Opinion: Don’t Expect KL’s Press to Deliver a Malaysiagate

A writer named Azrul Mohd Khalib, writing on the Malay Mail website, has written a long review of All the President’s Men, the iconic 1976 movie relating the roles of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post in bringing down the disgraced President Richard Nixon in 1974.

I do not know what Azrul’s motivation is for writing, although it is reasonable to assume that he was attempting to make the point obliquely that a free and incorruptible press can bring down the most powerful of political figures.

Azrul forgot to give due credit to the steadfast and respected owner of The Washington Post Katherine Graham, Managing Editor Howard Simons, and Editor-in-Chief Benjamin C. Bradlee (pictured below) without whom there would probably have been no Watergate, the name for the Potomac River-based complex where Republican burglars sought to find dirt on Democratic politicians to use in the 1974 Presidential campaign.

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But if Azrul thinks that Malaysian journalists could do a Woodward-Bernstein campaign to bring about the resignation of Najib as Malaysia’s Prime Minister, he is either very naive or overrating the role of investigative journalism in keeping our politicians in check.

Even Sarawak Report with smoking gun evidence on a mysterious and unexplained RM2.6 billion donation to the Prime Minister’s bank account in 2013, and its departure again out of Najib’s account to unknown destinations, failed to force Najib to leave office. How do we deal with someone who has no conscience or sense of common decency?

The Malaysian Prime Minister wants to hang on to power and will not relent, unless UMNO decides to throw him out and that, as we know, is highly unlikely. All division chiefs and UMNO grassroots are in his payroll, having been given millions and cash awards through the BR1M aid money program. Even my good friend, Shahrir Samad, of all people, is beneficiary of Najib’s generosity.

We also know that we cannot expect our mainstream media, which includes the Malay Mail (not to be confused with the Malay Mail Online), the Sun Daily, The New Straits Times, The Star and others to get within a whisker of any attempt to mobilize public pressure against Najib and his cohort. Furthermore, our media are not blessed with the likes of Graham, Simons, and Bradlee who could withstand the relentless pressure they got from a powerful President Richard Nixon and his White House staff.

Malaysia is not the United States. That is obvious. In the US, the media is free and independent. The Senate acts a powerful countervailing power to the US President. And the American public were taught at an early age to respect the US Constitution and the Rule of Law and will not condone acts of abuse of power and corruption. Public institutions, crucially including the press, serve the American people and will not hesitate to act against those who break the law, irrespective of their status and stature. Their Constitution is the supreme law.

Our Parliament, on the other hand, is a lame duck legislature which should be abolished to save taxpayers’ money. Our public officials like the Attorney-General, the Inspector-General of Police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Chief Commissioner, and the Governor of Malaysia’s central bank are unlikely to enforce the law since they report to the Prime Minister and serve at his pleasure.

The Judiciary which is supposed to be our last bastion of justice is subservient to the powerful Executive Branch (and for that we must be eternally grateful to our most outstanding Prime Minister No. 4, Mahathir Mohamad). We are saddled with institutions that are decrepit and dysfunctional. Our democracy is an abject failure and our confidence and trust in our government is at its lowest point in our 58-year history.

Din Merican is an academician and blogger now teaching at a university in Cambodia.