Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lee Kuan Yew's comments about Malaysia

Minister-Mentor (what ever than means) LKY of Singapore recently criticized Malaysia over racial issues, while musing about how a coup might be required in Singapore if the opposition ever won the elections there.

Perhaps Lee Kuan Yew is attempting to divert attention from the $2 billion US dollars his daughter-in-law has squandered of Singapore tax-payer money in Thailand?

Seriously though, his message has been the same for more than 40 years. Some young Chinese Malaysians believe that Malaysia would be a more prosperous place if Lee's ideas had been accepted all those years ago. The older, wiser heads know that you can't run a large sophisticated nation such as Malaysia in the way Lee's family business (Singapore) is run, and his policies doing nothing to alleviate ethnic disparities in wealth - largely but not entirely the result of colonial legacies - would have led to disharmony and possibly bloodshed.

Having said all this, none of this excuses the actions of irresponsible Malay politicians (such as some of those in UMNO youth) who pretend that there is any other realistic future for Malaysia in a China-centric region than a true meritocracy, not like Singapore but a genuinely democratic nation where people are assisted based on need and not on race.

In the meantime, Lee should shut up and concentrate on improving human rights and social justice in his own kingdom (and no, that is not a typo).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Playing fast and loose with democracy: The 2006 Queensland Election & the media

I have just returned from having voted in the Queensland State Election. For those who don't know, voting is compulsory in Australia. Those who advocate this claim that it is a responsibility of citizens to participate in their democracy by turning up and voting. Unfortunately, precious little is said about the need to first be informed before doing so, or the responsibility of the media to assist people to become informed.

The media has an important role to play in democratic societies. They are supposed to provide citizens with the necessary information to make an informed choice between the candidates. Not to do so limits the average citizen to the partisan and trivial information presented in 30 second television commercials, most of which focus on belittling the opposition and trotting out slogans rather than meaningful presentation of policies. I know - I have been involved in the construction of these commercials and know that the most effective are those which are short on detail but big on slogans and trivial caricatures of the key players.

Unfortunately, the media in Queensland - with the exception of blogs and the state-run ABC - have been utterly negligent in their coverage of this election campaign. The commercial networks have barely covered the election in the last week, being obsessed with the death of 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin, a remarkable man who hitherto was largely as ignored in this country as he was famous overseas. Yet his death initiated a media-fed outpouring of communal grief that dominated every major news broadcast. On virtually every night this week, election news was relegated to a few snippets after the first ad break, which all programmers know is where you put the news nobody gives a damn about. Although I felt sorry for Irwin's family and what is really their personal tragedy, I feel more sorry for the people of Queensland whose media decided that intense coverage of a celebrity death would rate much higher than informing people so they credibly choose who will make decisions for the next three years that will impact all their lives, such as whether they will have hospitals to go to when they're sick, how much tax they will pay and whether they will have a government which stands up for their rights as workers.

Channel Nine - the highest rating news bulletin, was arguably the worst offender in pathetic election coverage. Yesterday, when they had promised to schedule the only debate held between the two leaders at 1pm, the overhang of a preliminary round in a foreign tennis tournament not even involving an Australian player was regarded as so important that the debate was not shown at the advertised time. To add insult to injury, a host of other programmes to inane to mention were considered so important that the debate was pushed back to the ridiculous time of MIDNIGHT, long after all but the most dedicated had gone to bed. As a commercial network, one understands - but doesn't condone - their obsession for ratings over any responsibility towards democracy. However, one also needs to consider that had Channel 9 not obtained the rights to this event, it may have been covered on time on the ABC. Furthermore, the Australian networks are protected from competition by Government regulation which allow them to become such lucrative cash-cows for their multi-millionaire owners such as James Packer, the aristocratic [what else do you call the third generation of millionaires] owner of Channel 9. If they're not prepared to act in the public interest then one questions why they should enjoy such protection.

The final straw which obliterated the election from the lead story in news broadcasts and the front page of newspapers on the election eve was the sad passing of another celebrity, racing car driver Peter Brock. While arguably understandable for a loved-sportsperson in a sports mad society, this event, which realistically is only a tragedy for Peter Brock's friends and family and doesn't effect the rest of our lives in any meaningful way, has killed off all chance of an informed public entering the polling booth today.

In some other nations, those with no interest in the polls would be free to stay home today, consoling themselves with the deaths of two celebrities who had never heard of them and would probably not acknowledge them in the street. That would be appropriate for those who don't know enough about the issues to make an informed choice. While my left of centre politics are well-known to readers of this blog, I champion the rights of all concerned citizens to exercise their democratic choice regardless of whether I agree with their preference. But forcing people who aren't informed to exercise a choice based on little real knowledge is not democracy. It is the combination of compulsory voting and an irresponsible media which conspire to make the exercise of democracy in Queensland today a complete farce.