It is easy to imagine that Malaysians who rely completely on the mainstream media news must be completely bamboozled by now. The urban Malaysians are probably more cluey and, would have caught on to the gentle decline of economy activity. As for Malaysians in the rural areas, I suspect that they are feeling the contraction too despite conflicting news reports. So, I don't think Malaysians are that easily bamboozled.
We have come to regard this ability to understand nuances as the art of reading between the lines.
Just click on most of this weekend's contents of The Star's BizNews and you will see what I mean. The reports on specific companies carry all the positive stuff. For example, Air Asia targets RM200 million profit in 2009 and Boustead Plantation REITS post higher profits.
The rest of the contents cover the entire spectrum of scary stuff. Foreboding signs is the title of Guna's op-ed piece carries his usual caustic observations on the economic management of this country (or lack thereof), An 'oxpicious' year ahead? is where Lin See Yan continues to be more and more candid about Malaysia's economic problems (perhaps being prepared to relinquish his role in the reticent Economic Council or, angling for a new gig when Najib forms his own one after March?) and, so on it goes.
And, to underline in bold that the economic problems are escalating without saying so, the feature articles are focused on the banking sector's declining lending and the NPL situation (very subtly) using titles such as Riding out the financial storm, How the banks are coping and so on.
To someone who has blogged extensively on the economic challenges for many months now, this is a case of the mainstream media being too little, too late.
The role of the mainstream media as the so-called Fourth Estate, has been absent for a long time. Many blame it on repressive laws such as the odious Printing Presses and Publications Act. The Internal Security Act has something on economic security that probably scares the crap out of the Chief Editors.
But, really, are we that bereft of writing talent that there are no journos with the penmanship to be able to highlight economic issues without having to rant and rave about politics and personalities?
By not stating the obvious on an area as neutral as economics, the Malaysian mainstream media has done a great disservice to the Malaysian public. It failed to get the Malaysian government to stir from its slumber. It failed to highlight the problems, both systemic and human, that may have helped to bring into sharp relief the shortcomings that needed to be addressed months ago, perhaps some time in February 2008.
Malaysians journos need not be that intelligent on economics. There were plenty of analysts that were writing reports on the declining state of the Malaysian economy throughout the second-half of 2008. The analysis were already done and written up with plenty of colourful diagrams, bar charts and pie charts.
If the political masters had been annoyed with certain penetrating pieces on the state of the economy, the Chief Editors should muster all their skills to deal with them.
But, it would appear that after years of emasculation we do not have anyone in the Malaysian Fourth Estate that can rise beyond reporting on past events and calling it news. Every penetrating report that is written is reviewed from the perspective of which politician or which political party that will benefit from such a report; never, ever from the perspective of whether the public needs to know about it ... even neutral topics such as economic news is edited on that basis.
This bizarre situation only points to the widespread belief that the rot in Malaysia's socio-political fabric is so deep that only a major change can reverse the rot.
As for the economic malaise that is creeping into all levels of the Malaysian community, the laggard mainstream media reports confirm the belief that things are worse than what is reported. The BN leaders running the Federal Government are now caught in a fix that they created for themselves ... some call it a credibility gap. Others call it the uncomfortable splat sound from the shit hitting the fan.