NEW A major player in the 2008 political storm that shook the seemingly impregnable citadel to the core was the alternative media. Through this medium, the people got to know the dark side of the government. By clicking to the “other sites”, the voters soaked up information never seen in the mainstream newspapers. By browsing through the blog sites and news portals, the citizens had formed their own ideas and were ready to act. Eventually, the well-informed electorate came out in full force and cut down the arrogant rulers to size. In some states, they threw out the government to the crocodiles.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the people in that historic year was also a contest between the mainstream dailies and the alternative media. The heavyweights, backed by the full might of the state, employed all the dirty tricks they could concoct to scare the people. The government knew or refused to acknowledge that it was losing ground and used the fourth estate it largely controlled to churn up facts based on half truths and outright lies. The elite press screamed “danger” at every opportunity in an all-out campaign to discredit the opposition.
The blogs and websites were also on fire. They were great hits with visitors who flocked there to discover the truth. They could never obtain such information from the government-controlled mouthpieces. There in glaring details momentous events that the government tried to down play or cover up were reported. Pictures and stories that never saw the light of day in the major newspapers were given prominence in the alternative media. The truth was reported and the anger of the people – the judges – boiled over. They showed their displeasure at the ballot box.
But the snooty men in power did not pay much attention to the fire raging in the alternative sites at that time. They thought their own propaganda machines were more powerful and could easily chop off these new kids on the block. They thought they possessed superior firepower in the papers they held sway and believed they would truimph. They were convinced that truth was on their side. In the end, their distorted truth did not prevail. They lost, their big-gun newspapers lost, the alternative media won.
Strangely the battle of the newspapers – mainstream versus online – in 2008 seems to have been forgotten. No less than the prime minister is urging the people to trust the mainstream media. How? How can the public put their faith in the major newspapers which had become synonymous with cant and disinformation? How can the people treat government-manipulated broadsheets and tabloids as authoritative sources of news when they spewed venom and hate? How can the citizens trust news that whitewash misdeeds and glorify empty slogans? How can the voters accept facts that are manufactured in government laboratories? How is it possible to take as gospel truth reports that are clearly the handiwork of twisted minds outside the news room?
In the era of ICT, several tools of information have become available to the people who have also grown more discerning. They know how to pick gems of truth from piles of official garbage. They know how to tell apart ground realities from all the hype and hoopla surrounding grandious proclamations, declarations and projections. They are acutely aware that news as related in the official organs are slanted to serve the interest of the first estate. When they read the dailies, they intuitively recognise that the facts are questionable. The strength of the alternative media is that they give the unvarnished, and not the polished, truth. Unvarnished, you get the real feel of things; polished, you see nothing but reflected illusion.
The dynamo that drives the websites and blogs is the enthusiasm of the writers. What they write may be opinion-based but that is the name of the game: opinions count when what is at stake is the future of the country. Writers give their opinions because they want to have a say in what is happening around them. If they think the 1Malaysia concept is bunkum, that's telling the plain truth. If they think all those glowing figures about a buoyant economy are fabricated, that's seeing things realistically. If they are of the view that the wealth of the nation is being robbed blind, that's presenting the unadorned fact. The alternative media gives the writers – and the public – the platform to state their stand. The elite big boys won't do it. They won't dare entertain the other views. They are fed with facts sweetened with all kinds of spices. The truth is often told through lies.
It doesn't take an army to fight for a cause and win. One man can do the job and the whole country will sit up and take note. The alternative media is the biggest challenge to authority: it is a weapon that belongs to the common citizens. It is a feared weapon because now the truth is no longer the monopoly of the politicians. The government cannot hide anymore, anywhere. Every move will be monitored, every wrong-doing exposed, every heinous crime – past or present – laid bare. In the alternative media, the story is about truth, justice, law.