Asian Currents vol. 2 no. 1 SY 2008-09


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Asian Currents is a collection of stories and research papers written by journalists from all over Asia who came together in pursuit of the Master’s degree in journalism, a program of the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila

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currents ISSN 1908-9236 VOL. 2 NO. 1 | sY 2008-09 asian P U B L I S H E D B Y K O N R A D A D E N A U E R A S I A N C E N T E R F O R J O U R N A L I S M at the ateneo de manila university Nursing the Japanese Agreement sets stiff terms for Filipino nurses shackled shuttlecocks Politics taints Malaysian badminton When local goes global? Philippine media split on foreign investors Covering terrorism Journalistic standards slide in terrorism reportage Indonesian radio calls up listeners El Shinta radio stirs citizens journalists TVK’s limited view Cambodia’s state television redefines news values Photo essays No place like Siromon The gangs of Baseco A painter’s last hope Home at Last


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asiancurrents (ISSN 1908-9236) is a publication of the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Philippines. ACFJ is a unit of the Ateneo’s Department of Communication. Asian Currents is published twice a year, after the end of every semester. Editorial Board Werner vom Busch Violet B. Valdez, PhD Luz Rimban Yvonne Chua Photo Editor Jimmy A. Domingo Layout Artist LeANNE Jazul consultant Isabel Kenny Advisers Glenda Gloria Chay Hofileña Kim Kierans Eric Loo, PhD Sev Sarmenta Luis Teodoro ACFJ Staff Atty. Clara Baquilod Rose Madjos Arianne Ferrer Reina Madayag Cherry Adriatico ou have before you the latest edition of Asian Currents, a compilation of reports covering various issues written by journalists from all over Asia. It is a valuable collection of themes that have been or will be dealt with by journalists. Take the developments in citizen journalism in Indonesia. Radio Elshinta is an interesting pioneering effort to have people in the streets participate in the daily business of news reporting. In his story, Moch Nung Kurniawan also sheds light on the growing importance of technology in news. Another issue altogether is the discussion in the Philippines on whether its vast media market should be opened up to foreign ownership, a step that has been carefully avoided so far by other Asian countries. As always, there are pros and cons, as Joyce Babe Pañares points out. The discussion pits journalistic values against technical progress, local interests against international interconnectedness and influences. Sports is not insulated from politics, as shown in P. Rajessvary Paul Thurai’s investigation into badminton in Malaysia. Badminton, a sport where Malaysian athletes have excelled, has suffered from the interference of politicians seeking to share a bit of the limelight and fame. The positive and negative sides of the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership agreement (JPEPA) are discussed in Marian Trinidad’s piece. She highlights a looming problem facing many, mostly East Asian Countries. A critical view of the coverage of terrorism in the Philippines was the outcome of the research Odina Batnag undertook. Her study found that the top Philippine newspapers failed to go beyond mere reporting to analyze deeper issues surroundings this problem. An article by Som Ratana comments on the shortcomings of the Cambodia State Television, where the news coverage has been dominated by concerns for hierarchy rather than newsworthiness. This issue of Asian Currents also includes three photo essays done by ACFJ fellows in the Diploma in Photojournalism program. A photo essay by Conrado “Charlie” Saceda Jr. documents the return of the natives of Siromon Island after 30 years of absence due to the war between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Koichiro Ota of Mainichi Shimbun tells the story in pictures of the ailing Japanese painter Misao Tanaka as he faces what he says are his last days. And then there is the work of freelance photojournalist Vicente Jaime (VJ) Villafranca which has earned him the Ian Parry Scholarship. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s Media Programme Asia is happy to assist Asian Currents as it sheds light on a variety of issues that Asian nations share. Y foreword i Natives of Siromon Island pick up the pieces of a life they left behind 30 years ago, when the fighting between the MNLF and the government forced them to flee. As part of their homecoming, they got nipa huts, called core shelters, from the UN’s Act for Peace Program. (photograph by Charlie Saceda) Cover photo Werner vom Busch Director Media Programme Asia Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Singapore


