Cut Again!! By Marina Mahathir

Hi folks, some of you may have read my column on Wednesday and may have wondered why I was going on about airport announcements. Also you may have noticed it was a bit short and ended rather abruptly.

Well, it happened again folks. I got censored. Apparently in the run-up to the elections, all of us columnists in the mainstream papers are supposed to be good and not say anything too critical of you know who. There are actually still some people who think that censorship works, as if the Internet doesn’t exist at all.

Let me say it again. I’ve been at the Star for more than 20 years and may well be one of their longest-serving columnists.  I am very grateful for that opportunity to air my views, and in all fairness, over the 20 years and more than 500 columns, I’ve been censored maybe three or four times. I still get more people coming up to me who say they read my columns than who say they read my blog. So I feel a sense of loyalty to these readers and that’s why I don’t want to stop writing for the Star. Besides everyone could do with the discipline of writing for a paper, with its deadlines and word limits.

So although I understand the pressures that the paper comes under from certain quarters and the annoying limitations it puts not just on me but my fellow columnists like Zainah Anwar, Azmi Sharom Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi and others, I will tolerate the cuts as long as I can also publish the full text on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. It just makes them look silly, right?

Besides if I suddenly sound quite different, my credibility will come into question. You’ll all start wondering what’s happened to me, or worse, who paid me off. So it behooves me to continue writing in my usual manner but then make sure you all know what’s happening if it gets cut.

Last time I complained about being censored, I got scolded for it from other bloggers. Not sure why. I don’t think I have any special privileges and therefore shouldn’t be subject to the same constraints as anyone else. But when it happens to me, or to anyone else, then I should complain or else it will mean that a) you won’t know what’s happening and b) censorship becomes the norm. All of us writing for the mainstream papers have been told to tone it down. They told us nicely and regretfully, because obviously people do buy these papers because they enjoy our columns. To tell us to change our style might mean losing readers even more. It is ridiculous, but I will keep at it, complain when it happens and then publish the full piece here. That’s the best I can do. Or else I might switch to writing about, oh I dunno, tennis?

(By the way, I can’t find Zainah’s column at the Star website at all. The link I’ve given you is the full version of her column, not the very truncated one that the Star published.)

Anyway here is my full column as submitted to help you compare with what you read in the paper:

Marina Mahathir for The Star
I was at the airport the other day waiting for a flight. As always I kept my ear out for announcements about boarding times and was surprised to find the public announcement system faint and unclear. I had thought there is no longer any such thing as less than crystal clear announcements at airports so that passengers can never find excuses for being late at the gate. Worse, in some of the airline lounges, there are no announcements at all and you have to rely on your own watch to ensure you get to your gate on time.
Which led me to think of how important the mass conveyance of messages is. If they are unclear or late, then you are likely to get the wrong message and make the wrong decision next. If the announcement about gate changes is too soft or too late, then you’re likely to find lots of very stressed people rushing from one gate to another, hoping not to miss their flights.
I suppose those who work the airport PA systems hardly ever make the wrong announcements. And I must say that those who do at our airports are usually very clear in their pronunciation so you get their messages very quickly and concisely. In some countries however, the accents can be confusing but luckily there are always alternative ways of checking the flight information.
I do wish all public announcements had the clarity of airport ones. Unfortunately other forms of mass announcements tend to be unclear and sometimes even misleading. And unlike airport announcers, sometimes the lack of clarity is actually deliberate.
Of late public announcements in this country seem to be particularly prone to obfuscation. If one only relied on them, then one is likely to get a very skewed view of the world.
Most recently there was a video on an African warlord that went viral all over the world. It called on everyone who sees it to not just pass it along but to donate to help get rid of the warlord. This is the modern form of the PA system, the internet video.
But almost as soon as it gained popularity, people started writing articles ie other forms of public announcements, that gave a more nuanced analysis of the issue involving the warlord and questioning whether the aims of the organization behind the video were truly honourable, or at best somewhat naïve.
Whichever way anyone felt about the whole campaign, the availability of these alternative perspectives allowed us to hopefully make a more intelligent assessment on whether we would support the cause or not. Being able to assess leaves the power to decide in our hands.
The internet, not being controlled by anyone, is a many-headed PA system. It can convince you of one argument or another, or it can leave you confused. But it does allow power to remain in the person who uses the internet to decide one way or the other.
But some of us live in the last century where we think that tinny old system is all we need to get the message across. While others have their ears glued to their smartphones, some still think that to have a PA system churning out news that only they want to read or watch is all that needs to be done. Surely there is no better way to lose one’s grip on reality than by only wanting news that sugarcoats everything one does, rather than the real impact of them.
There are those who treat newspapers as if they were public relations handouts, meant to tell the public how wonderful they are. These handouts do not tell you anything about the downside of the item being promoted. But the public knows a promotional flyer when they see one, and they know that one should always read the fine print.
Similarly, with broadcast news where there are people who think that when liberties are taken with descriptions of events, people are more likely to be convinced of their authenticity. This might work if there were no other media outlets and if people are generally less intelligent than assumed. Unfortunately there are, and they aren’t.
It always befuddles me why anyone would want to rule over an uneducated and uninformed people. That would be easy and without any challenges. It would be a bit like condemning Novak Djokovic, the number one tennis player in the world, to playing the 1000th ranked player all the time. Novak gets a false sense of how good he is because he never gets tested. His poor opponent remains dejected because he’s unlikely to ever win a point.
To be judged a true winner, we need an open field where all comers get to compete. Fairly.


Manosh Rey 
Let’s us inspire you to be green

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