Saturday, January 18, 2003

Journalists are pillars of 4th Estate. Really?

The last one week, it's the media that made the headlines on both sides of the Causeway.

FRIDAY January 17: Malaysiakini was implicated in a police report alleging the online news portal as having published "seditious remarks that could create chaos in the country". Umno Youth information chief Azimi Daim (a son of Tun Daim?) cited a letter to Editor carried by Malaysiakini as malicious. He said the letter has likened Umno Youth to the Ku Klux Klan in America “which was ready to kill other races”. Azimi said by making false accusations as well as questioning the Malay special rights, (the article) "could instil hatred towards the government in non-Malay Malaysians".

Malaysiakini editor Steven Gan disagreed, saying the said letter did not carry any seditious remarks that could incite racial violence, but was based on a factual comparative study. He said Malaysiakini exercises a strict selective process in publishing all letters to the Editor. He also stressed Malaysiakini's policy in encouraging free and open discussion on controversial issues.

Several Malaysiakini readers responded swiftly to the report. Consumer advocate Dr Jacob George advised UMNO Youth to leave the harmless letter alone, but to focus on many other issues confronting the nation — corruption, cronyism, lack of transparency, wastage of public money, billion-ringgit scandals, questionable projects — which he thinks Umno Youth have been explicitly silent.

Meanwhile, deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung said his ministry cannot act on Malaysiakini as running Internet news portals does not require a licence under Malaysian laws. Indeed, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 Part 1, Section 3(3) supports non-censorship of the Internet. The Inspector-General of Police Norian Mai said Malaysiakini management would be called to assist police investigation on the allegations.

We will await the outcome with bated breath as the government will be culled in to put its own Cyberlaws to test.

THURSDAY, January 16: The New Straits Times (NST) carried an open letter by BERNAMA editor-in-chief Jaafar Hussein, in mincing-no-words style, criticising The Straits Times Singapore (Singapore ST) for adulterating the agency's original report.The subject matter was on that contentious piles of rocks - Batu Putih, or what Singaporeans prefer to call Pedra Branca. It's an interesting challenge for Singapore press known for its clinically-sanitised journalistic mindscape.

Most of the URLs to these reports may have been displaced or expired, so let me reconstruct the sequence of events.

January 10, Singapore ST carried a BERNAMA dispatch, headlined 'Singapore agrees to date for Pedra Branca signing' by adding two paragraphs at the end of the story, which the editors considered as essential "background information" to assist readers to understand the story well. This is despite the fact that the Batu Putih dispute has hogged the headlines for months.

Here are the added paragraphs:

'Singapore has exercised sovereignty over Pedra Branca since the 1840s, when the British colonial government built Horsburgh Lighthouse to ensure safe passage for ships.

'But in 1979, Malaysia staked a claim to the island by including it in a map of its territorial waters.'

Bernama said that the paragraphs contained 'debatable and misleading 'facts'' and they effectively distorted its original report. Jaafar called it "highly unprofessional, indeed malicious, to ascribe debatable and misleading 'facts' to our agency when the issue at hand is still in contention".

UMNO took the cue and its international affairs bureau chairman Shamsul Anwar Sulaiman called on Singapore ST to apologise to Bernama and the Malaysian government. This was prominently carried in Berita Harian Malaysia.

In response, Singapore ST Editor Han Fook Kwang said his paper had sent a reply to Bernama explaining that it was common practice for newspapers to add background material to, and even rework copy from wire agencies, to help make them more complete, accurate or clearer for their readers. He claimed that there was nothing unprofessional or unethical about this.

The NST commented in its editorial January 18 that, going by the way "intemperate reflexes" overrided "studied reflection" at the newsroom, the standards of newspapers reporting and journalistic integrity are at stake. Unfortunately, the NST didn't carry this editorial in its website.

But I do hope other scribes in Malaysia read this well.

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Thursday, January 16, 2003

More online gamers than shoppers in Malaysia

Malaysia scores point in Internet penetration.

The 2003 World Globalisation Index, compiled by the A.T Kearney/Foreign Policy Magazine, listed Malaysia as the largest Internet centre in South East Asia, with 5.7 million Internet users - a jump of 35% over last year.

Malaysia also outnumbers China, Singapore, (South) Korea, Hong Kong and India in the latest IDC survey of online community in six Asia-Pacific countries. An increasing number of our people go online, but more for gaming than shopping.

TREND #1: 29% of Malaysian net users are online gamers and only 11% are shoppers. Whereas, China has 43% online gamers and 16% online buyers, respectively. Singapore has 39% gamers and 25% shoppers, but the absolute numbers are relatively smaller by population.

TREND #2: Males continue to dominate online gaming, but females are fast catching up. Malaysia tops the list with 48% of online gamers being females, compared with Singapore (47%) and Korea (36.5%). The male-female disparity is expected to narrow further.

TREND #3: Online gaming industry will move from multiplayer games to easy-to-play family-oriented games, targetting all age-groups.

Will there be any upside to these trends? Analysts say Internet games will drive broadband penetration.

