IN MY free time, I teach journalism to undergraduate students.
Apart from teaching them the basics, like writing in the inverted pyramid and SEO for headlines, I also try to instil civic consciousness in them and train them to develop their “news sense”.
Last week, during a discussion on the coming 14th general election (talk is that elections will be called fairly soon), I asked my students if they were all ready to vote when the time arrived. The entire class said they had better things to do than vote.
I want to say that I was shocked by this, but honestly, I really wasn’t. I already had a strong inkling that many Malaysian youths have little or no faith in our political system. Or perhaps they’re just apathetic. But it didn’t mean I would accept it.
So I proceeded to rant.
I tried to find an issue that they could relate to in order to argue my stand. I asked them if they enjoyed watching movies. They all said “yes”. Then I asked if they found our country’s censorship practices annoying and frustrating. Again, the reply was a resounding ‘yes’.
For context, the Malaysian censorship board is very strict and conservative (not to mention inconsistent!). Sometimes, even an innocent kiss between a man and a woman gets cut out. Curse words are often silenced and nudity removed entirely.
We use an age-restriction rating system, slapping labels like “General”, “18SX” (for sexual content) and “18SG” (for violent content) on each film to distinguish between those acceptable for viewers of all ages and those only for those aged 18 years and above. But even with these labels, local censors tend to cut out certain “offensive” scenes anyway. So that age category system doesn’t really have much of a function.
Sometimes, it can be ridiculous. A few months ago, there was controversy surrounding an apparent gay scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. First, regulators decided to ban it, then just cut the related scene, and then after receiving so much criticism, they agreed to just let it go.
I proceeded to explain to my students that the local censorship board comes under the purview of the politicians we had voted in. I told them that if they didn’t agree with our censorship guidelines, then they can actually do something about it by voting.
I also gave them an example in the form of the right to education. In Malaysia, public universities are fairly affordable, however, there is a quota system and it favours the Malay ethnic group rather than the non-Malays.
Hence, many non-Malays are forced to enrol in private universities where tuition fees can be extremely expensive. So if they can’t afford the fees, it might mean they can’t afford a tertiary education.
I asked the students if they thought this was fair. They all said it wasn’t. Then I asked them if they knew that there was actually a political party whose agenda includes a promise to provide equal and free, or at least affordable, education right up to the tertiary level.
They all said “no”.
The students I was talking to are all enrolled in one of these private colleges – meaning they’re likely paying pretty high tuition fees for their educational pursuits. So when I told them this, it finally dawned upon them that just by exercising their power to vote, they’re able to change many things about their country that they’re unhappy about.
People need to realise that whether we like it or not, politics influences every single aspect of our lives. Political apathy cannot be an excuse – we all need to take an interest in the future of our country because that’s our future too. So we cannot take our right to vote for granted. In fact, registering to vote and then deciding not to cast it can be a statement too.
But not being bothered, not registering and then not voting is just irresponsible. It is not just being irresponsible to yourself, it is also being irresponsible to the entire Malaysian society. So go register to vote today. It could change your life.
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