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ii asiancurrents NURSING THE JAPANESE By Marian Trinidad Filipinos face tough hurdles as the Japanese-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement ( JPEPA) opens a window of employment opportunities for nurses. SHACKLED SHUTTLECOCKS By P. Rajessvary Paul Thurai Politicking in competitive badminton demoralizes Malaysian athletes, but players and officials see hope for the sport. WHEN LOCAL GOES GLOBAL By Joyce Babe Pañares Philippine journalists ponder the benefits of foreign investments in media corporations, with the limits on media ownership likely to be amended in the event of charter change. return to siromon By Charlie Saceda A photo essay on the sons and daughters of Siromon on their return to the island after three decades. voices in the rubble By Odina Batnag The Philippines’ top newspapers fall short of journalistic standards in their coverage of three major terrorist attacks. CITIZENS ON THE AIR By Moch Nung Kurniawan Indonesian radio station Elshinta attracts the audience with its brand of citizen journalism. JUDGING WHATS NEWS By Som Ratana Cambodia’s state -run television station TVK adopts a narrow definition of news and news values. MARKED: THE GANGS OF BASECO By Veejay Villafranca Young hoodlums of the Baseco compound seek a new life away from drugs and crime. A PAINTER’S LAST WISHES By Koichiro Ota A Japanese painter struggles with illness as he faces his last days. 1 6 10 18 22 27 32 36 40 Contents


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Nursing the Japanese A lopsided partnership? | By Marian e. trinidad An economic partnership agreement between Tokyo and Manila commits Japan to open its labor market for the first time to Filipino nurses and other health professionals. But the agreement also stipulates stringent requirements for their entry, putting in question Japan’s true motives for forging the deal. Filipino student nurses will have the option of working in Japan, provided they pass Japan’s licensure exams which are given in Nihongo. PHOTO BY charlie saceda


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n the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Helsinki in September 2006, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signed a historic bilateral agreement. The Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) is a first for Japan. It contains provisions for the movement of natural persons, which in this case refers to Filipino nurses being tapped to care for Japan’s graying population. “What we have plenty of is what Japan has very little of—young people who can act as caregivers for the older people of Japan. So there is a very, very great complementarity,” a beaming Arroyo told Japan’s NHK TV. At first glance, the agreement appears to favor both countries. Of Japan’s population of 128 million, 27 percent are elderly, which the United Nations defines as those aged 60 years and older. By 2010, Japan will need 7.5 million health professionals and allied workers as the graying population increases, putting pressure on the government to open its doors to foreign health workers. At the time the JPEPA was signed, the Philippine government was concerned that its standing as one of the world’s top suppliers of nurses would be threatened by a controversy arising from the leakage of test questions for the nursing board examination. The opportunity to export its surplus of nursing graduates to a hitherto untapped market like Japan was all too inviting. On 8 October 2008, the Philippine Senate ratified the JPEPA. Filipino nursing and labor experts, however, say the Philippines is actually getting the short end of the deal, given Japan’s conservative and protectionist policies. Politicized pact For decades, entertainers have been the Philippines’ main labor export to Japan. But they have fallen victim to human trafficking. And with the United States leading a global campaign against human trafficking, Japan-bound entertainers have come under close watch, and are now subject to stricter rules. Including nurses in the list of workers to be admitted under JPEPA, observers say, is the olive branch Japan is offering the U.S. And Japan needs to improve ties with the US to maintain its political and economic posturing in Asia amid China’s rapid market and military expansion in the region. Not that Japan would ever ban, in the near future, the entry of Filipino entertainers in favor of nurses, and risk antagonizing the owners of its pubs and allied businesses, explained Lydia Yu-Jose of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Japanese Studies Program. “For political reasons, they have to satisfy the Philippine government who really wants to send caregivers and nurses,” she said. Yu-Jose says the JPEPA is also Japan’s way of ensuring that the Philippines will remain an ally. According to her, Japan envisions an East Asian economy which it hopes to lead by keeping a grip on Southeast Asia through bilateral agreements. But China itself is in this race for economic bilateral agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its individual member-countries. The Philippine government, of course, believes it is getting the better deal. “Without the cover of bilateral agreement, the Philippine exporters’ share of the