(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Is it asking for too much to expect the local mainstream electronic and printed media not to be biased and unfair in their coverage of the trial of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim?
Today, for instance, all the foreign media led off with the sensational evidence by government forensic specialist Dr. Zahari Noor that there were no signs that Anwar’s adopted brother Sukma Darmawan Sasmitaat Madja had been sodomised, despite Sukma’s confession and guilty plea of such an act in April this year resulting in his six-month jail sentence.
Dr. Zahari, who examined Sukma on Sept. 9 this year, said under cross-examination that he concluded that there was no sodomy because there were no recent or old injuries on Sukma’s private parts.
Although the Kuala Lumpur Hospital pathologist said under re-examination later that all signs would also be negative if the sodomy happened five to 10 years ago, this has no relevance whatsoever to Sukma’s confession and guilty plea of allowing himself to be sodomized by the former Deputy Prime Minister in April this year.
The headlines of the foreign media all focussed on this sensational evidence in the trial with the following examples: "No evidence Anwar's brother sodomized – doctor" (CNN News); "No homosexuality evidence on Anwar's adopted brother: forensic expert" (AFP); "Doctor: No evidence Anwar's brother sodomised" (BBC News); "First strike for Anwar's defence" (The Australian) and "Testimony Jolts the Case Against Anwar - No Evidence of Sodomy Found in Examination of One Alleged Partner" (Asian Wall Street Journal).
The local mainstream mass media, however, tried to play down the impact of the evidence. The story did not get into the front page of either the New Straits Times or the Star, although both these papers gave front-page headline to the earlier testimony by key prosecution witness Azizan Abu Bakar when he told the trial that he had been sodomised by Sukma after Anwar had his turn.
The front page of New Straits Times of December 11, 1998 screamed with the headline: "Azizan’s testimony causes another stir - ‘I was sodomised by Sukma after Anwar had his turn’", while The Star of the same date screamed with the front-page headline: "’Sukma, Too’ - Azizan makes new allegation".
The New Straits Times today tucked the story of Dr. Zahari’s sensational testimony in its page 6 report of the trial with the innocuous headline: "’Medical exam won’t detect sodomy if it occurred five to 10 years ago’" while The Star carried the meaningless "Doc: No sign of injury on Sukma’" as the headline for its page 2 report on the trial.
The Sun was the only English-language daily to carry the report on its front page today with the heading "Expert: No proof Sukma had anal sex". On 11th December 1998, Sun carried the front-page headline of "Double Sodomy - Azizan tells of Tivoli Villa incident after judge halts impeachment".
In this connection, the Bahasa Malaysia papers were better than the New Straits Times and The Star, with both carrying the story on their front-page although not as the lead story. Utusan Malaysia’s heading was "Tiada kesan Sukma diliwat - Dr. Zahari" while Berita Harian’s heading was "Tiada bukti Sukma diliwat: Pakar". However, both the Bahasa Malaysia papers had also been unfair in their reporting of the trial as both carried screaming headlines of "’Anwar, Sukma liwat saya’" (Utusan Malaysia) and "’Sukma juga liwat saya’" (Berita Harian) on December 11, 1998.
If the printed mainstream mass media could be so unfair and prejudiced in the reporting of the Anwar Ibrahim trial, the coverage of the electronic mainstream mass media of television and radio is even more biased and one-sided.
It has been said that in the Anwar Ibrahim trial, the Malaysian judiciary and the system of governance are also on trial. In fact, the Malaysian mass media are also on trial.