How 5 Malaysian newspapers reported the Anwar verdict differently

If you haven’t already known, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was recently found guilty for sodomising his former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan. He’s been sent to jail – the Sg Buloh one to be exact – where he’ll spend the next of his five years. Whether or not he really did it, and whatever your views and opinions on the Opposition leader, one thing’s for sure – it shook Malaysia at her foundation, and our political scene is facing one helluva ride. Changing the landscape of our politics once more, the implications are bound to be felt by all parties regardless of their standing.

Photo from says.com/my

Photo from says.com/my

But that’s a story for a different day. Today, we’re going to put the spotlight on the media.

As the people’s source of news, newspapers are an avenue for unbiased reporting, although in journalism school we’ve been taught how opinions are weaved into articles to influence the reader. Headlines. Buzzwords. Images. Colours. Story placements. Yaddah yaddah. But to some people, this is their only source of news.

We’re just gonna state the obvious here – the media plays a huuuge role in shaping a country and the gomen.

So it’s no surprise that in a country where publishing permits can be revoked at any time, newspapers might report things a little skewed in one direction. With many media outlets – especially mainstream media – being owned directly or indirectly by the government (like Media Prima which is owned by UMNO, or The Star which is majority owned by the MCA), there’s no wondering why alternative, independently-owned media has been flourishing in our country.

But though it flourishes, not everyone gets a permit for publication. Take MalaysiaKini for example – their application for a publication permit for a daily newspaper was rejected despite winning in a court ruling. Why? Because the Home Ministry deemed that the news portal ‘often causes controversy’ by publishing news that could ‘distress’ the people.

“Such news, if published in the print format, will cause shock and distress among the people. Sensitive issues are also published in the form of news, commentary, opinions and readers’ comments which could cause hatred towards national leaders.” – Home Ministry’s Publications Control and Al-Quran Text Division head Hashimah Nik Jaafa on MalaysiaKini’s permit rejection 

Oppressive or not, it’s not for us to say (out loud cos we sked). But the ideal is for news to report news, and readers to judge the story. Thankfully, throughout the past few years we’ve seen examples of even gov-linked newspapers being a little bit more neutral in their reporting, giving us hope for fair and clean reporting.

To demonstrate, we’re gonna look at the Anwar story. Gay criminal or victim of dirty politics? Unlawfully kinky or a threat too big for the government? Let’s see how five local dailies reported the case.

(Disclaimer: We tried to get as many dailies as we could, including some Chinese and Tamil papers, but they were either unavailable or we were awfully lost in translation.) 


1. Berita Harian

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On the front page: The BM daily starts with a punchin’ headline, telling readers straight-up the 20 reasons why Anwar is guilty. Sensational? You decide. It also goes on to say that all five judges were in one accord to dismiss his appeal and maintain his sentence of 5 years. It also reports that Anwar was hauled to the Sg Buloh prison, his supporters were rowdy towards the police.

On the other hand, it sympathetically reports that Saiful wants to forget this ordeal.

All that in bold red and black makes Anwar look like a full-on bad guy, yo.

berita harian

And on the inside: The stories run from page 6 to 16 with some ads in between. While most of these stories centered around the case in its essence (chronology, charges, evidences etc.), it also highlighted Saiful’s teary side of the story, quoting that he never meant to humiliate Anwar but only wanted to seek justice.

These few pages also saw highlights that the verdict was fair, evidence untampered and trial non-political, while several snippets spotlighted Anwar’s supporters who were provoked and rowdy. Later on, there was an extensive report that he wouldn’t receive VIP treatment (siap with cartoon and photos spanning across two pages) and a mention that Anwar would be going back to prison for the second time.

On the last page of its coverage, BH gave a generous chunk of space for article about the Opposition leader’s position remaining in the hands of PKR, followed by Zunar’s detaining for being seditious and a 1/3 page chronology of events.

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2. New Straits Times

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On the front page: Instead of screaming out a sensational headline, the NST zoomed in to the number of years he’ll be serving in jail, adding a short introductory statement and a teaser to Saiful’s reaction. Along with that, various snippets to other stories including a photo of Dato’ Lee Chong Wei. They also maintained the space for their front page banner ad. Uh, yeah.


And on the inside: In the following pages, the stories ran from page 2-20, with several ads and unrelated news in between. Reports are similar to that of Berita Harian’s, but it has a small snippet of the US and Australia being concerned over the verdict. It also has a listicle like Berita Harian’s, but instead of ’20 reasons why Anwar is guilty’ it’s ’20 reasons why Anwar’s appeal was dismissed’.

Same meaning but the word choice carries a different weight.

