Najib’s theatre of dreams

As speeches go, the prime minister struck all the right chords last week at the National Press Club awards night. It would have been a cracker of a speech — had it come from someone else or made in another setting. A cracker of a speech to eager-beaver young cadet reporters, a valedictory speech to journalism graduates, or even as a half-time dressing-room pep talk.

Sadly it was not a championship coach speaking, but a prime minister being undercut even as he spoke by those ostensibly on his watch. It could have been worse: it might have been made by that oaf, his deputy, or that motor-trade Johnny waiting stage right.

Sadly, too, it was aimed mainly at online irregulars whose loyalty is projected at a price, and to a working press who toil quite comfortably in newsrooms owned and operated by various limbs of the corporatist-state that the prime minister attempts vainly to steer.

Reichstag Perdana, a Potemkim theatre of dreams

But the ship of state is a ponderous rotting hulk, not a nimble kayak.

And so, as speeches go, it just…went.

I don’t know if anyone listening to his speech that night felt a sudden onset of vertigo, such are the giddy heights of the prime minister’s annual recital of the free-press creed.

Reading the NST’s abridged version the next morning, though, brought to mind my old Sixth Form English Lit master explaining what Coleridge meant by a willing “suspension of disbelief” — that state of mind required when reading poetry or fiction, of Xanadu or the second-hand thoughts of Reichstag Putrajaya.

As with Najib’s grand declarations of intent in 2009, over-reaching ambition was quite apparent in a speech that was excellent in parts, as the curate once said; therein the problem: those are the very parts that others don’t reach and won’t.

Perdana West

Too often the prime minister’s speeches have had the ring of being pitched both for the files of the National Archives and well as for the ears of Wall Street, Fleet Street, Whitehall, the Executive Building, the Champs Elysees, the Kohlesseum and other such fine hostelries for the transient and the sometimes sentient.

Real-life audiences at press nights are not composed of those driven by ambition to plant a footprint in the alley of stars; rather more mundanely, they comprise those enveloped in the machinations of petty flunkies and petty flacks whose eyes are firmly set on the next project, the next contract, and the next election. The nomenclitura, as Dato Sak AK47 calls them.

Noble thoughts and noble aims litter the prime minister’s press awards speeches: they are meant to inspire but ring hollow when delivered to a shallow audience that lives by instructions to sell the sizzle.

It is the advertising copywriter, not the journalist, whose trade requires him to sell the sizzle and not the steak — the journalist will hear no sizzle in a blancmange.

Blancmange: Going for the Obama effect

Stop the speechifying and the sham, prime minister.

You demean us when you peddle to us the principles of journalism while being a willing customer of blancmange flackery.

The fearless journalism of which you speak has been but code for your loyalists taking down challengers and talking up business opportunities on cue.

Your high regard for transparent, ethical journalism is matched only by the opacity of the ethics of the establishment press or of the sponsored pack of online hounds with several masters who pose as vibrant new media.

Make policy, not speeches.

Put in place real policies that will strengthen our institutions — as you promised to do in 2009 — and strengthen our journalism. Rein in the cretins around you, and put their feet to the fire.

And live up to your words. If you won’t believe in them, who will?


What the prime minister said about journalism last week
as reported by the NST.
The relevant bits come after a justification of the Evidence Act:

KUALA LUMPUR: THE amendment to the Evidence Act is aimed at shielding people from Internet-based crimes, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said yesterday.
  “As a government, it is our responsibility to ask, ‘How do we ensure responsible online reporting? How do we ensure that people do not become victims of intimidation and cyber bullying?
  “And also, how do we ensure that freedom coexists with respect?’
  “It was with these questions in mind that we amended the act.
  “Perhaps, it wasn’t explained enough what this meant for Web users in Malaysia, and I believe it is a modern and forward-looking piece of legislation,” he said at the National Press Club 2012 awards.
  “If we were to build a democracy that was truly responsive to the needs of all our people and not just some of them, we must empower the media, both old and new, to responsibly report what they see.
  “I have always said I want the online space to be vibrant, just as I want a traditional media that is free, transparent and fair. That is why we introduced the Printing Presses and Publications Bill to further liberalise the media.”
  Najib said one of the greatest achievements of this generation was that information could be shared across the world, with friends, families and strangers.
  “While this changing landscape is both exhilarating and liberating, with it comes new ethical questions.
  “I know that all of you here instinctively understand the responsibility to report what you see accurately, and to inform your audience without prejudice.
  “However, online users can deploy guerilla tactics to misinform, slander or harass, and can do so under the cloak of anonymity.”
  He said whatever the medium, journalism was an irreplaceable element of democracy.
  “The best journalism is bold, inquisitive and accountable; fearless in spirit and open in practice.
  “That is the kind of journalism that we wish to encourage,” he added.
  He congratulated NPC award winners and said everyone in the media industry had made the Malaysian media industry a vibrant industry that it was.
  “You conscientiously report the truth, bringing insight and illumination to the public, helping Malaysia on its path to becoming a developed nation.”

Law to protect Web users

» And what Coleridge meant by ‘suspension of disbelief’



4 thoughts on “Najib’s theatre of dreams

  1. Dear Uppercaise,
    Would love to meet you one day. Intelligence is fast becoming a rare commodity. Paying lip service to noble principles of journalism is a crying shame! Maybe the speaker know not what he speaketh.

  2. He thought that he’d do an Obama tonite to those press boys,well,well,as speech writer goes, You pay peanuts,you get Monkeys,pass the message to Rosmah.I am so very2 Sad,for me,my family,friends,countrymen,my beloved Nation,our Future but never ever for him n his cohorts,wherever they are,He has made his bed,now he has to sleep on it.oouch!!

  3. Pingback: The NYT and the NST, from top to bottom « uppercaise

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