Monday, August 24, 2009

Spinning the news for Permatang Pasir: how to read partisan blogs (and news) 2

Spin is defined as interpreting an event in a particular way so as to manipulate public opinion for or against a certain organization or public figure. It is a form of propaganda, albeit a subtle one; while some propaganda uses outright lies, spin uses half truths and concealment.

The techniques of spin include:

  • Selectively presenting facts and quotes that support one's position (cherry picking)
  • Non-denial denial
  • Phrasing in a way that assumes unproven truths
  • Euphemisms to disguise or promote one's agenda
  • "Burying bad news": announcing one popular thing at the same time as several unpopular things, hoping that the media [or readers] will focus on the popular one.
Whatever its differences in method, its desired end result is the same as for propaganda:
A propagandist, in the strict sense, is not interested in the truth for its own sake, or in spreading it. His purpose is differ­ent. He wants a certain kind of action from us. He doesn't want people to think for themselves. He seeks to mold their minds so that they will think as he wants them to think, and act as he wants them to act. He prefers that they should not think for them­selves. If the knowledge of certain facts will cast doubts in the minds of his hearers, he will conceal these facts.

From The Art of Making Sense: A Guide to Logical Thinking by Lionel Ruby
With the Permatang Pasir by-elections around the corner, allegations and counter-allegations regarding the two candidates' suitability for office have been traded. In the case of the BN candidate, former lawyer Rohaizat Othman, the allegations center around his disbarment for misappropriating funds belonging to his client, the Koperasi Pekebun Getah Pulau Pinang (KPGPP).

BN tried to undo the damage by claiming that it was Rohaizat's former law partner, Yusri Isahak, who was solely responsible for the wrongdoing, and that Rohaizat was merely the fall guy. On 20 August 2009, Yusri made a statement to the press where he held that the misappropriation of KPGPP's funds was done with Rohaizat's knowledge and involvement, in the form of loans to two of Rohaizat's acquaintances, and for the management of the firm's Ipoh office. You can read his statement in full here.

Yesterday, Yusri again gave a press statement in KL, which can be read in full here. What exactly did Yusri say in this second statement? As I see it, he seemed to be saying that (and please correct me if I am doing any "spinning" myself):
  1. He has not been paid to makling either of his two statements
  2. Both statements were made on his own initiative, and were not influenced by any party
  3. His first statement was made because he was angry and dissapointed at being made the scapegoat in the KPGPP case, and his only motivation was to defend his goodname and that of his family
  4. He stands by his earlier statement
  5. His earlier statement has been used to slander Rohaizat, which was not his intention
  6. Yusri is saddened by the personal attacks on Rohaizat
  7. Yusri wants to clarify his position and express his feelings on the matter
  8. Rohaizat is a good man, and kind hearted, has done a lot for Permatang Pasir
  9. Even though Rohaizat has made mistakes, he has made amends, and the cooperative has retracted their claim against him
Three questions to consider:
  1. Did Yusri retract his earlier statement?
  2. Did Yusri exonerate Rohaizat, clear his name, or in any way lessen his responsibility for the KPGPP case, as stated in his earlier accusation? (Let's bear in mind that to exonerate is not the same as to forgive or excuse)
  3. Did Yusri take more of the blame for the KPGPP case unto himself?
I believe that the answers to all three questions above is no. As I see it, Yusri's second statement expressed many noble sentiments, but it never detracted an iota from the gist of his first statement, in which Yusri stated that the misappropriation of KPGPP's funds was done with Rohaizat's knowledge and involvement.

Given the above, let's see how the mainstream media (MSM) have choosen to present the story, one day before the elections, in the following articles:

Utusan Malaysia, 23/8/09: Yusri tampil bela Rohaizat
The article does not mention points 4 and 9 from Yusri's statement (in bold above). It also reports Rohaizat's response to Yusri's statement, as (my emphasis in bold):

Sementara itu, calon Barisan Nasional (BN) Rohaizat Othman berterima kasih kepada bekas rakan kongsinya, Yusri Isahak kerana tampil memberi penjelasan terbaru hari ini berhubung isu pembatalan sijil peguam sivilnya.

Beliau yang ditemui ketika menyertai lawatan Menteri Dalam Negeri, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein di Kampung Cross Street berkata, perkembangan itu membuktikan fakta sebenar isu yang digembar-gemburkan oleh Pas.

Utusan's article has spun the news for BN using two techniques: first, it has cherry picked the points which may be taken as support for Rohaizat to report, and neglected to mention the ones which suggest that Yusri still believes that Rohaizat is partly responsible for the misappropriation. Second, Utusan has allowed Rohaizat's response, which is phrased in a way that suggests and implies (wrongly) that Yusri has exonerated him, to run without verification, analysis or challenge.

The Star, 24/8/09: Rohaizat vows to bring development
The Star did not devote a full article to Yusri's second statement, but included this in the article above:
At night, Rohaizat thanked his former partner Yusri Isahak for clearing his name.

“I am very happy now that now that Yusri had cleared the air over the allegations. I saw his interview over the television.”
Unlike Utusan, who merely suggested and implied untruth, the Star has printed it outright without qualification!