Oh it also features a 1/2 page article about the aftermath where Pakatan may soon be irrelevant.

It then skips a coupla pages and before a 1/3 page comment by NST shows up, saying that PKR and their supporters should accept the court’s decision. The comment also adds that “the public is not able to assess Anwar objectively and that this is testimony to some Malaysians’ inability to mature politically”.

However, instead of silencing the Opposition, the daily also reported Pakatan’s disappointed reactions and their remark of a sad day and an unjust decision.

Err.. Pretty ok we think? But would’ve loved to hear more of what the defence lawyers had to say.

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3. Utusan Malaysia

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On the front page: Above the fold sits a headline that says ‘Anwar goes to prison’ along with snippets of info, including charges, quotes and Saiful’s reaction. Also included is a quote by Anwar defending his innocence, sarcastically titled ‘Anwar’s reaction was as expected’.


And on the inside: The second and third pages were irrelevant local news. Anwar-related stories began from page 4 and ran till page 6. Again, the stories were similar to Berita Harian’s, although Utusan printed a snippet of SukaGuam (a lawyer-y NGO with an exceptionally creative name… for a bunch of lawyers) criticising the US as they voiced out their concerns. It was headlined ‘The United States needs to look at themselves in the mirror – SukaGuam‘.

It also wrote that sex scandals among leaders weren’t unusual, citing the cases of Zimbabwe’s Canaan S. Banana (stop laughing) and Israel’s Moshe Katsav.

Between headlines such as ‘Accept the court verdict with a big soul‘ and ‘Anwar unsatisfied and criticised the court‘, we felt that some of these headlines were craftily opinionated instead of being factual, as an unbiased paper should.

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4. The Star

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On the front page: Instead of selling the paper with yet another announcement of Anwar’s fate, The Star daringly took a different path by posing a thought-provoking question about the future of his political career. It brought to light a different perspective, which we thought was quite clever since all the other papers around it would be screaming out the outcome of the trial. (Personally, it’s something we’d pick up first among the other papers.)

the star

And on the inside: We found a more balance of set of stories within The Star’s pages. Headlines were mostly made out of quotes with little of the journalist’s opinions. While the articles highlighted Anwar’s rise and fall, his bold behaviour in court, Saiful’s reactions and a call for the case not to be politicised, it also gave the Opposition and concerned countries an avenue to have their voices heard.

It also reported a probability of Anwar walking free, which is through a review by his lawyers. Although several other papers reported the same story, the headline chosen by The Star was worded positively to show the effects of this move, if it works out la.

It also boldly highlighted Anwar’s vow to keep fighting for justice and freedom, which we barely saw in the other papers.

To be honest, we didn’t expect this much balance for a newspaper that was governmentally-linked. Sure, it could go further but eh, this one not bad already k.

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5. Kosmo! 

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On the front page: The headline tells us two things: Anwar did something wrong and his punishment is sealed for good, although the choice of word for ‘mati’ could easily be replaced with something a little less sensational. (Plus, there is a chance Anwar could walk free – through a review, or if BN loses the majority and Pakatan takes over in the next GE.)

Again on word choice, it then goes on to give the gist of the event, adding that after numerous postponement, Anwar was ‘finally imprisoned’ which seemingly insinuated annoyance.


And on the inside: With very few reports in comparison the other four dailies, Kosmo! gave little to no room for the views of the defendant and Opposition. The only significant real estate they got was a quote from Anwar’s lawyer: “We will see what needs to be done before taking further actions.” Yeeeep, that’s it.

Even the photo gallery focused more on the police force, the police force with Anwar supporters, pro-Saiful supporters (sans police force) and a coupla photos of Anwar’s family members not looking happy.

It then went on to report other stuff, including a thief in Alor Setar who tried to break into a house and fell asleep under a car because he was probably tired or sumfink.

Click images for larger version: 

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The conversations are so different online

Like we said in the start, alternative media in Malaysia is one helluva booming scene. Without support from the government, they’re more able to report without being censored, although cautious writing is key with Malaysia’s various, delicately-crafted acts that may legally implicate us.

Online, there seems to be alot more checks and balances. If your coverage is skewed, be prepared for some horrid comments. Also, news outlets frequently cover social media opinions, and can be updated in case an error is made (something CILISOS uses quite often).

Different perspectives. Screencap of Free Malaysia Today.

Different perspectives. Screencap of Free Malaysia Today.

An interesting point to mention here is how the world sees us, too. It’s been made pretty clearly in the news (albeit receiving harsh love from SukaGuam) that a few countries have found this worrying. Some media outlets have also shed light to the world about Anwar’s verdict, so much so the petitions going around are being signed by Americans themselves.