Japanese market will be further eroded by countries aggressively pursuing negotiations with Japan,” said its trade and industry secretary, Peter Favila. Japan has forged bilateral agreements with Singapore and Malaysia, and will soon be signing agreements with Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam. The 500,000-strong Japanese Nursing Association (JNA) suspects another reason for its government’s decision to hire health professionals from the Philippines. The JPEPA is a quid pro quo: Filipino nurses in exchange for benefits the Japanese automotive industry would reap. Yu-Jose agrees with the JNA, saying that Japanese vehicles will eventually enter the Philippines at zero tariff under the agreement. In return, the JPEPA will allow the export of some Philippine agricultural products to Japan. “But how many mangoes and bananas will the Japanese need? It’s not a necessity. I don’t think it O 2 asiancurrents


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nursing the japanese marian e. trinidad will increase our exports,” Yu-Jose said. Still, Trade and Industry Undersecretary Tomas Aquino, the Philippines’ lead negotiator in the agreement, is confident JPEPA will pave the way for a mutually beneficial movement of not just goods but also people. “With the knowledge, experience, and background, we now move on to another set, a new set of Filipinos. We have something to offer and (Japan) can afford to pay for it,” he said. “I look at this as…a geographical option. It’s more positive than negative in this way (because) we have a lot of experience dealing with the Japanese.” Japan’s interests first While changing demographics may be forcing Japan to open up its labor market, Tokyo also faces domestic pressure to keep foreigners out. Aside from Japan’s historical protectionist attitude, the Japanese also fear a “deterioration in public security,” reports say. Japan’s National Police Agency lists Filipinos as among nationals from eight countries responsible for 24,437 crimes. Shinichi Kakui, first secretary and labor attache of the Japanese embassy in Manila, confirms his compatriots’ negative perception of foreigners, particularly those living in rural areas. “Generically speaking, Japanese people have (this) emotion of dislike toward foreigners,” he said. Objection to the entry of Filipino health professionals came chiefly from the JNA, which said the 1.2 million nurses and nurse assistants all over Japan were enough to care for Japanese nationals, especially the elderly. Kakui said Japan, indeed, has a sufficient supply of local nurses and can even tap the services of about 500,000 Japanese nurses who have resigned to meet the demands of its aging society. He disclosed that his government initially did not want to include the provision on the movement of natural persons in the JPEPA, but it finally gave in to Manila’s persistent request for Japan to import Filipino nurses and caregivers. Hisashi Noguchi, director of the Nursing Personnel Division at Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, also believes that Japan is allowing the entry of foreign nurses, not because of the perceived shortage, but to promote cultural exchanges between Japan and the Philippines. Japan’s nurses set terms The JNA eventually agreed to allow Filipino nurses and caregivers into Japan but demanded rigid requirements for their entry. 3 Japan, it said, should not agree to mutual recognition of overseas nursing qualifications. Instead, JNA demanded that foreign-trained nurses: • Take the same government examination as prospective Japanese nurses; • Obtain local qualifications; • Develop Japanese proficiency at the level where they can safely deliver nursing care; and • Be hired on employment terms equal to Japanese nurses. The last three conditions found their way into the final agreement, specifically the “Basic Framework of the Hosting Scheme of Filipino Nurse and Certified Careworkers,” which was released by the JPEPA negotiating panels. Under the agreement, Filipino nurses must be licensed and experienced before they could apply “What we have plenty of is what Japan has very little of—young people who can act as caregivers for the older people of Japan. So there is a very, very great complementarity,”­­ — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for any health care work in Japan. To be certified by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), caregivers who intend to work in Japan must have finished a four-year course from a Philippine university. Philippine negotiators said all nurse candidates must pass through the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) where applications are collated and processed. The POEA, in turn, will forward the applications to the Japan International Corporation of Welfare Services (JICWELS), which will serve as the databank of applications from the Philippines. JICWELS was established with the approval of Japan’s Minister of Health and Welfare as a semigovernment organization. Its major source of funding is Japan’s Official Development Assistance.


