By Mariam Mokhtar
Malaysian politicians are lucky that they have not been interviewed by the former political editor of BBC Andrew Marr, or the former presenter of Newsnight, Jeremy Paxman.
They would have withered under the intense scrutiny and dogged determination of either Paxman or Marr.
Many people, not just politicians, will equivocate to avoid speaking the truth, or when they attempt to deceive others.
The two PAS politicians who disliked being questioned by an FMT reporter did not have to be rude and confrontational. Their arrogance was their mistake, and more importantly may have cost their party’s votes at future elections.
The problem in Malaysia is that politicians have been spoilt by mainstream reporters who ask tame questions.
To be fair to the reporters, political interference will mean that their bosses would have warned them not to give the politicians a hard time.
The incident between the two PAS politicians and the reporter happened on November 14.
Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad and Deputy Human Resources Minister Awang Hashim were asked for their views about the gambling ban in Kedah. Some Malaysians claimed that the rights of non-Muslims were being curtailed.
After the altercation, Idris accused the journalist of attempting to tarnish PAS’ reputation.
The reporter referred to a policy which will affect millions of people, but the minister could not differentiate between being personal and the impact of the ban on businesses, people and the community. He saw nothing wrong in bullying the reporter.
These two men were clueless about the role played by reporters. They showed no leadership qualities and were downright rude.
Ministers and representatives of the people cannot afford to be confrontational and arrogant. Their lack of exposure to challenging media situations makes them defensive.
Malaysian politicians can only handle easy questions. When reporters try to obtain straight answers to a simple question, Umno-Baru ministers either threaten reporters with jail, or ban reporters from covering an event.
Last week’s incident has shown PAS’ method of dealing with tricky media questions.
The two politicians humiliated the reporter. Idris had the cheek to claim that the reporter was trying to tarnish PAS’ reputation.
He was wrong. The minister and the deputy were doing a brilliant job by themselves.
This is the problem when the leader of Perikatan Nasional (PN) rewards those who support the coalition with a ministerial positions.
The people who are least qualified and lack basic communication skills are given an enormous responsibility. Most cannot handle this task.
They may be loyal to their leader, but they know very little about public service and accountability.
When thrust into the public glare, these newly minted ministers become arrogant and display an attitude of “Don’t you dare question me because as minister, I am always right.”
The reporter was asked if she was a Malaysian. Does her nationality have a bearing on the question?
She was asked to rephrase the question in Malay. Was Idris trying to say she was unpatriotic? Would he have been as confrontational with reporters from Australia, America, Japan or the PRC?
Would he have treated male reporters differently?
These politicians have displayed their Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) credentials.
If the men thought they were being “superior”, they have shown to the world that they were very insecure, had low self-esteem and lacked confidence. Avoiding the question was an attempt at their self-preservation.
The question posed by the reporter was important. They tried to evade her question by launching a personal attack against her. This enraged the public.
The actions of the two men have reflected badly on PAS.
First. It showed that the men had no answer for her. PAS probably gave little thought about the consequences of the action of the ban.
Second. With the ban on gambling, many outlets and businesses will be forced to close down. These companies employ both Malays and non-Malays. How will the state of Kedah address the rise in unemployment?
Third. The men’s response in broken English showed that they probably did not understand the reporter.
Fourth. How will the state deal with the rise in illegal gambling? Gambling outlets need a licence to operate and are regulated. With the ban, illegal gambling will be a nightmare to monitor.
The two men missed a golden opportunity to promote PAS.
If they had answered the reporter in Malay, the impression is that PAS politicians do understand English, but as a matter of principle, prefer to respond in Malay, the national language.
Bullying the reporter has dented PAS’ image.
The ability of the media to ask questions of our elected representatives is a hallmark of our democracy.
We also need transparency in government, but PAS has shown that it does not respect either.
Being shortsighted will have cost the party votes. Did these two men forget about the upcoming state elections in Melaka and Sarawak?
PAS politicians should have engaged their brains before opening their mouths. Idris and Awang appear to have forgotten that respect is earned.
More importantly, will these two arrogant politicians apologize to the FMT reporter, Minderjeet Kaur?
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)