By Yong Yen Nie
It doesn’t get stranger than this: In Malaysia, a Malay-language daily has yesterday warned against demonstrations as they make the country vulnerable to interference by the Jews and Israel.
In an editorial that appeared on Utusan Malaysia, a paper with links to the United Malays National Organization, it said street demonstrations could give opportunities to pro-Jewish groups to interfere in any Muslim country.
The commentary used the BERSIH rally as an example and alleged that foreign funds could have been obtained to hold the rally, thus, opening the country’s doors to interference by foreign powers.
The Malay-language daily had previously alleged that BERSIH was funded by Christian groups, which would threaten the majority Muslim population in the country.
Many readers, especially those living in the city, have taken such editorial with a pinch of salt, or more. This is because alternative sources of information are now at their fingertips, thanks to smartphone devices and the Internet.
Traditionally seen as networking modes, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter have become important information dissemination tools in recent years.
There are also a variety of devices for recording and documenting purposes that are much more accessible to consumers today than before. The influx of small digital cameras and smartphones with camera functions into the market have turned consumers into citizen journalists.
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These tools, to some extent, do make readers more discerning about the information that flashes before them. It also makes it harder for news organizations to make skewed reports, without risking some form of damage to their reputation.
Utusan Malaysia is seen to have repeatedly put itself in such compromising situations over the years. And it comes with a heavy price.
The daily has increasingly come under fire by the public for stoking racial sentiments via its editorial and headlines. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, it has suffered from a 21% drop in circulation in 2009, from 2006, indicating its waning popularity among readers.
Its financials also reveal the paper’s weakened position in the market. Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd, the media company that owns the daily, has seen its revenue decline steadily since 2006, mainly due to a drop in circulation that triggered lower advertising revenue as well.
In other words, it makes no business sense for Utusan Malaysia to be seen with negative perception.
The paper, however, seems to be unperturbed by its deteriorating businesses and dwindling readership. Neither did negative public opinion seem to have much effect on the news organization.
To the daily, what is most important is that it gets to send its messages across to its desired audience, especially those that do not have access to other sources of information.
After all, say it enough times and chances are, some people may just actually believe it to be true.
However, without visible boundaries, it becomes a game that has no rules, which can easily spiral out of control.