TL;DR- Maybe power changes people, or maybe we had unrealistic expectations.
It’s a tradition in Malaysia that ministers have open houses during Hari Raya. During these open houses, they would usually invite reporters. This year, even though the ruling party has changed, this practice hasn’t. Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah and her husband Anwar Ibrahim held an open house on this year’s Hari Raya. And they invited reporters.
One reporter who attended Anwar’s open house was Susan Loone, a reporter from Malaysiakini, an online news portal published in English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. Unlike most news sources in Malaysia, Malaysiakini remains free from government regulation. And, despite its claims of being neutral, it often appeared to be more supportive of Pakatan Harapan (PH) and critical of Barisan Nasional (BN). This was especially so during the run-up to the Malaysia’s most recent General Election. And some would say that Malaysiakini contributed somewhat to PH’s victory.
So perhaps reporters from Malaysiakini can be forgiven for thinking that PH politicians should pay them more attention and give them special treatment. But apparently, that’s not what the PH politicians think. During their Hari Raya open houses, the Malaysiakini reporters seemed to be sidelined.
Only got to ask Anwar one question
For example, Ms Loone wrote in a Facebook post that the bodyguard of Wan Azizah and Anwar “was trying to bar me from asking his boss questions. He was near to physically manhandling me.” In the end, she only managed to ask Anwar one question. She added:
“I dont know what the fuss is about. Are we carrying guns? Are we suicide bombers? I wanted to blurt out as I did many years ago at the same venue “You are not even PM yet, we are already being treated badly!!”
Not even invited to Defence Minister’s open house
Ms Loone cited another example in her Facebook post.
Mat Sabu, the current defence minister, didn’t even inform, let alone invite, Malaysiakini to his Hari Raya open house. Instead, he only invited the government-linked broadcasting station and a certain portal deem to be pro-PH. Ms Loone was upset that Malaysiakini wasn’t invited because she had questions for him as defence minister. And also because she had been covering Mat Sabu for 20 years, even when he was a “nobody”:
“I covered Mat Sabu for 20 years. I would go to whatever nook or corner to give him coverage as he was a nobody then and was very much marginalised. Well now he is minister, he has probably forgotten everyone in his past who made it possible for him to be where he is today.”
Why such treatment?
What are we to make of how PH politicians treat reporters from independent news portals like Malaysiakini? There are two possibilities.
First, being in power has changed the PH politicians for the worse. They have become more arrogant, and want to shield themselves from difficult questions so that they can project a positive image of themselves. As such, as Ms Loone alleged in her Facebook post:
“It’s not even 100 days and the old BN habit of favouritism and treating the media unfairly is already taking root in this so called New Malaysian government! Former PM Najib and his gang did the same to some of us, where are they today?”
Second, the PH politicians didn’t mean for the Hari Raya open houses to be a press conference where they field questions from reporters. Instead, the PH politicians might have wanted the open houses to be occasions to interact with Malaysians, shake hands, chit chat a bit, get to know them better, carry babies, smile and take wefies.
And to be fair to all the Malaysians who turned up at the open house, the PH politicians wouldn’t be able to linger and spend too much time with any single individual. So perhaps the nature of those events just didn’t allow the PH politicians to spend too much time speaking to reporters.
Probably nothing sinister about this incident
I think the second possibility is the more likely the case. So, unlike Ms Loone, I won’t go so far as to conclude that being in power for less than 100 days has already changed the PH politicians for the worse. It’s just too early to tell.
Having said that, this incident reminds us that reporters, especially from independent online news portals, have a tough job. They often have to jostle through crowds, get shoved around, spend their weekends covering events and working on leads. And even after doing all of that, they might not get the recognition and time from the newsmakers (e.g. the government). But such online news portals like Malaysiakini, who are responsible in their reporting, are good for the society.
So let’s hope the reporters of Malaysiakini will keep up the good work, despite the challenges!
Anwar has addressed this issue yesterday:
“De facto PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim has apologised for his security personnel preventing journalists from asking him questions during a Hari Raya Open House in Permatang Pauh recently.
Recognising the work of the media, Anwar promised to study ways to loosen security protocols for such instances…”