This week has been a very focused week for me. My eldest daughter just entered Standard One, and I’ve mostly cleared my schedule for the week so I can help her get through a landmark period of her life. So my week has mostly been focused on that, instead of work.
Then, on the third day of school, while I was waiting at the canteen right before 6pm when school would end, I received a notification on my phone. Someone had just followed me on Twitter. I looked at my phone and it was Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the deputy prime minister of Malaysia.
At first, I got scared. He is also the home minister, and that meant most of the laws and acts that could be a threat to journalists like me falls under his jurisdiction. So many of my colleagues and friends have been detained and interrogated for the things they had reported and said.
I’ve said some pretty anti-establishment things throughout the years and, frankly, I would rather not be detained. But then I thought back. Many of the things I’ve written or spoken about really haven’t been against the law. And anyway, it’s not like I’m such a high profile individual who gets that much attention.
What it really is, and believe this to be very much an educated assumption on my part, is that the deputy prime minister is just making an attempt to engage with the people. Okay, fine! Let’s not be naive. It’s most probably his social media team that followed me on Twitter, and not him personally.
Levelled media playing field
I remember eight years ago, or two general elections ago, the Internet was something not all the politicians understood. It was especially the case with the ruling party. They were so focused on the mainstream media they owned that they neglected the Internet totally.
The opposition, who had no access to the mainstream media at all, pounced on the availability and accessibility that the Internet provided. They started campaigning using websites, blogs, e-mail groups and even SMS text messaging. And the people, who were desperate for a change, gobbled it up.
So much so that the opposition even managed to lure prominent political bloggers to become candidates, such as Jeff Ooi and Tony Pua (photo). Both are now senior members of DAP. Ooi is currently the Jelutong MP and Pua the MP for Petaling Jaya Utara. Both won by huge margins during the 2008 general election.
In fact, the opposition so successfully utilised the Internet that the 2008 general election was a massive upset for the incumbent ruling party. Several states tumbled and were taken over by the opposition. They even managed to reduce the ruling party’s majority in the federal Parliament significantly, and this made history.
New mainstream media
Today, the Internet has more or less become the mainstream media already. More people have their eyes online and on social media platforms rather than the traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers. It would even be safe to assume that the Internet has overtaken these traditional media platforms as the mainstream media.
If we look at how it has developed, there really is no advantage anymore when it comes to political parties and politicians owning the media. With how the Internet has opened up accessibility, it has now become a level playing field. Okay, maybe not so levelled because Big Brother still has certain unfair laws they can use, but it is really more or less equal.
So now we see even the ruling party needs to be proficient in using social media, and we have to admit that they are doing a pretty decent job. So I really feel that the coming general election this year is going to be a very interesting one indeed. With how much the media landscape has changed, control in this department (information) may not be a factor anymore.
With all the access that the politicians have to reach the people, and how much access the people have to the politicians and the information, this year’s general election could just really be about the issues. So we will definitely have to anticipate how the results are going to pan out.
In the meantime, I am going to try my best to be a good Twitterer, so that my new fan and follower (the deputy prime minister, if you were wondering!) won’t be disappointed with my tweets.
Oh, the pressure to perform on the social media platform is just too great!
ZAN AZLEE is a writer, documentary filmmaker, journalist and academic. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi isn’t the only Cabinet member to follow him on social media. Several others like Khairy Jamaluddin, Hamzah Zainuddin and Idris Jusoh have been entertained by his tweets for several years now. Visit FATBIDIN.COM to view his work.
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