Monday, May 31, 2004

The engine overhaul at my own server is now completed.

You may view Screenshots with its interactive commentaries from readers at from now.

Sorry for the inconvenience inthe last 5 days or so.

NST loses more readers

The latest report from Nielsen Media Research (NMR) indicates that the No. 3 English Paper (daily circulation 135,000) has lost another 13.3% in daily readership since Kalimullah Masheerul Hassan took over as the Group EIC on January 1.

Significantly, the pull of gavity was at work. The 2004 general election and the high-octane spin-doctoring around the announcement of Pak Lah's Cabinet did not help boost readership for the Big-Mind Big Man's paper.

According to NMR report, which monitors daily media consumption of all adults aged 15+, the average issue readership of the New Straits Times has dropped to 278,000 in Q1, 2004 from 321,00 in Q4m 2003.

In comparison, The Star has dropped from 990,000 in Q4, 2003 to 960,000 in Q1, 2004, while theSun has dropped from 173,000 to 155,000.

It is noticed that the NST and theSun are the only two English papers which registered a 2-digit decline in daily readership during the period, at 13.3% and 10.4%, respectively.

In comparison, all Chinese press - except Nanyang Siang Pau - and Tamil newspapers have registered improved daily readership across the board.

Another newspaper from the NSTP stable, Beritan Harian, has dropped 2.1% from 1,402,00 to 1,373,000 in the Q-to-Q comparison of the daily readership, while Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia dropped 2.5% from 1,448,000 to 1,412,000.

One consolation for NSTP is that its English and Malay tabloids, known for their sensationalised and saucy frontpages, have seen upward trends in readership.

The Malay Mail, which is now distributed beyond the Klang Valley, improved by 9.6% in daily readership, increasing from 114,000 in Q4, 2003 to 125,000 in Q1, 2004. Harian Metro improved by 7.7%, shooting from 982,000 to 1,058,000 during the same period.

One wonders was it because of the trials of Canny Ong and Noritta's murders that helped boost the tabloids' readership?

The Audit Bureau of Circulation Malaysia (ABCM) has not released the 2003 statistics at this point in time, so I only have the 2002 figures with me, which had been blogged some time back.

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Pak Lah: 'Don't deprive the 128 top-scorers'

We are still staring at the plight of 128 students who obtained straight A's in their examination but have failed to get admission to pursue medicine in public universities.

Was PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi shown - the rakyat weren't - the list of 128 top-scorers and their Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) details? Were the affected students from STPM or matriculation examination?

I must say the government has not been transparent on this aspect as officials at the Ministry of Higher Education have been conspiciously silent on this part of the facts.

Nevertheless, Abdullah said, via a Bernama dispatch from Shanghai, that he has "some ideas" on resolving the case of affected 128 students.

"I think we should support them and not deprive them of the opportunity to continue their education...that is very important," he said.

However, he said he would discuss the matter with the Cabinet tomorrow before making an announcement.

Meanwhile, deputy minister of Internal Security Noh Omar wanted all parties to stop debating the issue in the open, according top Utusan Online. He said such debates are very sensitive and may disrupt peace in the country as theyhad triggered racial sentiment among the people.

However, Awang Selamat outright disagrees with Noh, saying that Noh's decision is unwise.

Awang says the issue of national peace being disrupted does not arise. as Malaysians are now mature enough to handle such issues in a responsible manner. Most importantly, Awang says, people's grouses and suggestions should be heard in order to find a solution to the problem.

Utusan Malaysia's leader turns milder in tone compared to Awang Selamat's commentary on Sunday.

In tandem with Abdullah's imperative that he would bring this up at the Cabinet tomorrow, NST comes out with a last-minute leader (not available on online version as I blogged this) titled: Points of contention, which talks very much along racial divides of meritocracy. Excerpts:

Last year, a student needed a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.88 to study medicine at oneof the public universities. This year, the bar is higher. The maximum CGPA of 4.0 is needed. A total of 907 applicants have that, but there are 779 places. So, 128 failed to make the cut, and so did the rest of the applicants with CGPAs of 3.99 and below. The 128 are naturally dissatisfied and their parents disappointed. They have been joined by politicians, activists and the general public who are not only sympathetic to their plight, but have kicked up a storm to give them a chance to fulfil their dream of becoming doctors. Their prospects have become brighter since the Prime Minister has said the Government is looking into ways to help them

The No. 3 Paper continues to fill the subsequent paragraphs of the leader with rationales skewed towards Bumiputera-ism and alleged racial discrimination, which the paper says, is doing "great injustice to Bumiputera students". More excerpts:
Bumiputera students have been saddled for far too long withthe prejudice that they do not go to university on merit. It is three years since the quotadriven affirmative-action university admission policy was dismantled. But it seems that the dissatisfaction, resentment and culture of victimhood is created still colour the perceptions of many Malaysians.