SO MANY SOURCES! How can we know the truth, then?

Let’s be honest – we’ll never know the whole truth unless we were there when all that happened (or not). But what’s important is that we don’t just get our news from ONE SOURCE. Each editor, journalist, or reporter has their own sets of feelings, opinions and judgements – even us (and yes, even BFM). While we at CILISOS aim to present a balanced view, it will be skewed to our own opinions and judgements.

Thankfully, there are other options – sites like Malay Mail Online, The Ant Daily, Free Malaysia Today, The Malaysian Insider and The Rakyat Post (despite what we think of them) are but a few of the many media outlets providing another side to news.

However, the issue is that the Internet doesn’t reach everyone, and because of tight publishing laws, there are some places where only newspapers and TV will reach, although thankfully, that figure seems to be reducing everyday.

Not that mainstream media are 100% unfair, just that it, (like Malaysiakini or Malaysian Insider) only presents one-side of the news.

Also, be wary of what your Facebook friends are forwarding as well – they’re your friends, probably with similar interests, probably mostly from the same area, which means they read the same things as you. We leave you with a quote from the Guardian about this 21st century phoenomena, and how it shows us what human nature unfortunately leaves us with.

From Twitter streams to personal news feeds, we’ve become experts at sourcing only the content that is most relevant to our particular interests, but some commentators worry that our personalised content feeds can only tell us so much of a news story. – Chris Smith, “How is web personalisation affecting the news?”, The Guardian

6 groups that are telling Malaysians not to go for BERSIH 5


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  2. atuk2_4cc

    16/02/2015 at 1:06 pm

    The live proceedings as carried by some of the online media would allow the readers to make their own interpretation of the results. I still think justice was not done.

  3. KJon

    15/02/2015 at 10:52 pm

    Personally I have always found that The Star does try to do fair reporting even though it is a government-owned newspaper while the other ones sensationalize and don’t even try to hide their bias when “reporting” news

  4. SF7478

    12/02/2015 at 1:30 pm

    “Not that mainstream media are 100% unfair, just that it, (like Malaysiakini or Malaysian Insider) only presents one-side of the news.” – this is undoubtedly the naked truth.

    Malaysiakini/Malaysian Insider/Malaysian Chronicle & The Star/Utusan/NSTP are both similar but different: their modus operandi is the same but the info they presented are different. Hence it is important that we the general public must take the effort to approach each issue with an open mind & get both sides of the story before making our decisions. Failure to do so will doom us to making bad decisions which ultimately lead us to disaster.

    Unfortunately this is something that’s not known to be a typical characteristic of Malaysians…

  5. n305er

    12/02/2015 at 8:46 am

    To me, it seems sad that the whole of Malaysia only seem to rely on DS Anwar as our political savior, where everyone actually has a role in our country’s improvement and advancement.

    • mich

      12/02/2015 at 10:43 am

      Me thinks whether or not some Malaysians think of Anwar as Malaysia’s political saviour is not the main reason why they are disgusted and disappointed at the conviction (or the entire trial for the matter).

      I personally am disappointed with the judiciary and know that Malaysia is doomed with such a disgusting and dirty party like BN at the reins. I think that they will stop at nothing to take down any other future political opponents.

      If they really wanted to convict Anwar for something, a more reasonable
      charge would be corruption during his time at UMNO. But why not charge him with corruption instead? We all know the pot fears calling the kettle black.

    • n305er

      12/02/2015 at 11:25 am

      mich ,

      You are right. There’s a lot to digest in what has happened over the event especially the credibility of our justice system.

      But the fact is, this has always been the case even with high profile cases. Take the Altantuya case for example where the judge simply ignore evidence regarding the involvement of Abdul Razak Baginda. Or the fact that they quickly ridicule Pornthip’s evaluation for Teoh Beng Hock’s case shows the biasness of our courts.

      So the disappointment of Malaysians towards our courts only for Anwar’s case is not properly justified IMO. But the sudden spike in interest shows that Anwar has the charisma and attention of Malaysians more than Teoh Beng Hock or Altantuya that generated the activities around the event.

      I can only conclude that this is the case because Malaysians believe Anwar is the only person who can save the Malaysian political scene and thus put so much effort to follow/cover the event and create events around it.

      When in fact, it’ll be much more beneficial for everyone to realize that the proper way to save Malaysia is through proper spread of education, voting the right person, contributing to the economy and rejecting corruption.

      For starters, I think it’s really crucial for rural citizens to get better internet access for them to be exposed to the truth of what BN is doing to the country and how the opposition can do a better job managing Malaysia.

