Prime Minister Najib Razak graces most of Malaysia’s front pages ahead of tomorrow’s crucial poll, asking voters to give him a new mandate to take the country forward from a bitterly contested election.
It goes without saying that the opposition faces its stiffest challenge not only from the ruling Coalition, but from Malaysia’s state-run media, which has fallen in line ahead of the Sunday poll hammering opposition claims of foul play and urging voters to stick with the script.
Malaysia’s ruling political party and its allies directly own or control all major newspapers, radio and television stations, making it difficult – or impossible – for alternative voices to be heard.
Hence voters have taken either to social media or, attended the opposition rallies which have become such a phenomenon in this election campaign.
A report on election 2013 coverage released on Friday by the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia campus and Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism found that Najib gets the lion’s share of coverage across all three main language media (English, Bahasa Malaysian and Mandarin). Oppositions candidates received more than four times as much negative coverage in the Malay media, the report found, with the Mandarin media the most even-handed in its coverage of both parties.
For balanced election coverage in Malaysia, you have to go online. The report found that blogs and online news sites managed to better balance their coverage between the opposition and the government.
But online media is heavily limited in what it can report. Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2013 found that “these media face several structural difficulties, such as being barred from attending UMNO press conferences and events, being threatened with crackdowns on online speech by the Malaysian Communication Multimedia Commission (MCMC), and suffering regular Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks and other forms of interference with their websites, such as recent ISP-level bandwidth throttling.”
The sheer weight of pro-government editorial in Malaysia is quite staggering. Najib graces the front page of today’s English daily the New Straits Times, beside a quote advising voters to “decide wisely, rationally and calmly on who can be trusted”.
Page 2 leads with an interview with Najib – ‘Have faith in BN, PM tells voters’ – followed by a BN ad on page 3. On Page 4, an interview with Najib slams the Opposition’s Democratic Action Party (DAP) for playing on racial sentiments; Page 6 is an open letter to voters from the Prime Minister.
On top of that two of the letters sent in by readers are headlined ‘Opposition’s desperate tactics’ and ‘Don’t change a proven team’.
It’s small wonder that Malaysians are one of the most prolific social media users in Asia – it has offered them a better alternative to its traditional press.