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4 asiancurrents The Philippine Nursing Association (PNA) welcomes the opening of the Japanese labor market as a means of reducing the number of jobless or underemployed Filipino nurses. PNA president Marilyn Yap also acknowledged that the Japanese government would be entitled to determine how to test the competency of Filipino nurses, including the imposition of the Japanese national nursing examination. But Yap was worried that Filipino nurses would be discouraged by a provision requiring them to take the nursing exams in Nihongo. As it is, Filipino nurses are already in demand in several countries that do not require an examination in a foreign language besides English. After taking Japanese language and culture courses, Filipino nurses will be required to work as trainees in a hospital or social welfare institution that will be arranged by accepting facilities. While undergoing on-the-job-training (OJT), they will receive compensation equal to the salary of Japanese nurse assistants, which is lower than the salary of registered nurses. Japan at present requires foreign nurses to study in its formal nursing schools, but the JPEPA permits nurses from the Philippines to skip formal schooling. Anytime during the OJT, which can stretch to three years, Filipino nurses will have to undergo the National Examination for Nurses. The exam, given in Nihongo once a year, will determine whether the candidate can legally work as a licensed nurse in Japan. Filipino nurses who leave the Philippines are licensed and mostly experienced, they could benefit from starting as trainees in Japan under the OJT, which could help them pass the Japanese nursing exam, Imperial said. “If they take the exam right away, their chances of passing it will be limited,” she added. . The passing rate in Japan’s national examination for the past decade has been between 82 and 98 percent, according to JNA. Filipino nurses, on the other hand, have been doing dismally in Philippine licensure exams. The passing rate has dropped from 54 percent in “This will be government to government. Everybody should go through this process. Direct hiring is not part of the agreement,” said Philippine labor official Ma. Luisa Gigette Imperial. The agreement does not limit the number of Filipino health professionals who would be allowed into Japan. But what is unclear is the succeeding condition that virtually grants Japan the right to regulate the entry and temporary stay of health professionals. Tetsuo Tsuji, Japan’s administrative vice labor minister, has announced that a maximum of 400 nurses and 600 caregivers will be admitted into Japan for two years, a quota which he said would have no adverse impact on the Japanese labor market. Learning Japanese The key to Japan’s regional ambition, according to Yu-Jose of the Ateneo de Manila University, is the promotion of Nihongo. The JPEPA appears to support her claim. For the first six months, nurses and caregivers from the Philippines will have to study the Japanese language and culture. The Philippines initially asked the Japanese government to shoulder the training expenses. The Japanese government’s response was to tap the Japan Foundation and the Association for Overseas Technical Scholarship for the language and culture training. In the long run, however, the Philippine government would have to negotiate for private groups to fund the training, Aquino said. Japan would then have no excuse to limit the number of nurses from the Philippines who could enter Japan, he said. The English proficiency of Filipino workers has made them universally acceptable. But Kakui emphasized that the Japanese government was seriously concerned about the quality of Filipino nurses who are not proficient in Nihongo. Recent medical accidents have caused a furor among the Japanese public, fanning fears that the entry of nonNihongo speaking foreigners could lead to more fatal incidents. The agreement does not limit the number of Filipino health professionals who would be allowed into Japan. But what is unclear is the condition that virtually grants Japan the right to regulate the entry and temporary stay of health professionals.