      If you have friends working in the education sector, you’ll also realize how controlled and mind washing the system is to the students and to the teachers as well. Those are the places we should focus on to make our country stronger and outpace our neighbors.

      And when we ourselves don’t bother about racism, no matter what the government tried to do to make us hate our friends of another race, it won’t be effective anymore.

      Be the Hero, don’t make Anwar the only Hero.

    • SF7478

      12/02/2015 at 1:23 pm

      “How the opposition can do a better job managing Malaysia” – as a citizen of Selangor I can’t help but laugh at this statement. Pakatan can’t even manage its own state properly, so to proclaim that it can do a better job managing Malaysia is laughable to say the least.

      Last year alone I & so many of my fellow Selangorians had to contend with water shortage brought on by the Selangor State Government’s political games over the state’s water assets, the tussle over the Selangor MB position after Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim steadfastly refused to play the water game anymore to end the suffering of Selangorians (lets not forget how he gamed the democratic process by forcing a perfectly fine MP to resign & run a largely pointless by-election to put his wife in the running to take over as MB which thankfully failed). The general upkeep of the state is hardly top notch either – pot holed roads are aplenty, trash collection erratic & unsatisfactory, dengue cases on the rise & instead of solving the issue countless excuses were given, increased number of vice dens in and around the state (licenced too), not to having the state assessment rates increased with nary a notice (the irony is that the opposition leaders would scream at the top of their lungs when there’s any increase in anything which are BN led). I cannot stand here and accept that Pakatan would run this country any better than BN (they’re both equally inept). Anyone who believes that is either naive or too blinded by hate to see beyond the smoke.

      As for the judiciary – the opposition have their fair share of wins against the government before in both civil & criminal cases. Surely if the judiciary is corrupt the record would be 0 wins and 100% losses so how can you argue that the judiciary is corrupt when there are so many instances of court rulings going the opposition’s way? It defies logic & reason.

      Instead one must look at the way the defence team presented their case – despite the large number of high profile lawyers none of them are able to offer any reasonable proof that shatters the credibility of the prosecution’s case. I keep hearing that the prosecution offered a flimsy case, and yet those band of lawyers still faltered. It is inexplicable & illogical why Anwar chose not to go on the stand & why the defence didn’t offer any witnesses to corroborate Anwar’s alibi. Had they done so, clearly the case, if it was true that it was so flimsy, would have gone their way.

      Also mich “If they really wanted to convict Anwar for something, a more reasonablecharge would be corruption during his time at UMNO. But why not charge him with corruption instead?” – he was charged & convicted in 1998 for abuse of power. He didn’t go to jail because of Sodomy I, so he can no longer be charged for corruption. Besides, I’m sure there are statutes of limitation over these matters which precludes prosecution.

    • n305er

      12/02/2015 at 2:12 pm

      “How the opposition can do a better job managing Malaysia”
      Opposition here is not Keadilan. And also, don’t forget, I’m voicing out to everyone to make a difference instead of asking you to vote for PKR. In Penang, Opposition could simply mean BN instead.

      What you’ve just described has so much to do with how Keadilan handled Selangor. Which was my main point in the first place. Why idolize others, hoping they will be our savior when we ourselves should do our part?

      I knew Keadilan was not a good choice to begin with but it’s either of the 2 devils as your choice in Selangor. The big devil vs the new devil.

      In Penang, there’s a whole different story and we’re seeing lots of improvements.

      But note that Penangnites did not expect our government to do all the work. Remember those volunteers who got arrested by the police? They are only one of the few who actively started to decide how to make our place safer for all. We also have a lot of active rukun tetangga communities here which actively helped organized blood donation drives and recycling drive. Using the money to help orphans and old folks homes.

      I wish you did read between the lines in my earlier comments. We’re all citizens and should contribute towards the society. But instead, everyone thought all Malaysian’s problems will be solved by simply picking the right Government.

      No matter which government you pick, I’d choose those who didn’t manage well and may learn rather than those who have experience to oppress the citizen.

    • SF7478

      12/02/2015 at 6:02 pm

      I sincerely disagree that the Penang government is bringing improvements from an overall perspective (the way they steamrolled the proposed tunnel is a bit dodgy to be honest, among other things). But it’s been 14 years since I lived in Penang so I reserve my judgement on the effectiveness of their day to day operations.

      However don’t forget that you need a functioning coalition to administer the country – if Keadilan is crap, PAS will not function in sync with DAP & DAP can’t carry those two how well can they do the job of running this country?

      But I do agree with you that Malaysians must step up & play their part by contributing to the society instead of just waiting for the government to do everything for them. It seems that we have become a nation of whiners.

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