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Framing The Fight Against Terror: Order Versus Liberty in the Mainstream and Alternative Media
Unformatted Document Text:  ICA-6-10348 2 injustice generally. Thus, although Mahathir’s project is a hegemonic one, the tenuous consensus is constantly being challenged from the fringes. The KMM affair thus touched different buttons. On the one hand, it raised specter of terrorism and increased the public’s appetite for a strong government response to restore order. On the other hand, the use of the ISA, an instrument that had been applied somewhat liberally against political opponents in preceding years, made at least some Malaysians wonder if civil liberties were being too easily cast aside, and indeed question whether the government’s allegations had any factual basis. Communication scholarship in other contexts gives us strong hints of what we should expect to find in our chosen site. Consistently, researchers have found the mainstream press unsympathetic towards perceived breaches of order – not only those that result in criminal activity, but even otherwise peaceful but unruly protest actions carried out through extra-institutional channels. At least since Gitlin’s 1980 classic on the 1960s anti-war movement, which critiqued the coverage of The New York Times and CBS News, scholars interested in what he called “the movement-media dance” (p. 17) have found consistently that the mainstream press tends to frame protest movements as deviant, sensationalizing their tactics, and under-reporting their underlying beliefs. Scholars have also tried to understand the reasons for the mainstream media’s conservative attitude towards contentious politics. Some focus on the professional culture and operational routines of the news production: they argue that institutions with power are by definition more “newsworthy” than those without, and that the work habits of journalism are more compatible with the workings of institutional newsmakers, with their official spokesmen and clear lines of authority, than with often-anarchic movements (see, for example, Gitlin, 1980; Sigal, 1986; Bennett, 1997). An alternative set of explanations highlights the political economy of the news business: commercial and political pressures on news organization dictate a bias for the status quo (for example, Eliasoph, 1988; Herman, 1998; McChesney, 1999). In Malaysia, an additional factor is government control, which constrains the freedom of the press, especially in its coverage of anti-establishment groups and activities. According to some observers, Malaysia has one of the least free media regimes in the world. Reporters Without Borders, for example, ranked the country 110 out of 139

Authors: George, Cherian.
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ICA-6-10348
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injustice generally. Thus, although Mahathir’s project is a hegemonic one, the tenuous
consensus is constantly being challenged from the fringes.
The KMM affair thus touched different buttons. On the one hand, it raised specter
of terrorism and increased the public’s appetite for a strong government response to
restore order. On the other hand, the use of the ISA, an instrument that had been applied
somewhat liberally against political opponents in preceding years, made at least some
Malaysians wonder if civil liberties were being too easily cast aside, and indeed question
whether the government’s allegations had any factual basis.
Communication scholarship in other contexts gives us strong hints of what we
should expect to find in our chosen site. Consistently, researchers have found the
mainstream press unsympathetic towards perceived breaches of order – not only those
that result in criminal activity, but even otherwise peaceful but unruly protest actions
carried out through extra-institutional channels. At least since Gitlin’s 1980 classic on the
1960s anti-war movement, which critiqued the coverage of The New York Times and CBS
News, scholars interested in what he called “the movement-media dance” (p. 17) have
found consistently that the mainstream press tends to frame protest movements as
deviant, sensationalizing their tactics, and under-reporting their underlying beliefs.
Scholars have also tried to understand the reasons for the mainstream media’s
conservative attitude towards contentious politics. Some focus on the professional culture
and operational routines of the news production: they argue that institutions with power
are by definition more “newsworthy” than those without, and that the work habits of
journalism are more compatible with the workings of institutional newsmakers, with their
official spokesmen and clear lines of authority, than with often-anarchic movements (see,
for example, Gitlin, 1980; Sigal, 1986; Bennett, 1997). An alternative set of explanations
highlights the political economy of the news business: commercial and political pressures
on news organization dictate a bias for the status quo (for example, Eliasoph, 1988;
Herman, 1998; McChesney, 1999).
In Malaysia, an additional factor is government control, which constrains the
freedom of the press, especially in its coverage of anti-establishment groups and
activities. According to some observers, Malaysia has one of the least free media regimes
in the world. Reporters Without Borders, for example, ranked the country 110 out of 139


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