It, however, give an aesthetic makeover to the Op-Ed piece by saying that, "It is time we became colur-blinded and looked at education in a neutral light."

BN PARTY HELPING OUT. Despite the racial posturing in Utusan Malaysia and the NST, MCA has asked the 128 top-scorers to file their appeals and not to give up in despair.

Yesterday, the MCA headquarters were swarmed with over 400 frustrated students who voiced their grievances and intent to appeal for places in the public universities.

According to MCA Youth chief Ong Tee Keat, mostof the students were not offered the courses they applied fro or were offered courses which were incompatible with their studies.

He said theparty would go all out to help the students in their appeals because "we don't want another round of brain-drain to happen".

On the other hand, health minister Dr Chua Soi Lek said the government loses on average one doctor EVERYDAY as the number of doctors who retire or quit to join the private sector is about 300 per year. As a result, only about 700 doctors are left in government service at the end of each year though the six IPTA and six IPTS that offer medical programmes can train about 1,000 doctors annually.

Dr Chua said Malaysia still needs 3,300 doctors, 700 specialists, 600 pharmacies, 500 dentists and 5,000 nurses in order to achieve the 1:650 doctor-patient ratio by 2015.

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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Prayers from Beijing: 'Big Brothers and Mainstream Press unite!'

Big Brothers of mainstream papers unite!

That's the holy grail a Big Businessmen's Journalist (borrowing from Pak Kadir's stereotyping) discovered while in the land of ex-communists. Was it because of Das Kapital? I'm not sure.

Significantly, with the revelation last Sunday, Star's Wong Sulong, NexNews' Ho Kay Tat and P. Gunasegaram must be seen in the same light - and shadow - of the Big-Mind Big-Man from now on, no matter it's aligned with or against their wish, unilaterally or otherwise. The brotherhood is already cast in print (daily circulation: 135,000).

I do not attempt to quote things out of context, but I do derive satisfaction that bloggers get mentioned - ahead of bereaucrats and politicians, and in that particular order - in two of three snippets in a half broadsheet-page of a Sunday column, apparently dispatched from Beijing:

A changing China

What has changed in China, you would wonder. No access to information? God, aren’t we lucky in Malaysia that anyone can slander another on a blog, websites and through the SMS and poison-pen letters? [...]

The greater freedoms would come. It would be an irreversible process. There would be a day, not too far in the future, when China would have the freedoms that Malaysians have taken for granted.

Thankless job

In five months back as a journalist, I again begin to see how thankless a job it really is. Fulfilling at times, satisfying at others, exciting, but, still thankless.

Everyone is an expert. There are journalist wannabes who attack editors like The Star’s Wong Sulong and people like me, expecting us to guide editorial policy the way they think it should be.

Never mind that they have never been journalists for even a day but they have opinions on everything.

When Sulong, Ho Kay Tat, Gunasegaram of The Edge and I don’t do what they do, we are libelled and slandered. Even racial slurs are thrown at us.

And these "good men" talk about Press freedom? God forbid they ever have a say in decision-making or head a newspaper.

Then there are the petty bureaucrats who see an agenda behind any article that expresses an alternative view. Or politicians ....aaah, politicians, opposition or government alike. [...]

An editor at another newspaper who has been on the receiving end of some venomous attacks says that if we are nice to the "bloggers" and acknowledge their "power", they will lay off us.

But senior editors at other newpapers and I do not believe in being intimidated by such petty slander and racial slurs, painful though it may be.

We have discussed this many times and we see great hope and expectation in Abdullah’s openness and commitment to greater freedoms.

The Malaysian Press has it much easier now than in recent memory, and the atmosphere is, to be unimaginative in my choice of words, great.

And just like China, I believe we will see greater changes in the area of Press freedom in the months and years to come.

When bureaucrats and politicians see criticism in the light it is made, when journalists and bloggers do not pursue personal agendas, and when editors do not get labelled anarchists for doing the right thing, Malaysia would have taken that extra step. Amen.

