How Wang Leehom and Malaysian politicians manipulate media

MANY are still stunned by Wang Leehom’s multiple infidelities – extramarital affairs, friends with benefits and prostitution – that were exposed by the singer-songwriter’s ex-wife Lee Jinglei, who said influential pop stars can manipulate the media to easily influence public opinion.

Unfortunately, we can draw a parallel between this incident and the powerful politicians in Malaysia who also manipulate the media to divert attention from issues that will hold them accountable.

The media’s role in maintaining Wang’s hypocritical image

Wang debuted in 1995, and has amassed thousands of fans thanks to his charms, innovative music and image as a “high-quality idol” with scant scandals – an image built by him and his company.

Wang retained his abhorrent habit for years, as well as his “family man” image, as his company would cover up and crack down on news that uncover these habits, and share news of his events and talents instead. This is amplified by the media to mislead the public, maintaining his popularity.

What can Malaysians learn from this?

News and public images presented by the media can be manipulated. This is especially so in Malaysia, where we are faced with information and media suppression. Those in power can easily exploit oppressive laws, cybertroopers and bots to create biased comments, news or portals to spread pro-government propaganda or divert attention from important issues.

Due to the abovementioned issues, there exists an unhealthy media environment for opinion formation. Media can divert from or focus on racial and religious issues created by politicians, rather than beneficial and progressive issues.

Budget 2022 and the Timah controversy occurred at the same time. However, the media and public discussions are focused on the controversy instead of the budget. Why? Talks of Timah can bring about only the change of a brand name, but the budget is about the advancement of the economy, better education, job creations, etc.

It is also worth noting that the anger over three pages of Jawi in a textbook was greater than the anger towards the release of corrupt politicians and halal meat scandal. Why are the people angrier over textbook pages than politicians squandering millions or billions of ringgit or the corruption causing Muslims to unknowingly consume meat that infringes their right to practise their beliefs?

Why is such a distorted phenomenon happening in Malaysia? Because media is manipulated.

A Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Nottingham University research team, led by Tessa Houghton, concluded in its paper titled Malaysian Media, Watchdog or Runningdog that many influential media are ‘runningdogs’ than watchdogs.

The research focused on traditional media, but its observation is also seen in social media. In light of information disorder, media has unfortunately become a political tool to further politicians’ interests.

What is the way forward?

1. We need to raise public awareness that fabricated race or religious topics, such as the Timah controversy and three pages of Jawi in a textbook, are political tools meant to distract the people from holding those in power accountable.

Do not react to such issues. Instead, direct discussions back to important issues such as economic advancement, jobs and more. The shift will naturally lead to the change of media focus. There is an urgent need for media reform.

2. An independent Malaysia Media Council (MMC) must be established as it is essential to regulate media content. It must be managed by an independent panel of experts who will regulate commercially or politically motivated content that is damaging to public discourse.

The MMC must also promote more ethical and investigative journalism. A pro-tem committee was set up by former media and communications minister Gobind Singh Deo, but the complete council establishment was stalled due to the Sheraton Move.

3. We need to pressure social media to contextualise its regulatory standards on disinformation and hate speech and improvise its advertisement policies. For example, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s controversial post titled “Muslims have the right to be angry and kill millions of French for the massacres in the past” was taken down within an hour by Twitter.

Social media is responsive to internationally recognised hate speech, but not contextualised ones such as “Chinese rich, Malay poor” as there is little or no measure to curb their spread.

In light of the proliferation of damaging content, the need for social media to review and contextualise its content moderation policies is pivotal.

4. We must abolish oppressive laws such as S233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) and Printing Press and Publication Act, which are often abused by politicians to silence dissent.

In 2015, The Edge was shut down for three months, following its reporting of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal on grounds that it was a public interest issue. Youth activists who attended the #lawan protests were also caught under the CMA. These oppressive laws must be removed to encourage investigative journalism, which keep powers in check.

5. Most importantly, start discussing media reforms, especially ones advocated by CIJ, a 20-year-old non-governmental organisation at the forefront of promoting media reforms and tackling mis- and disinformation. – December 20, 2021.

* Ng Miao Ling is Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia programme officer.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • Interesting!

    Posted 2 years ago by Caroline Ong · Reply