Blam­ing the me­dia is al­ways a stupid and bank­rupt tac­tic

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - ROGER MITTON roger­mit­ton@gmail.com

LOVE is a beau­ti­ful thing, and pro­vided it’s con­sen­sual, there is noth­ing bet­ter. So it is heart­en­ing to know that if Hil­lary Clin­ton wins next week’s elec­tion, it will be the first time in his­tory that two Amer­i­can pres­i­dents have slept with each other.

Please don’t spoil that cheery ob­ser­va­tion by men­tion­ing that Bill Clin­ton slept with many other ladies aside from his spouse and even in­dulged in the revered Oval Of­fice no less.

That’s the thing about life: There’s al­ways some spoiler, or as one sour­puss aptly ob­served, ev­ery­thing that’s plea­sur­able in life tends to have a bone in it.

The bones about pres­i­dents and their ilk are in­vari­ably dis­cov­ered and foren­si­cally an­a­lysed by mem­bers of the fourth es­tate, who are al­ways pry­ing into other peo­ple’s af­fairs and caus­ing grief, of­ten fairly, of­ten not.

That is why, as the in­com­pa­ra­ble colum­nist Nancy Banks-Smith once wrote in the UK’s Guardian news­pa­per, “Jour­nal­ists, I un­der­stand, are rated only slightly above es­tate agents for trust­wor­thi­ness.”

Right now, they have caused so much grief for Mrs Clin­ton and her ri­val Don­ald Trump that it is sur­pris­ing that nei­ther of them has threat­ened to in­tro­duce a form of sharia law for ag­gres­sive reporters.

For ex­am­ple, ornery hacks who, af­ter stern warn­ings, still write shame­ful, cam­paign-stalling sto­ries could be sub­jected to hand bind­ing that would curb typ­ing and thus teach them a les­son and de­ter others.

For the non-de­terred who con­tinue to probe and dig about in the en­trails of a can­di­date’s love life and pri­vate emails, the rein­tro­duc­tion of the ou­bli­ette would bring wel­come re­lief and an end to their crass ex­posés.

Let’s be hon­est, for mod­ern-day can­di­dates like Trump and his elected coun­ter­parts like Ro­drigo Duterte in the Philip­pines, Hun Sen in Cambodia and Vladimir Putin in Rus­sia, bump­ing off crit­i­cal journos is a no-brainer.

Of course, in more civilised coun­tries like Malaysia, Myan­mar and Sin­ga­pore, the ten­dency is to merely ad­mon­ish of­fend­ing scribes, who, if they value their measly monthly stipend, will curb their crit­i­cism.

In this re­gard, and speak­ing from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, all glory-seek­ing in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists should be aware that time spent in an Asian lock-up is less pleas­ant than a se­ries of root canal pro­ce­dures.

The same may be said for the kind of typ­i­cally threat­en­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tions by po­lice of­fi­cers whose ex­ple­tive-laden lan­guage would shame the cast of one of Bri­tish film direc­tor Guy Ritchie’s cock­ney gang­ster capers.

That is how jour­nal­ists in this re­gion are usu­ally treated by of­fi­cial­dom – with barely dis­guised con­tempt and a shock­ing dis­re­gard for the nor­mal rules of a civil so­ci­ety.

Of these things, mem­bers of the pro­fes­sion know well. Like the del­i­cately worded mis­sive from on high in­form­ing them that their ser­vices are no longer re­quired or that their work visa has been re­scinded.

Or like the vis­its by se­cu­rity of­fi­cers who come a-knock­ing on one’s door on a Sun­day evening, and while de­liv­er­ing a ver­bal cease-and-de­sist or­der, take the op­por­tu­nity to search the premises with­out a war­rant.

At that stage, there is lit­tle op­tion but to flee, as I did from Malaysia and later Viet­nam, af­ter pack­ing ner­vously through the night and rac­ing to the air­port at dawn.

Doubt­less my Argo-type es­capes have not ended, but one hopes that the pow­ers that be will come to their senses and see the stu­pid­ity of their ways.

For jour­nal­ists sub­jected to this kind of mis­guided bru­tal­ity do not change. In­deed, if any­thing, they be­come more de­ter­mined to get the truth out.

That is why it is never the right thing for any pres­i­den­tial con­tender, any po­lit­i­cal leader or per­son in power to re­move a re­porter be­cause they dis­agree with what the re­porter has writ­ten.

It is a fail-fail tac­tic, and yet it seems to hap­pen across this re­gion more of­ten than in other parts of the world, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of places like North Korea, Rus­sia and Zim­babwe.

In­vari­ably, it is not be­cause the jour­nal­ist wrote some­thing wrong; no, quite the op­po­site, it is the truth that al­ways hits hard­est and against which the es­tab­lish­ment feels the only re­sponse is the chop.

That is why Clin­ton and Trump are in trou­ble. Firstly, be­cause they have trans­gressed, se­condly be­cause the me­dia re­ported their trans­gres­sions, and thirdly be­cause they can­not sack the reporters.

Dur­ing his 2014 visit to Myan­mar, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama told then-pres­i­dent U Thein Sein that jour­nal­ists can­not, and should not, be jailed sim­ply be­cause they are crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment.

“So­ci­eties that re­press jour­nal­ists ul­ti­mately op­press peo­ple as well,” said Obama. “If you want a so­ci­ety that is free and vi­brant and suc­cess­ful, part of that for­mula is the free flow of in­for­ma­tion and that re­quires a free press.”

Un­for­tu­nately, many of this re­gion’s lead­ers still do not get it and they con­tinue to lash out like wounded beasts when they read some­thing that con­tra­dicts their own views.

They for­get Ge­orge Or­well’s great credo: “If lib­erty means any­thing at all it means the right to tell peo­ple what they do not want to hear.”

What is most nau­se­at­ing is that it is not Clin­ton and Trump, nor Duterte and Hun Sen and Putin, but the sup­posed bea­cons of democ­racy who dis­ap­point us in this re­gard.

We elect them be­cause they prom­ise so much and then they let us down. They want us to stick to the of­fi­cial line and to obey them when they say do not write this or that be­cause it’s not good for the coun­try.

Non­sense. The truth never hurt any coun­try, but lies and de­cep­tion do.

The Pol­ish pro-democ­racy ac­tivist Wla­dys­law Bor­toszewski once re­ceived a medal in­scribed, “To the one who dared to be dis­obe­di­ent.” Every good jour­nal­ist wants one of those.

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