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nursing the japanese marian e. trinidad 2001 to a record low of 42 percent in 2006. Nursing examinees barely make the local tests, given in English, so the prospects may not be too bright for exams given in Japanese. The barriers to the entry of Filipino nurses and caregivers, specifically the requirement for them to take the Nursing Licensure Examination in Nihongo, is Japan’s way of diplomatically saying no to Filipino health professionals. “They say yes, but they make it hard,” Yu-Jose said. So in the end, Japan can say it is the Filipino nurses’ fault that they are not hired because they cannot pass the exam. Mutual recognition Despite strong opposition from the JNA, “Mutual Recognition” still became part of the JPEPA’s chapter on the movement of natural persons and would be implemented in the future. “The idea of mutual recognition is, once you are already licensed in the Philippines, you also consider them as licensed in Japan. So they don’t have to go through this licensure examination anymore. That is the end result of mutual recognition,” Imperial said. A committee would be formed to study ways of implementing the mutual recognition provision. But while Japan considers recognizing Philippineissued licenses, Filipino nurses will still have to work as assistants to licensed Japanese nurses until they pass the Japanese Nursing Licensure Examination. The JPEPA also contains a provision called “National Treatment.” Imperial said trainees and successful licensed nurses and certified caregivers would be given salaries and benefits equal to the compensation of their Japanese counterparts. For example, Filipino nurses who work as trainees in health institutions will get a stipend equal to the salary of a Japanese nurse assistant. Yap finds it demeaning that Filipino nurses would be given salaries equivalent to nursing assistants. They are already licensed nurses in the Philippines, so they should receive remuneration equal to the salary of a licensed Japanese nurse even before they pass Japan’s licensure exams. With the general application requirements, the PNA president also foresees the emergence of the nurse-turned-caregiver phenomenon similar to the doctors-turned-nurses trend. More than 100,000 nurses have left the Philippines for 32 destinations worldwide since 1992, among them 5,000 doctors who have become nurses. This has prompted health policy experts to sound the alarm on a national nursing crisis. 5 A JPEPA provision requires nurses to take licensure exams in Nihongo. Nursing examinees barely make the local tests, given in English, so the prospects may not be too bright for exams given in Japanese. Under the JPEPA guidelines, a caregiver applicant must be a university graduate and must be a careworker certified by TESDA, or simply a nursing graduate. With this requirement, nurses could choose to abandon their profession to become caregivers to work in Japan. “This is downgrading because we only have one program in nursing. It’s the entry level. When they finish the program, then what they would seek at the entry level is staff nurse and not a caregiver,” Yap pointed out. Once a nurse passes the examination, his or her status will change from “trainee” to “working.” This will allow successful candidates to work in Japan for three years. Unlike the present policy for foreign nurses, Filipino nurses can extend the duration of their stay in Japan every three years, but they first have to return to the Philippines before their contracts can be extended. Unlike the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, Japan has no plans of granting Filipino nurses and caregivers Japanese citizenship, residence or employment on a permanent basis, or something that will almost surely give Filipino health professionals the feeling of instability, Yu-Jose explains. This could eventually result in problems such as Filipinos turning undocumented aliens to prolong their stay in Japan, or worse, marrying Japanese men out of convenience. In the end, however, Filipinos nurses or caregivers would have to decide, said the PNA. They can take Japan’s one-sided offer—or leave it. p Marian Trinidad is a freelance journalist, writing travel and lifestyle articles and assisting international broadcast networks. She used to be part of the Manila Bureau of the Japanese broadcasting company NHK, which in 2006 won the “NHK i award” for Best International News Coverage. She was also a staff reporter for the Manila Times, covering the police and military establishments.


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6 asiancurrents Shackled shuttlecocks The politicization of Malaysian sports | By p. rajessvary paul thurai Malaysia’s badminton athletes are world-class. But the popularity of the sport has spawned internal wranglings in badminton associations and invited unwelcome political intervention leading to the decline of the sport. Is there a way to dissociate sports from politics? ew Chuah Meng (not his real name) was only nine years old when Malaysia last won the Thomas Cup Finals—the premier world badminton team competition—in 1992 on home ground. Almost 14 years later, he still remembers the euphoria surrounding the victory won over a fivehour battle against the Indonesians. “My parents were jumping for joy. There were similar shouts and cries of joy in my neighborhood,” Chuah Meng said. “The following day was declared a public holiday. I was thrilled. I did not have to go to school. Everywhere else, even at the coffee shop, the talk was on how the Malaysian heroes wrestled the Cup (which was last won in 1967).” That got Chuah Meng to aspire to become