Astonished. Surprised. Shocked. Unexpected. A thesaurus has a spectrum of words to describe the result of the 2008 Malaysian general election. While the result delighted me, I wonder if the result would be as shocking as it was if we had freer press.

In the run-up to March 8, the function of the mainstream media was transformed from that of as informants to that of as brainwashing machines. What was a channel of reporting organic news became a propaganda machine that would rival Izvestia. Contrary to popular belief, in the Soviet Union, Pravda was not the propaganda machine many believed it was. That function was performed by Izvestia; Pravda was the medium that relayed official policies to the masses. Regardless, both were notorious for it contributions to communism in Soviet Union. There is a saying in Russian that described the lies of both newspapers: in The Truth, there is no news and in The News, there is no truth. Both Pravda and Izvestia mean the truth and the news in Russian respectively.

That saying described the Malaysian mainstream media aptly because no news and no truth were reported. From MCA-owned The Star to the UMNO-owned New Straits Times and Berita Harian, all of them were eager to shape opinion rather than committing to neutrality in reporting. This is so because they are unfree to report organic news; news had to be presented in a way that influence opinion rather than simply inform. Due to this, there was a serious disconnect between sentiment on the ground to accepted reality of those high in the establishment.

The cognitive dissonance was only reconciled at the ballot boxes. And obviously, those in the establishment whom believed their own lies were shocked to discover how far off they were from reality.

The odd thing about this explanation is that even the sources of organic news, the voters themselves, were surprised at the outcome of the election, despite strong observable undercurrent. What actually caused the differential between voters’ expectation and the actual result?

I am inclined to speculate that history matters a lot in expectation formation. After so long being used to Barisan Nasional’s wide influence in all aspects of the state, voters somehow are used to it. Considering that each time the pendulum swung such as in 1999 and 1990, it did not swing as much as many expected it to be, many would naturally ask why would 2008 be any different.

Furthermore, to some extent, the influence of the mainstream media may have convinced voters that the general sentiment was pro-Barisan Nasional.[1]

In the final analysis, I believe if the mainstream media was freer and was more readily willing to report organic news, a clear picture would have reached all voters sooner rather than later and the result that we saw on March 8 and 9 would have been less of a shock to most of us.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — Even The Economist believed it was so:

The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the ruling coalition to win, and to maintain a two-thirds or better majority in parliament. [An election in Malaysia. The Economist. March 6 2008]

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