Friday, August 01, 2008

When I see some article that is good and need to be kept for posterity i will post in my blog, no apologies needed. Here is one

We are nothing but a bewildered herd who can be deceived by our prejudices. Let's celebrate differences of opinion, not condemning them to justify our inertia about what is right and wrong.


DATUK Ahmad Shabery Cheek took on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the debate aired live on TV two weeks ago. It was no easy task for him.

The naysayers had argued that it was suicidal for Ahmad Shabery to take up the challenge.

Anwar's oratorical skill is the stuff of legend. As a consummate politician he had perfected the art of addressing his audience.

Fuzzy maths aside, Anwar was at his pernicious best that evening addressing a nation wanting to know his quick-fix solution to reducing the price of petrol and diesel.

Ahmad Shabery was remarkably good actually. Don't just commend him for his audacity in facing Anwar.

He had his facts and figures right. And he was equally convincing in his arguments. But just read what was written about the outcome in cyberspace.

The verdict was harsh -- he lost by a massive margin. Almost all the polls on the Internet put him far, far behind Anwar. But the people on the street might have a different opinion.

Internet polls are only part of the picture. Interneters are largely anti-establishment. But that is not all.

Cyberspace was full of condemnation of Ahmad Shabery's performance and arguments.

Harsh words were used, some simply not fit to print. There were vitrolic personal attacks that can send even a hardcore believer in free speech recoiling in disgust.

Not to be outdone, Anwar-haters too had a field day assembling some of the worst insults.

Why I wonder did that happen? I believe a debate is a debate. It is a discourse to argue one's position.

The debate which I moderated was an experiment in free speech.

No one would have imagined some years ago that someone as controversial as Anwar, the de facto leader of an opposition party who is facing sodomy allegations, could be allowed to appear on national TV at prime time.

At least six million people watched the debate, including the repeat broadcast. A massive number considering it was not an entertainment, a drama or reality programme.

Anwar addressed more people in an hour that evening than he did the last many years at the pentas ceramah politik. If that is not openness on the part of the government, what is?

In fact, I saw the changes some five years ago when RTM1 under the leadership of Datuk Kadir Sheikh Fadzir initiated Debat Perdana -- a talk show that invited leaders of the opposition parties on prime time TV. The show, chaired by me, lasted eight sessions.

One of the major obstacles faced by Kadir at the time was to convince his colleagues that Debat Perdana was good for the nation.

Debat Perdana talked freely on matters pertaining to unity, corruption, integrity, Rukun Negara, race relations, you name it.

Some of the most vociferous critics of the ruling party appeared on the programme. The winner, the way I look at it, was the people. And freedom of speech.

That is precisely the idea behind the debate. It is not just about two personalities arguing their positions.

It is also about the need to inculcate healthy debate among our leaders. It is not about winning, but about agreeing to disagree. That is the basic principle of a discourse.

For a society to be free, one must first unshackle oneself of the burden of prejudices and biases.

Civil society is about discarding the "Us vs Them" mentality, about finding room for accommodating "The Other".

Readers and audiences should not be just "a bewildered herd" as commentator Walter Lippmann once famously remarked.

One must also be wary of simplification and generalisation. They must not be awed by rhetoric and theatrics. I believe the openness initiated by the present government must be reciprocated with responsibility and accountability.

The people must decide if they are misusing the freedom for freedom means nothing without responsibility.

When the government mooted the idea of a Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), it set up the Multimedia Development Council (MDC). I was one of the first board members.

We discussed at length back then on the readiness of our people to embrace ICT. There were among us those who were concerned that our people were not ready for such cataclysmic change.

The prime minister at the time, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, stood his ground that we needed ICT to jump-start our foray into knowledge and information. The world is moving towards a freer era.

The Internet is redefining the meaning of freedom and free speech. We have no choice.

When the MSC started, the Internet was in its infancy.

The Great River of knowledge and information is fast becoming a tsunami of information overload.

Dr Mahathir faced the onslaught of his own creation in 1999 when the Internet proved to be a weapon of mass destruction for the ruling elite.

A year earlier, the government passed the Communications and Multimedia Bill that stipulated the government would not censor the Internet.

True, there is lawlessness in cyberspace. It is so easy to be irresponsible on the Internet. There is no licence to operate in the Internet.

It is a cowboy nation with no rules and regulations. Little wonder everyone is a critic. Which is good.

Probably it is a new-found toy for many. To the irresponsible ones, it is an opportunity to smear others, to spread lies and to assassinate characters.

Reasons are not important any more. Fairness is being thrown to the winds. There is anarchy on the Net.

We are living in a world where no one is sure what is truth and what is a lie any more.

We criticise Anwar and Ahmad Shabery not because of what they stand for but for representing a different view than ours.

We are nothing but a bewildered herd who can be deceived by our prejudices. Let's celebrate differences of opinion, not condemning them to justify our inertia about what is right and wrong.

Healthy dialogue is like a healthy body -- it entails a healthy mind, the prerequisite of a truly open society.


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