a national player. But when he finally made it to the national team, he found out that reality was far from his dream. Though Chuah Meng eventually rose to become one of the world’s top badminton players, he claims that he has no say in many things and has had to dance to the tune of coaches and administrators to survive in the team. A strained relationship between coaches also saw his being moved from one coach to another. The transfer, he said, contributed to a slump in his performance. Chuah Meng calls himself a victim of politics getting in the way of sports. Anatomy of sports politics Badminton is a sport where Malaysia can match up with superpowers of the game like China and Indonesia. It is a sport Malaysians feel passionate about, no matter the race, origin, or social-economic background. Y Although badminton is said to have originated some 2,000 years ago in Greece and its first rules written by the British at Poona, India in 1873, it only started in Malaysia after World War I. It began as a friendly, interparty sport. In 1937 the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) was formed to promote the sport. Soon, badminton gained popularity and even challenged the mass sport—football. The government has great interest in badminton because it is aware that Malaysian athletes, whose physical built suit the sport, stand a good chance of winning in the Olympics. Malaysia got its first Olympic medal in badminton, a bronze, at the 1992 Barcelona Games when the Sidek brothers, Razif and Jalani, won the men’s doubles. The country’s first gold medal, however, remains elusive. An Olympic aspirant, Chuah Meng is not the first player to complain about politics in badminton. Political interference has long dogged Malaysian badminton, peaking in 1995 when the Sidek brothers and other players walked out of the national camp and subsequently formed the Nusa Mahsuri club under the charge of Misbun Sidek. The ensuing bad blood between the club and the national association, aggravated by political meddling, is hurting athletes like Chuah Meng. Despite feeling victimized, Chuah Meng chose not to fight the BAM. Other badminton players, though, have decided to speak up. One of them was Chuah Meng’s former men’s singles teammate, Mohd Ahmad Rizal (not his real name). Ahmad Rizal’s coach, Indra Gunawan of Indonesia, had a falling out with BAM secretary Datuk Zolkples Embong, and when BAM did not renew Gunawan’s contract, Ahmad Rizal ques-


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shackled shuttercocks p. rajessvary paul thurai 7 Athletes in training at Putra Stadium. Malaysians have excelled in badminton because their physical built suits the sport. PHOTO BY kamal ellehuddin tioned the association. As a result, Ahmad Rizal was dropped from the national team and he made a big fuss about it. “I was dropped although I was ranked 20th in the world. No reasons were given. You will not last long in the system if you speak out here,” said Ahmad Rizal, who has since joined a professional club. For veteran men’s doubles shuttler Lee Meng Kuan (not his real name), politics also comes from outside, including the National Sports Council (NSC). Meng Kuan remains puzzled why NSC deputy director Zolkples accused the badminton team of wasting almost half a million ringgit ($ 139,000) for leaving 10 days earlier for the world meet in Madrid. It was Zolkples who had approved the athletes’ early departure for acclimatization purposes, but he withdrew his approval when the team returned without any medals from the men’s singles and doubles events, Meng Kuan said. “Even if the association is free from politicking, there is an outside power that tries to victimize us because they play politics,” Meng Kuan said. Datuk Dr Jegathesan, vice president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) and a sport science studies lecturer at the University Malaya, identifies two tracks of politics in Malaysian sports. “The first is national politics that impinges on the sport,” he said. The government has great interest in badminton because it is aware that Malaysian athletes, whose physical built suit the sport, stand a good chance of winning in the Olympics.


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8 asiancurrents Malaysia’s ruling National Front (Barisan Nasional) consists of 14 parties, the biggest of which is the United Malay National Organization (UMNO). Jegathesan said the Malaysian government pumps a lot of money into sports because politicians wanted to be linked to such a high-profile sector. “The other is politics within the sports association, and it has nothing to do with what political party someone is inclined to,” he said. OCM secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi sees both an upside and downside to politics in sports. He welcomes the financial and moral support for sports development. “It can be in the form of providing land and funds to the people to construct sports facilities, intervening and influencing government to ensure that green lungs and public playgrounds are not lost to greedy and unscrupulous developers,” he explained. The downside is politicians exploiting sports to promote their political party or agenda. “They can also promote their image or those of their friends and families through sports by showing favors,” Kok Chi said. “By interfering, they can get unfair advantage and appoint volunteer sports officials to further their own political agenda.” State association intramurals In badminton, political interference at the elite level has eased somewhat in recent years. “The selection of coaches and athletes has been embroiled with controversies in the