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From Google to Froogle

Google, "the planet's most popular search engine" used in since August 2000, quietly rolled out three new services December 12 last year. Using page ranking based on the Google algorithm system, (1) Google Viewer displays search results as a continuous scrolling slide show; (2) Google WebQuotes annotates the results of a search with comments from other Web sites; and (3) Froogle, a so-called online shopping service that comes without transaction or even a sufficient pricing parade. They are all at beta-testing stage, anyway.

People who surf for bargain buys of US products may find that NexTag and offer far better search capabilities. Froogle is still spartan as far as precise info is concerned. But judging from the way Google developed Google News, I think it's only a matter of time before rivalry heats up. In fact US writers are already writing about how e-merchants can benefit from Froogle search.

I did a test-drive by typing in belacan, nasi lemak, satay, roti canai and Hainanese chicken rice on Froogle. Oh my... I got results!

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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Can this elephant dance?

Steve Case's exit as the chairman of AOL Time Warner Inc. attracted interesting discussions in the US mainstream media. The focus wasn't on whether Case fell like most fallen corporate titans, often with a golden parachute worth many millions.

Now that Case has declared defeat, "WHAT SUFFERS?" they ask.

USA Today and New York Times both say innovation and online industry will take a big hit. Meanwhile, IHT says Case timed the bubble well. Salon questions if Case is a brilliant visionary or fumbling clod. San Jose Mercury News asks, if Case is going, can AOL be far behind?

In related development, CNN founder Ted Turner is said to be the main force driving Case's resignation, and caution is sent on the return of old-media execs in AOL-Time Warner.

So the question marks remain: Can the elephant really dance?

Ling Vs. Soh;
Silicon Valley vs. Wall Street

LING: "I have won all the court cases. They were all lies."

SOH: "He did not win the cases because of his innocence. The cases were struck out because of technicalities...He effectively called me a liar."

* * *

WALL STREET (EDITOR): "Why Silicon Valley wasn't producing major startups anymore - companies like Hewlett-Packard, Intel Corp., and Apple Computer?

SILICON VALLEY (VENTURE CAPITALIST*): "How come Wall Street isn't producing anything major besides scandals?"

* This VC is Stewart Alsop, a columnist with Fortune magazine.

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Sunday, January 12, 2003

AOL-Time Warner: Case closed!

AOL Time Warner Inc. chairman Steve Case will resign his post in May. His company made a "weekend decision" and announced it Sunday, days before the third anniversary of the mega merger.

Some sources said a group led by shareholders were upset by a 70% decline in the value of the company since the $106.2 billion merger was finalized in January 2001. And, typical of Corporate USA, there are also ongoing accounting scandals.

Is Case's retreat to be taken as "the defeat of the brash dot-com invaders who briefly held sway at one of America's most venerable media companies?" Industry watchers are monitoring the rub-off effect. But, one remembers that executives who ran AOL Time Warner early on - former CEO Gerald Levin, former COO Robert Pittman and former CIO J. Michael Kelly - are now no more there.

Get some clues from Case's resignation statement: "This company does not need distractions at this critical time, and given that some shareholders continue to focus their disappointment with the company's post-merger performance on me personally, I have concluded that we should take steps now to avoid the possibility of that effort hindering our ability to pull together as a team and focus fully on our businesses."

Go figure the corporate double-speak. Steve is 44, but for now the case is closed.

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A reporter's biggest misery

It has been six days since Dr Ling Liong Sik announced his second attempt to resign from the Cabinet. I was looking forward to a good read in Sunday Star's Op-Ed pages this morning. But Star's ace writers like Wong Chun Wai and Joceline Tan seem to keep mum and write something else this Sunday. In fact, to date, none of them had written anything on the "attempted" resignation of the Big Boss who wields absolute control over the paper they work for. This must be the biggest misery a journalist could have had: You are off the beat when you are supposed to be "On The Beat".

Meanwhile, other writers continue to comment on Dr Ling's latest political manoeuvres.

Saturday, NST's Shamsul Akmar, an ex-journalist from The Star, said Dr Ling's announcing his resignation twice is becoming much like someone who cried wolf. He said the next cry will definitely be ignored. Sunday, Utusan Malaysia's Awang Sulung questioned if Dr Ling is so indispensible that the world (the Cabinet and MCA) will go upside-down without him. He says what Dr Ling did is nauseating. Other commentators like MGG Pillai, James Wong Wing Onn, Ong Kian Ming also have an equal load to say.

But in time like this, there is a glaring issue about partisan reporting, and journalists who have to forgo journalistic tenets to keep their keeps. A letter to Malaysiakini editor, signed off as ex-Reporter, noticed a misreporting of the PM's statement in The Star constrasted against the audio-video tracks of TV3 News. The Star said the PM has rejected Dr Ling's second resignation. TV3 News recording said the PM has not decided - neither accepted nor rejected - the resignation. Another Malaysiakini reader questioned the virtue of journalists when they turn lapdogs.

Saturday, Bernama reported, and other press carried, another of the PM's utterance on the subject, that "he (Dr M) has not decided yet whether to accept or reject Dr Ling's resignation as Transport Minister".

MCA renegade Ong Tee Keat probably is having his yum-seng now for reading the tea-leaf differently. He said he is confused with the words 'belum' and tidak supposedly used by the newspapers to describe the PM's reply to Dr Ling's resignation letter.

May be things would clear up soon?

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