal, and that is the reason for its existence.

Now, Liu is upset with Selangor PKR information chief Shuhaimi Shafiei’s open support for the controversial RUU355.

Liu’s party has a big problem concerning this issue, and he’d better work on this hot potato than distract attention and again, blame the press using Trump’s favourite two words – fake news – against The Star.

The media is not his problem. PAS is, and now PKR is ready to side with PAS and they are all in the state government. No other state has this problem.

And, as what most politicians like to say, Liu is also “reserving his right to take legal action.”

He musn’t forget that the media too has the right to act against politicians who make defamatory statements against it.

Accusing the media of publishing fake news is defamatory.

One Penang journalist did just that recently by suing Lim Guan Eng for defamation over a Facebook post criticising the Penang Chief Minister.

Guang Ming Daily senior journalist Ong Beng Siang filed the suit at the Penang High Court last month, seeking damages and an injunction to stop the Penang lawmaker from making further defamatory statements against him.

Once, a senior Barisan Nasional leader accused me of “deliberately misquoting” him but when I challenged him by playing back the recording of what he said, he put on a straight face and replied: “I may have said it but I didn’t mean it.”

We also know of a political leader, who eloquently champions the freedom of speech and press freedom but openly uses his assistants to bully and intimidate reporters, particularly those from the Chinese media.

He is fond of putting reporters down at press conferences, seemingly irritated by any form of questions that challenge his authority. Yet, he made a career of criticising the Federal Government.

Well, if we were to believe Trump, let’s not forget that prior to the US elections, he repeatedly said that the “system is rigged” and that he was preparing to face the possibility of being defeated and he could not state if he would accept the results.

Well, that rigged system had him win the elections and of course, he accepted it. We have heard similar claims of cheating in the Malaysian elections too but all the accusers have happily kept their seats and states, in some cases.

It’s a love-hate relationship between the media and politicians. Both need each other but sometimes, they loath each other.

Well, the silly season has started and the press is trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire.