So, whilst we were visiting Malaysia what could have been a major media story broke. Activist blog Sarawak Report, which campaigns on environmental issues in Malaysia’s Eastern states, published a wikileaks style dump of data showing supposed “land grabs” – places where the chief minister of the state, amongst others, took land or benefits from the sale/development of land – much of it primary rainforest – for themselves.
If you think of the UK where the Telegraph’s report on ministerial expenses exposed small-scale corruption – duck ponds, travel, houses and the like – this story should have been immense. This is (at least potentially) the systematic destruction of the rainforest for massive personal gain. If the story is libellous, then the campaign sould have been investigated and discredited in the media. At least, that’s what you’d expect.
Instead, the major Malaysian newspapers have been almost completely silent on the story, with the exception of a few luke-warm stories reporting Government investigations into Radio Free Sarawak, a radio station campaigning on the Sarawak Report “allegations” and challenging corruption in the region, championed by Gordon Brown’s sister in law, Clare Rewcastle Brown.
The only outlet to cover the story was (paywall) MalaysiaKini, an online publication with a history of taking on the controversial and a few of whose reporters have paid the price for it – detained under the always-to-be-feared ‘ISA’ – Internal Security Act – which bascially grants the power to the government to do whatever it wants to whoever it wants. Thankfully Malaysian bloggers are now actively covering the story and hopefully awareness will break and something will happen, but somehow I’m doubtful. The papers probably exist in a combination of fear of the ISA and pressure from their political overlords – many of the Malaysian newspapers either are owned by or have strong affiliations with Malaysian political parties. Ref, Wikipedia, which adds this:
It’s not surprising, as Malaysia persistently does poorly in global press-freedoms surveys, but it is depressing. This is why when I tell people I come from Malaysia, and they say “oh, that’s a beautiful place,” I sigh and say something non-committal. It’s difficult to think of a place as beautiful when its rotten to the core.