Several mainstream papers asked me to write a regular popular arts column last year. For all sorts of reasons, I was wasn’t able to accept and still have not done so to date. Nonetheless, in the course of our discussions, many conversations about the state of Malaysia’s media arose. In one of them, I argued that the country’s mainstream papers will be marginalised within a decade…
“Why?”, they asked.
“Because you are out of touch with the emerging Malaysian public and your credibility is shot”.
For example, I know few Malaysians of college age who take the mainstream press seriously. Other than obvious political bias, senior members of press have also completely lost touch with changes in popular culture. Thus, while the grass roots have been characterized by the empowerment of legitimate homegrown artistic voices in the last half decade, the mainstream media remained ignorant of this groundswell and continue to pander to foreign acts on their last pay day. Many of our musicians, for example, have made in-roads into regional markets - a fact that few have reported. Likewise, our indie filmmakers have swept awards in top film festivals throughout the world while senior editors veto coverage merely with an ill-judged dismissal: ‘the public is not interested’.
Herein lies the problem. However you look at it, these are community papers, read by members of the community. If they only serve the interest of the elite [in whatever field] and lose sight of their fundamental role as forums to nurture and accommodate the multifarious voices of the community, then they lose legitimacy over time. Fact is, the popular media in this country has in the last decade [or more] over-covered the centre and neglected the fringe - due in part to an over-emphasis on its commercial priorities and at the expense of its social function as a community forum. It is thus when the cultural fringe eases into the center over time, as it has done and will increasingly do, these media look out-of-touch and irrelevant. In an age when our kids are logging onto Myspace to check out the latest buzz on some homegrown band after they’re done on Pitchfork, arts editors who cannot keep up do not have credibility - let alone those whose idea of a good time is a pub cover version of ‘Hotel California’, done however note-perfectly.
Thus, in all areas of their coverage [not just politics], our media players need serious re-thinking. This includes advertisers. The top, as they say, reflects the bottom.