Blaming the media is always a stupid and bankrupt tactic
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.