I remember well that peasants and literati - journalists included - were not entitled to even an iota of opinion under Mao Zedung. That was also about the time some 30 years ago when Razak first stepped foot at Tien-An-Men.

It's hilariously amazing to note how, 30 years after Malaysia-China established bilateral diplomatic relationship, an archaic mind in modern suits has been annointed to lead Abdullah's spin - now by publicly taking along senior editors from other newspapers down the commune path.

Big Brothers of mainstream press unite?

Let him shout. But bloggers can and should do NONE of this! It's pure-play Maoism and Stalinism in the eyes of my generation of information consumers - thinking allowed, thinking aloud.

Haven't we seen enough tragedies under the tyranny of media blackouts?

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'Brain-deaditis' sabotaging meritocracy system

To the pundits, 128 is a very 'ong' number that is perceived to promise prosperity and good fortune.

But not for our 128 top-scoring students in STPM and matriculation examinations. They have been denied admissions into medical courses at our public universities (IPTA) under the meritocracy system. All 128 of them.

In fact, the best student in last year's pre-U examination was denied a place in the university of his choice for his medical course.

No, they are denied entry not because they are brain-dead.

It's officials at the Ministry of Higher Education, who prepared their placing, who appear to be suffering from 'brain-deaditis' (sorry, I coined this term for want of better ones). Because, the bureaucrats are now blaming the computer for making the blunders.

Last Friday, Screenshots faulted the NST, the Malay and Chinese for putting racial colours on the issue and forewarned that the university admission-by-meritocracy issue may be made controversial.

It is fast becoming a racial issue, as if certain media is reading from a prepared script. Yesterday, the DPM was quick to raise the alarm bell.

The crux of the issue is this: While we talk so much about stopping 'Brain-Drain' and to institute a 'Brain-Gain' effect to help Malaysia charge forward as a developed country by 2020, where human capital reigns supreme, how much commitment do we have as a country to develop our budding local talents and retain them?

And this is what happened for this round of university admission, supposedly grounded on meritocracy and assisted by computer-aided selection. This is what has affected the aspirants for medical courses, which is but a facet of the problems, via Star Online:

The Star highlighted on Friday that the 128 STPM and matriculation students who obtained the maximum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 4.0 had failed to get a place in medicine, their first choice. Only 779 out of 907 top students who applied were successful.

On hindsights, we are enlightened with three types of reaction coming out of this: ( 1 ) From the mainstream media ( 2 ) From the political parties ( 3 ) From the budding talents whose future the braind ead dictates.

1. From the mainstream media.

As usual, Awang Selamat came out with a Sunday commentary for the propaganda machienry to gain a grounding.

This is how Awang dispensed with his verdict:
Masalah tentu akan timbul jika sistem meritokrasi terus dipersoalkan. Hakikatnya, terdapat juga pelajar Melayu yang layak tetapi tidak mendapat pengajian pilihan masing-masing. Mereka juga kecewa seperti para pelajar Cina dan India.

Apa yang hendak Awang tekankan ialah permasalahan ini tidak boleh dilihat dari sudut perkauman, seolah-olah yang tercicir itu hanyalah pelajar Cina dan India. [...]

Awang tidak terkejut jika pelajar-pelajar Cina yang gagal mendapat pengajian yang mereka pilih menolak pengajian yang ditawarkan kepada mereka dan akan ke IPTS.

I expect the spin in the Malay media and the bureaucrats to sustain this posture until the issue is swept under the carpet, and to be revisited the same time next year. The Malay press simply love the messy-go-round in higher education as far as their past records can attest.

2. From the political parties.

Thus far, MCA minister Dr Chua Soi Lek, MIC minister S. Samy Vellu and Gerakan deputy minister Kerk Choo Teng have spoken up on the issue.

Generally, their grouses centred on one issue: The frustrations voiced by students who had obtained excellent results but had failed to gain entry into medical schools, and others who could not gain admission into courses or public universities of their choice.

Health Minister Dr Chua said he will propose to the Cabinet that the public universities offering medical courses increase their intake and admit the 128 top-scoring students in the STPM and matriculation examinations who had been denied admissions.

He said: "There are six public universities with the facilities to conduct the medical course. If each takes in another 20, I'm sure this (problem) can be solved." This are his rationales, from the 'Brain-Gain' point of view, as told to The Star:
He said it was good to know many young and talented students chose to pursue medicine as this would help resolve the doctor shortage in the country and for it to achieve a 1:650 doctor-patient ratio by 2020.

