Actually, the Aussie reporters did Malaysians a great favour

by Mariam Mokhtar

QUICK TAKE: Two Australian journalists from ABC News, were arrested by the Sarawak police. The police did Malaysians a big favour. The journalists may rue their unpleasant horrid encounter. The detention has shown the world what it is like for ordinary Malaysians who live in a repressive regime.

The home minister cautioned people not to think of the arrest as a clampdown on media freedom. Another minister claimed that the detention was done in the interests of national security. Someone else in authority said that the reporters had breached a security cordon.

Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed also claimed that the reporters had broken immigration laws.

Who is right? The fact is that those in authority cannot even decide which law had been broken by the reporters. In reality, they were detained for asking tough questions.

The reporters were told they were going to be charged with a “criminal offence”. They know, as we do, from video footage, that there was no security cordon. Nor had there been a security breach. The men were not aggressive, as was suggested, and they asked a question, as any inquiring reporter would.

The attempt to molly-coddle Najib Razak, and stop journalists from asking embarrassing questions, has bathed him in even more negative publicity.

Anyone who studies people will recognise the character of some Malaysians. When they see a Mat Salleh, their faces light up, and they head for them, curious and wanting a chat.

Only, this time, the two Mat Sallehs in the crowd surrounding Najib, questioned him, about the millions of dollars which ended up in his personal account. Not once, but twice. A stony-faced Najib changed course as fast as he could.

As if bidden by a hidden signal, policemen suddenly surrounded the reporters. One policeman showed the world, the flip-side of Malaysian hospitality. His uncompromising, belligerence is normally associated with the people in uniform, whom activists and Opposition politicians are familiar with.

The objective of the arrest was to warn newsmen from asking tough questions. The move has backfired. Now, the whole world is focused on the question which Najib refused to answer.

The other casualties are the Special Branch personnel, who failed to protect Najib. They will probably be demoted.

The foreign journalists stumbled upon the experience, which most of us, who are in search of the truth, have to endure on a daily basis.

Anyone who dares to question the authorities, is whisked off, beaten, and almost always treated to a dose of psychological torture.

The ABC news team had lawyers and their High Commission, or embassies, to fight for them. Most people in Malaysia are not that lucky. Some are kicked out of their jobs, and their lives scrutinised, for example, by the Inland Revenue Board. Companies are shut down. Permits are withdrawn. Families are harassed. Charges are made.

The Australian reporters did Malaysians a great favour. The world had a glimpse of what it is like, to be an inquisitive Malaysian. We have to shut up, lest our lives are made even more miserable. – The Ant Daily

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