The New Straits Times, 24/8/09: 'I was in charge of account'
Unlike Utusan, the NST did not start of its article by focusing on Yusri's respect and admiration for Rohaizat. It instead focused on reporting that Yusri was in charge of the KPGPP account (not the bank account, but the case). I believe that since Yusri had (in his first press statement) stated that both he and Rohaizat were co-signatories to the bank accounts, its regrettable that the journalist or editor didn't take the extra care to make that difference clear, i.e. that Yusri was not now admitting to being the sole signatory for the bank account. A quick reading of the headline and the first few 'graphs may lead one to believe that a very significant truth had been unearthed by the reporter, that represented a "twist" in the story. In actuality, the fact that Yusri was the lead lawyer in charge with dealing with KPGPP did not in any way negate or diminish in any way his earlier assertion that Rohaizat was just as involved in misappropriating the funds.

Berita Harian, 24/8/09: Bekas rakan kongsi kecewa kenyataan disalahgunakan
BH, in my opinion, does the least spinning of the four MSM newspapers. Part of what it wrote is this:
Sementara itu, Yusri mengakui fail pembelian hartanah oleh KPGNPP pada 2002 di bawah tanggungjawabnya dan beliau yang menyiapkan perjanjian berkenaan serta memanggil penjual dan pembeli terbabit untuk menandatanganinya.

“Tandatangan saya pada perjanjian itu hanyalah sebagai menandakan bahawa saya sudah menyaksikan penjual dan pembeli menandatangani perjanjian berkenaan,” katanya.

Walaupun mengakui fail pembelian hartanah oleh KPGNPP adalah di bawah tanggungjawabnya, Yusri berkata, fail berkenaan pada bila-bila masa boleh diambil alih oleh rakan kongsi lain seperti ketika beliau bercuti.

Sambil menegaskan pelanggan terbabit adalah pelanggan firma guaman dan bukan pelanggan seseorang rakan kongsi secara khusus, beliau bagaimanapun berkata, adalah tidak tepat untuk menyatakan bahawa Rohaizat tidak mengetahui atau tidak terbabit langsung.

Namun, ketika ditanya sama ada Rohaizat bersalah atau pun hanya menjadi mangsa keadaan, katanya, beliau bukan dalam kedudukan untuk menyatakan perkara itu, sebaliknya pihak yang lebih tepat adalah mahkamah dan Majlis Peguam.
Notice the use of the word mengakui (admits or confesses), thereby implying that Yusri is owning up to something that implicates him (and exonerates Rohaizat). Is this the case? Reading of the next three paragraphs shows it not to be so. Unfortunately, they have left this part to the last three paragraphs of the article!

In none of the four MSM reports above, was the fact that Yusri stood by his earlier statement, and maintained that Rohaizat was at least partly responsible, mentioned. The headlines, the quotes that were selected, the language used all give the impression that Yusri had made a u-turn in his position. The BN owned MSM have used cherry picking of facts, euphemism (in this case dyphemism), and implied assumptions to create an article favourable to BN's interests in the Permatang Pasir by-elections tomorrow.

As for the pro-BN blogs, this is what some of them said:
Shamsul Yunos (the journalist covering the Permatang Pasir elections for the Malay Mail) : ZAMBRI-NIZAR!! Yusri makes a U-turn?
Rocky (Editor-in-Chief of the Malay Mail), linking to Shamsul Yunos "U-turn": Ah, Yusri, both sides now?
A Voice: Yusri rasa bersalah dan 'akui' diguna PR burukkan Rohaizat
Pisau: N11 Permatang Pasir: Rohaizad Tidak Bersalah:Yusri
The Unspinners: KABOOM 2! Yusri ngaku urus akaun Koperasi dan diguna PAS untuk serangan peribadi

For comparison, read these reports from:
Malaysiakini: My intention was to clear my name, says Yusri
Malaysian Insider: Rohaizat’s ex-law partner says he gained nothing in revealing all

How shall we hold the mainstream media to account for spinning the news?

Malaysian Heart

1 comment:

  1. Syed Nadzri of NST wrote a piece that is the subject of much ridicule and guffaws now, titled "Five reasons Anwar could lose "
    because not only did Anwar win, the BN candidate got trounced, Anwar also managed to increase the margin garnered on March 08.
    It is ironic that the 5 reasons he gave were mostly in favor of Anwar , but by some copulated logic of Syed Nadzri and hardcore
    UMNO supporters this was Anwars "Achilles Heel".

    More here :

    It seems when it comes to lame spin nothing much has changed.

    If PAS wins by more than 7000 votes in P. Pasir, I will give kenduri syukur at an orphanage of my
    choice on merdeka day.
    Such a win (By 7000 votes) will be significant as it will negate BN's claims that Manik Urai marks a change in trend to more support for BN.It is my belief
    that MU was the Erdogan supporters in PAS punishing the hardliners over the on again off again unity talks with UMNO,but THNA has laid that to rest
    in no uncertain terms.
    Had this discussion on Nuraina Samad's blog, she on the other hand thinks Pas unholy marriage with DAP did not go down well among many Malays in MU,
    I do not deny some truth in what she said, but I am inclined to think the former is a bigger factor.
    A landslide win in P.Pasir in my opinion will negate this perception too.

    Vijay Kumar Murugavell


How to Paste Text into Comment Boxes

Google seems to have disabled pasting text (including ctrl-v) into blogger comments boxes in Firefox. The good news is that:
1. You can still copy paste using Internet Explorer (I successfully tried it with IE7)
2. With Firefox, you can still "Drag and Drop" text into the comment form. I have successfully dragged and dropped text from MS Word, websites (HTML) and from ScribeFire (plain text and HTML). Just do the following:

a) reduce the size of the window you want to take the text from, and place it near the comment box
b) Highlight the required text with cursor
c) Click on the highlighted text and drag it over to the comment box and drop it there.

Happy commenting!