Mainstream and Alternative Media: Two Sides of the Same Coin
One favourite target of the bile spewed by alternative media writers (e.g. bloggers, etc.) in Malaysia is the established mainstream media. Rightly so, for the mainstream media is, variously, hopelessly and blatantly biased, a mouthpiece of the government (by which we of course mean the Barisan Nasional party), and an irrational emotion-stirrer, publishing stories full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
However, if you've been following the development of alternative media over the past couple of years (as I have), you might have noticed that exactly the same things (except you replace "government" with "opposition") can be said about it.
A common criticism of the mainstream media is that it consists mainly of propaganda aimed at puffing up the government and ridiculing the opposition. It seems, though, that exactly the same thing can be said about much of the alternative media — especially blogs.
I won't say Malaysiakini or Malaysia Today are overtly pro-opposition and anti-government, but their style of reporting is often clearly slanted one way. I don't expect media outlets to be neutral, but I do expect them to report the facts correctly, and on this count at least, the alternative media is often superior to the tripe put out by the mainstream.
What concerns me, though, is the emotional invectives put out by the blogosphere. Too often, Malaysian bloggers focus on criticising anything the government does, irrespective of their actual merits. Worse still, they seem to be content with opposing anything associated with the government and supporting anything associated with the opposition.
That isn't to say that the blogosphere is single-mindedly united in its political views. There are, of course, dissonant voices who lend bloggers a greater air of rationality and credibility — and don't devote themselves to immediate criticism of whatever the government does without analysing the costs and benefits of government policy.
I don't expect the alternative media — especially bloggers — to conform to my views, or to anyone's views. But I would appreciate it if they could take the effort to reason before sticking their foot in their mouths.
I'm a strong believer in the freedom of speech. I don't think it's right for the government to censor the internet, and I certainly disapprove of the government's approach towards bloggers.
At the same time, I don't feel comfortable with the majority of the blogosphere's single-minded conformity to the "pro-government and anti-opposition, come what may" point of view. People have a right to their own opinion, but I have a right to disagree with their opinion — and I find it's ridiculous for people to be spreading this black-and-white view of the world.
Fact is, few things in this world are black-and-white. It does serious and credible members of the alternative media a great disservice for people to take a full black-and-white approach towards things. Nobody benefits when such extremist views are taken, and nobody benefits when people decide to stop thinking and allow their emotions to govern themselves.
Indeed, it's the few irresponsible bloggers who have combined the toxic mix of unthinking pro-government, anti-opposition views with irresponsible statements of fact that permit the mainstream media to get away with demonising the rest of the blogosphere. The deplorable state of things is of course mainly the mainstream media's and the government's fault — but would things be so bad if the political blogger's first instinct was to stop and think, rather than to immediately pen a post criticising the latest move of the government, with a few choice profanities and racial epithets thrown in?
Much as commentators in the alternative media enjoy demonising the mainstream, at times, we're little better than them. We owe it to ourselves, and to society, to improve the quality of our discourse.