past, but things are not as bad as before,” said veteran men singles shuttler Wong Choong Hann. He credits this partly to the media: “Media scrutiny is very high at the elite level. If there are wrongdoings, these are highlighted, keeping everyone on their toes.” It is at the state level where athletes have to put up with politics. “Coaches there enjoy great power to select athletes. I went through the same system,” Choong Hann said. Malaysia’s current top junior player, Tan Chun Seang, couldn’t agree more, citing bias and subjectivity in the selection of athletes. A friend of his was a victim and eventually dropped out of the team. M. Mahalinggam, former Selangor Badminton Association (SBA) secretary said coaches could take advantage of their position, especially if they were close to officials of state associations. In 2004, parents wrote a letter complaining about an SBA coach’s supposed lack of interest in training the players, frequent absence during practice, taking shuttlecocks for personal use, earning a salary of 2,000 ringgit ($ 553) for manning the parking lot Government intervention, largely through the Sports Ministry, has resulted in the lack of continuity in sports development projects and programs, especially since sports ministers keep changing at the training hall, failure to submit a daily collection of car park fees, and failure to submit a proper accounting of funds as treasurer. But the coach was let off the hook. The parents did not come out with proof for fear of reprisals against their children. The Anti-Corruption Agency said it could not investigate the case without evidence. Mahalinggam, who has worked for SBA for the last 20 years, laments that sports politics has taken a toll on the athletes. “For the first time in many years, Selangor did not win any medals in Sukma (Malaysian Games— under-23 biennial event) this year. There are problems regarding the coaches, training programme and even the hall,” he said. The poor showing comes at a time when Selangor received two years’ additional funding from the Sports Ministry. The BAM got about four million ringgit ($ 1.11 million) which it, in turn, distributed to all its 14 affiliates. Selangor now receives 15,000 to 18,000 ringgit a month, instead of the usual 2,500 ringgit. Political problems have likewise beset the Penang Badminton Association (PBA) before the state elections in 2005. Some of the office bearers owned private clubs. For many years, because of their influence, state coaches had promoted players from these private clubs. That was, until training coordinator Tony Tan succeeded in getting many school clubs to join the PBA before the elections. Through the extra votes, Tan and his group were able to eliminate what they call powerful office bearers. They hired a Chinese coach, Deng Lei, and the results were immediate. Penang reaped its best medal haul of two silver and three bronze medals at Sukma in 2006. “We made sure that our coaches did not have any affiliation to private clubs when they train at the state level. Our coach now chooses only the best players and there is more transparency and less interference,” Tan said. The Kuala Lumpur Badminton Association (KLBA) suffers from another problem. The status of its club members remains a gray area: Even clubs that are active in football are affiliates. This all be-


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shackled shuttercocks p. rajessvary paul thurai gan in 2002 when six non-badminton clubs were elected members. No one complained, though. KLBA deputy president A. Subramaniam defended the status of all its members. The association’s constitution allows any club to be a KLBA member as long as it is registered with the Registrar Office of Society, he explains. Subramaniam acknowledges that it is difficult to tell which clubs are active in badminton. “There are clubs that promote badminton, football, table tennis and several other sports at the same time. They may be inactive in badminton but active in football. The same club could also be attached to a football association,” he said. Subramaniam also admitted that these clubs could be used to manipulate votes during the association’s election. He explained, “Unless the sports commissioner comes out with a clearer guideline, we cannot do anything about this” Politicking affects other states as well, according to BAM secretary P. Ganga Rao. “In every state association, there are one or two prominent figures. It is the nature of our system here. And they get elected year in and out. Some do their work but some don’t,” he clarified. Although it is the governing body, the BAM cannot move against “weak” states, especially when they are elected members. “In fact, they (the states) have the power to remove us—the elected members in the national association as they form as our council members,” Ganga noted. “We can only hope that the voting members will make the wise decision when they select office bearers at the state levels. They should work for the sport but not use them for personal gains.” Outside meddling Datuk Lim Teong Keat was the happiest man when his Kedah Badminton Association received millions from the government’s Eight Core Sports Programme to build its own state training center. These days, his 30 players, between 9 and 18 years old, train every day at the state-of-the-art Sungai Petani. But Lim’s joy was short-lived. The center came at a price: Lim had to report to BAM, as well as liaise with the state’s newly appointed unit chief. To complicate matters, the unit chief is based at another building, also new, and has appointed a new badminton officer. “I have discussed with them and told their officers