Bull Bashing

‘The Heat’ Hits Home

By Kee Thuan Chye

“Don’t pick a fight with the Culture and Tourism Minister – he may just kill you. … Seems like we now have a gangster in our Cabinet.”

“Scholar Reza Aslan … said that Malaysia had become a laughing stock over the [‘Allah’] decision he termed as ‘stupid’. … ‘The idea that Christians are not able to use the word but using the word is somehow a threat to Islam that if they hear a Christian use the word ‘Allah’ they will accidentally become Christian. The idiocy of that statement speaks for itself.’”

“… The Heat … found that of (Najib Razak’s) 1.79 million followers (on Twitter), 63% or 1.13 million are fake and only 11% or 196,900 are genuine. … That gives Najib the dubious honour of being one of the world leaders with the highest proportion of fake Twitter followers.”

Strong words. Unflattering statements about the Government. These are not what you would expect in the mainstream print media, but they are right there in The Heat.

Have you heard of The Heat? If not, do check it out.

It’s a newsweekly that deals with Malaysian issues pertaining to politics, economics, culture, community, etc, the way a news organ should, by providing information and – as important – analysis. The Heat exhibits intelligent thinking on the state of the country and its governance, trends in society and technology, and it provides a platform for further conversation.

If you are a reader of English and want to know what the Government is thinking, you could read propaganda rags like New Straits Times and The Star. But if you want to know what discerning, sensible Malaysians are thinking, you should read The Heat.

Produced by HCK Media, it was launched just about two months ago, on September 7. In the short time since, it has won plaudits from readers. A friend of mine who lives in Penang told me he stumbled on it a few weeks ago and found it refreshing for its handling of topical issues and their wider implications. He has since been a regular buyer.

The Heat – ably helmed by Editor-in-Chief David Lee Boon Siew, a newsman and journalist of at least three decades’ experience, supported by deputies Eddie Hoo Choon Huat and Yeoh Guan Jin – has a simple concept.

Its main body consists of newsfeatures that focus exclusively on social, political and economic developments in Malaysia. As it cannot be as current as a daily paper, it opts for the right editorial combination of reporting, analysing and commenting on the developments, so as to give readers a deeper insight into what’s been happening and the issues involved. For people who have been too busy during the week to catch up on the latest, this is a welcome digest, with substantial material for them to mull over.

Apart from this, there is ‘Heat+’, a supplementary pullout that contains lifestyle stories encompassing health, food, the arts, human interest, etc. These are also entirely Malaysia-centric. And at the back of the paper are regular columns and opinion pieces giving voice to environment, business and other issues. None of the material in the entire publication is from syndicated sources; it is all generated by staff writers and contributors.

Looking at its current October 26-November 1 issue, I was particularly struck by the fair amount of boldness in the writing despite the also apparent attempt at exercising restraint and maintaining equanimity. The temperance between boldness and restraint reflects the voice of the middle ground, which The Heat manages to approximate. This is clearly a virtue, because it helps the newsweekly appeal more easily to its target readership while at the same time retaining a professional detachment.

Even so, it can still be critically piercing when it wants to be, as in the pages dedicated to ‘Newsmakers’. Here, I marvelled at the craftiness – and the craft – of highlighting things said or done by politicians in order to show up their foibles. I’ve mentioned the bit about Nazri Aziz in my opening paragraph above. Here’s one about Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan, who had received death threats and got the police to act, resulting in the arrest of three men and the conclusion that the threats could be related to the upcoming MIC party elections in November:

Despite the fact that the police have solved the case, he probably will not feel safe anyway, at least for a while. Imagine having to look over your shoulder all the time. On the other hand, how much can one gain by removing Kamalanathan from the scene? Is he such a political heavyweight that someone sees it fit to take him out of the picture first? He has not indicated yet if he will take on any of the top leaders in the MIC elections. Even if he does, how far can he go?

That’s a nice, snide smack on Kamalanathan’s face, whether he realises it or not!

Most admirably, The Heat shows that it’s not bothered about being reverent – and being reverent is unnecessary anyway, in my view – when it deals with political bigwigs. Well, truth is truth, after all, and the truth needs to be told, regardless of whom it is about. But the real test will be how irreverently critical it will be of Najib if he needs to be whacked. Perhaps in next week’s issue, we can see how the newsweekly handles his stupid justification of the sugar subsidy cut by claiming it would be good for the libido.

For now, The Heat is gentle with him. Instead of saying that his administration sucks (which is true) and that he is weak for having said or done nothing to rein in the right-wingers (also true), it respectfully proposes four key areas for him to focus on in order to make Malaysia “a moderate and progressive nation”.

Three other articles in the issue stood out for me. One reminds us of the right-wing ‘sins’ previously committed by the Umno reactionaries who won in the recent party elections, including Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Hishammuddin Hussein, Bung Mokhtar Radin, Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Mohd Puad Zarkashi, Abdul Aziz Kaprawi and Jamil Khir Baharom. Written by Pauline Wong – who moved from theSun to add fire to The Heat – it concludes in no uncertain terms that the party does not want to change.

Another focuses on the phenomenal comeback of Ahmad Ismail, the Penang Umno leader who achieved notoriety in 2008 by calling Chinese Malaysians pendatang (immigrants) and squatters. Contesting the recent party elections after taking a hiatus, he won the leadership of the Bukit Bendera Umno division by sweeping all the 135 votes, leaving none for his opponent. Clearly not a good sign for moderation and progressiveness.

The third is a two-page spread on DAP leader Lim Kit Siang headlined ‘The man who never gave up’. This is something you will not get to see in mainstream print media although Lim deserves the coverage for all that he has sacrificed for Malaysian politics and democracy. So The Heat is to be commended for letting the man speak his mind, even if his thoughts on current issues are what we may well expect. More revealing is what he says about why he came back to Malaysia from Singapore, giving up journalism for politics, “in the midst of uncertainty”, and why, after the 1969 elections and May 13, he did not stay away despite his family’s urging to do so because if he were to return, he would be detained.

He decided to come back. “I was only just elected, I couldn’t run away,” he says. So, of course, he was detained.

This is the kind of resolve and integrity we need to see more of in our politicians. It is also what The Heat will have to maintain in the many weeks to come in order to accomplish what it sets out to do. I sense it wants to expose bullshit whenever it surfaces, and that is something close to my heart. So for that, it deserves unstinting support.

Meanwhile, what seems to be missing is just a page or two of letters from readers. Letting them have their say would help extend the conversations.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.

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