“THE public is advised not to make their own judgments”.

Such was the statement that apparently came from Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein on the case of the Malaysian official charged with attempted robbery and sexual assault in New Zealand.

Asking the public not to make judgments is akin to asking the public not to think.

It is saying the public should just accept whatever information that is provided to them. No analytical skills needed, thank you very much.

In the past few years, with our rallies on the ground and social media protests, it has been quite obvious that Malaysians are no longer just willing to accept whatever rhetoric is spouted their way.

Time and time again, we see the Malaysian public react, more often than not against statements and actions of law-makers which, viewed from a rational angle, are seen to be simply not right.

With Facebook, in particular, that reaction becomes almost a rousing call to the law-makers to do the right thing.

Sometimes, one wonders if politicians forget how powerful the social media is.

Here are some stats to put things into context.

In 2013, studies showed that Malaysia had more than 13 million FB users.

A vast majority of these Facebook users (more than 50%) were aged above 18.

In other words, literally millions of thinking Malaysian adults are online, surfing, reading and, most importantly,sharingthoughts and ideas and reactions.

Even a person who is not a newsmaker, when declaring a certain unsavoury viewpoint, can incur the wrath of netizens.

Yet, we still get newsmakers that make generalised, often hollow statements, such as the one mentioned at the start of this article.

I won’t speculate on why Second Warrant officer Muhammad Rizalman Ismail is not on the next plane to Kiwiland.

Rather, I would like to note that in a hot potato case that already has us all steamy, the minister would have perhaps done better by just stating what the government’s next step was and why.

This would in itself get its own wave of feedback; tacking on a statement where the public is told not to make judgments is asking for a tsunami of even more judgment.

Strong reaction from an unsatisfied online population will often result in a counter-reaction (aka knee-jerk statements) from lawmakers, which by virtue of its characteristic (i.e. the automatic jerk of the knee upon receiving a thump), is not always the product of careful consideration.

The counter-reaction of the week (so far) belongs to Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim, with her defence of the move to banish soup kitchens from the city centre.

She claimed, among other reasons, that the purpose of running soup kitchens in the city centre was further diluted due to tourists “sneaking in to get free food”.

Though Idon’t agree at allwith the ban, I understood that the minister was trying to make a stand, but that statement was certainly not the smartest way to get buy-in from the people.

There is also that other more popular counter-reaction — which is to state that the initial statement was taken out of context.

No doubt there have been cases where a statement was truly taken out of context.

However, this should only serve the purpose to make one more careful about what one says, especially when it is on very serious matters.

And this, of course, applies to everyone and not just the politicians.

This pattern of generalised, sometimes inconsiderate, sometimes plain silly statements from certain newsmakers doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon, despite the inevitable avalanche of furious public reaction.

However, I take heart at what this particular process sometimes reveals, as in the saga of the soup kitchen ban, where reactions came in the form of the solidarity of Malaysians defending the rights of the less fortunate to a meal a day and their fierce pride in their own right to provide such assistance.

It was also amazing to note how many people actually make the effort to volunteer and run these soup kitchens on a regular basis.

Maybe, just maybe, these superficial statements are what we need to show and remind us of who we truly are and what we are capable of as a nation.

Nisha Sabanayagam
Nisha Sabanayagam

*Nisha Sabanayagam is a former journalist.

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