Tired of bad news but hooked to it, are Malaysians suffering political fatigue? (12.7.15)

( Infographic: The Malaysian Insider)

( Infographic: The Malaysian Insider)

If Malaysians are feeling depressed with all the negativity in local news and politics, it could partly be their own doing as they are both consumers and producers of news, say media observers and academics.

For nine years, just before the watershed 2008 general election when the ruling Barisan Nasional lost its hold on two-thirds of seats in Parliament, Malaysians have been bombarded with almost daily headlines of negativity and divisive politics through numerous platforms.

Social media and instant messaging applications now take the Internet further and expand its reach faster as people make use of these tools to spread and share news and information, verified or not, about the country’s political and corporate players as well as the latest and on-going scandals.

But long-term and high-tension exposure to online news and information can be negative.

“Naturally that there would be a sense of tension in the air,” Lina Esa Osberg, a life coach said.

While the media has a role in bringing information to the public, Osberg said, other realities also impacted people’s reactions to the news.

“Malaysia is no longer a prosperous country economically. This is not the fault of Malaysia alone. The world is going through an economic crisis. And Malaysia is a part of it. The middle class is diminishing. The working class is not getting enough to fulfil their daily needs.

“But at the same time, the rich seemed to be more extravagant in their ways of living, and have no qualms about flaunting it. Malaysians see more and more scandals about those in power, and those who were entrusted with public monies squandered the same monies without guilt, remorse, or adverse consequences,” Osberg said.

Throw Malaysian news and politics into the mix and people’s reactions can get more complex.

But why is it so hard to disengage?

Dr Tessa Houghton, director at the Centre for the Study of Communications and Culture at University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, said Malaysians themselves were contributing to the 24 hour news cycle which has become “infinite”.

There is constant “supply and demand” of news and information, she said, as people respond to output by news organisations, which in turn respond to their readers.

“Digital media now mean that we have the means to effect a 24 hours news cycle – the news hole has become infinite. Most news organisations try to keep pushing out as much content as possible, as quickly as possible.

“Because this is what people respond to, they’re basing their decisions on web analytics of what their readers respond to. And social media is the same, the more you up date, the more attention you’re likely to get.

“Both the producers and consumers of information get easily sucked in to this endless stream of information,” she added.

It becomes addictive to receive and aggregate news – at the expense of the need to analyse, reflect and act on the information – and this can lead to a sense of feeling overwhelmed. Yet, it is not easy to disengage for some people who fear missing out.

Malaysians, however, are as capable of critical thinking as anyone else, Houghton said, but these are skills that have to be learned and practiced constantly.

The barrage of news and politics daily may not help create room for such reflection.

A bigger problem, said another academic, is the weakness in national leadership and lack of information transparency.

Zaharom Nain, professor of media and communication studies and Houghton’s colleague at the Nottingham campus, said the daily onslaught of information was due to little clarification by the powers that be that could potentially resolve many current issues.

Bad news is a constant, and the perpetrators are not punished.

“Where justice is not done, where injustice is so evident and blatant, many Malaysians now despair and give up hope.  There is lack of leadership, there is (increasingly) less credibility,” he said.

Zaharom does not believe that the Internet played a huge role in disseminating information.

“The Internet only conveys the bad news generated by Malaysians themselves… that has impacted the nation. It’s the lack, indeed failure, of leadership,” he said.

Amid the constant flow of negativity, Tariq Ismail, the grandson of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s second deputy prime minister, is worried that Malaysians have “lost the ability to read and the ability to understand one another”.

Tariq is active on social media with his views on politics. He founded Aura Merdeka Ikatan Sejagat (AMIS), a lively Facebook group that discusses everything and anything under the sun.

But he feels that social media and the Internet cannot be wholly blamed for the hostility.

Instead, the root causes are the content creators themselves: the politicians and the elected representatives who have forgotten that they are representatives of the people.

“When idiotic statements are made and singling out a single community it will create distrust, and the lack of accountability regarding these statements has made the citizens of this land angry. This is not healthy,” Tariq said.

“A nation is not built in a day. It is a continuous process which requires dialogue and compromise. Fortunately, our basic foundation is still intact. We still have the federal constitution and various bodies that hold this nation together. We have a collective responsibility to not only to ourselves but to all the communities that make Malaysia.” – July 12, 2015.

– See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/tired-of-bad-news-but-hooked-to-it-are-malaysians-suffering-political-fatig#sthash.dHc2XnKE.dpuf

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