Dr Chua said between 900 and 1,000 medical graduates from local and foreign universities join the public service each year, but the doctor shortage in government hospitals still stood at 3,200.

This, he added, was because of the increasing demand for healthcare services in government hospitals but between 300 and 350 doctors leave the public service each year.

Dr Chua said allowing the bright students to do medicine locally would help prevent a “brain drain.”

This is, by far, the only perspective that cuts across the clutter of seeing things from the racial point of view.

Meanwhile, MIC president S. Samy Vellu has also joined the chorus of protests, saying he would take the plight of the top students to the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

DAP chief Lim Kit Siang revealed that last year's best STPM science student Koong Lin Yee, one of the 52 students who scored 5As, was denied a place for medical study at his first choice university.

(If you remember, Koong of SMK Tunku Ampuan Durah, Seremban was specially mentioned by the Malaysian Examinations Council chairman, Prof Dr Abu Hassan Othman, as the best student in the Science stream while Nuraidila Abdul Razak, of SM Victoria in Kuala Lumpur, was the top Arts student.)

Lim also cited the case of another top STPM scorer with 5As, Murrali Silvarajoo, who scored 5 straight As and obtained a CGPA of 4.0, had his application to do medicine rejected. Instead, he has been offered a place to study chemical engineering at University of Malaya, his sixth choice.

On the other hand, according to Oriental Daily News (May 31, Page A2), Gerakan's Kerk wanted officials at the Higher Education Ministry must be taken to task for allowingthe issue to recur.

"I believe there is nothing wrong with our meritocracy policy, but the anomalies lie with implementation," he said. "We made so many suggestions but the problems still persist. Looks like the officials at the Ministry of Higher Education must make the relevant reviews."

Whereas, MCA Youth Education Bureau chief Dr Wee Ka Siong cited the case of Malaysia's best student who was denied a place in the university and highlighted that there were systemic errors in the selection process.

He termed this an administrative bias of the ministry officials and, like Gerakan's Kerk, demanded an immediate correction of the mistakes.

Wee said STPM students, particularly those with straight As and not offered any of the eight choices they listed in their applications to enter public universities, should be allowed to put in additional options in their appeals.

Gerakan National Youth Chief Mah Siew Keong, commenting on the same issue, said the Higher Education Department should consider hiring foreigners to overcome the shortage of lecturers at local universities, an issue often used by the bureaucrats to justify their selection criteria. He told The Star:
"It is very sad to know that there are no places for students who scored perfect results to study medicine despite a shortage of more than 3,200 doctors at government hospitals.

"Universities in neighbouring countries are waiting to take them in and we have no place for our own students," Mah told reporters before chairing the Gerakan Youth committee meeting here yesterday.

Both MCA Youth and Parti Gerakan will deliberate on the issue this evening, respectively, before coming out with an official announcement.

3. From the budding talents whose future the brain-dead dictates.

Sorry, I have not seen Utusan Malaysia, NST or representatives from other Barisan Nasional component parties ever bothered to help articulate their views. But you have plentiful of the candidates' unhappiness in the vernacular press. I'd appreciate if anyone could update us on what is published in the Tamil press on this issue as I am handicapped in the language.

If you probe further, higher education at IPTA is very much a kin to Robinhood. If the 5As students have to give way to the mediocre ones for the top places in universities, then the only twist to 'Robinhoodism' is that you are allowed to rob the knowledge-rich to aid the knowledge-poor.

That is to say that it's all zero-sum game in our higher education where all variables like student-lecturer ratio are read as somebody's gain must be somebody's loss.

Thirdly, the same bunch of people who set Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) as the definitive criteria for university admission cannot up-keep its merits.

All this, when read together, is another brain-dead showcase of our thinking faculty.

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Mandarin 'rojak'

"Wo de sejarah fail le!"

That utterance, which means "I failed my history paper" is the type of Mandarin spoken by today's secondary students.

It's made up of three languages. Minister of Transport Chan Kong Choy terms it as 'Rojak Mandarin'.

He suggests the Malaysian Mandarin Standardisation Committee set up by the Ministry of Information look into the matter to prevent further pollution of the language. Via Oriental Daily News (May 31, Page A14).

'Bahasa Melayu rojak', raised by Dr Rais Yatim, now has a contemporary.

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