to move to our building. But they refused. How are they to monitor our players if they do not work together with us?” asked Lim. 9 “The government built another new office for them. It is a waste of money. Our new building is not fully utilized. They have appointed new staff at their new office, but my staff can do the same work.” Many other associations are in the same boat. They feel subjected to intervention by the government because it is the paymaster. Government intervention, largely through the Sports Ministry, has resulted in the lack of continuity in sports development projects and programs, especially since sports ministers keep changing, according to OCM’s Kok Chi. “Every minister wants to reinvent the wheel. As such, there is no long-term development policy or program. Sports development is carried out on an ad-hoc basis,” he said. Malaysia has had 14 sports ministers since 1964. It was under Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak’s watch, from 1986 to 1990, that government began wielding a stronger influence in sports. Najib promoted the National Sports Policy that enabled Malaysia to score its biggest success at the 1989 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur. The ministers that followed Najib, however, had different priorities. Datuk Anuar Musa (19901993) concentrated on Malaysia’s bid to host the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman (1993-1995) launched a massive “Rakan Sukan” (sports partners) program. Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (1995-1999) lobbied for incentives for athletes. Datuk Hishamuddin Tun Hussein (19992004) spent millions promoting X-Games, which was not even listed in the country’s sports policy. The current and Malaysia’s first sports minister, Datuk Azalina Mohd Said, is focusing on “Sports for All.” “The politicians are only interested in short-term success at high performance levels and simple records. As such, we repeat the same mistakes year in and year out,” said Kok Chi. “Too much money has been used for the wrong cause, and the whole sports culture has been destroyed. The hard truth Richard Yeoh, executive director of Transparency International’s Malaysian chapter, believes politicking in sports erodes the morale of athletes It is at the state level where athletes have to put up with politics, with coaches enjoying great power to select athletes.


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10 asiancurrents and distracts them from the real values of healthy competition and fair play. Because athletes in Malaysia are caught in the crossfire of politics, parents dissuade children from taking up sports for fear they would be victims of politics. Corruption, too, is often a cause or a byproduct when sports and politics mix. The problem is more pronounced in associations that are moneyed and involved in a popular sport. “When there is a lot of money, the temptation is great. The people within the setup will try to cover for each other,” said former international player James Selvaraj. The ACA investigated 17 sports cases in 2006 and found six guilty, including a badminton club in Sabah. Australian Damien Kelly, chief of the Doha 2006 program, raises a racial dimension in the politicization of sports. He explains: “Sports usually reflects society, and the Malaysian society is highly politicized. Many of its decision-making is based on one race, naturally, when it is governed by its biggest political party (the predominantly Malay UMNO). I won’t be too wrong to say that part of it is reflected in how sports is run here as well. You can see it reflected in the sports administration (and) the selection of athletes and coaches.” Kelly thinks it will be difficult to develop sports in Malaysia if changes are not made. “There should be more transparency in decision-making. And I am only talking about the elite level! Sports should transcend religion, race, and political differences.” In his book Another Malaysia is possible and other essays, M. Nadarajah urged Malaysians to rebuild a tradition and culture that would look beyond race: “As a citizen, I really would like to believe that my country is mature enough to be above racism or racial discrimination or racially biased decision-making. But no matter how many times that is repeated, it is simply not true. Besides being a conscious one, it is also certainly a part of our unconscious routine activities or the unintended consequences of some practical response. In whatever way it may be fleshed out, we need to come to terms with that reality. And address it, consciously and critically. And through such critical engagement, build a tradition and culture that is mature enough to be above racism.” Parents dissuade children from taking up sports for fear they would be victims of politics. Corruption, too, is often a cause or a by-product when sports and politics mix. Untangling crossed wires How can Malaysia break the chain that links politics and sports? Australia provides a good example of the government’s role in sports development. In his book Australia’s sporting success: The inside story, John Bloomfield notes that the Australian government is only the third biggest contributor to sports after private donors and the country’s Olympic committee. It channels the bulk of its funds to research, sports science, recreation, athletes with disabilities, and health promotion sources. Thanks to the intensive state-supported research on coaching, Australia’s coaching standards are highly respected by its peers. Its elite-level coaches have been lured to lucrative positions abroad. Australian columnist Andrew C. Thomas believes politicians should leave sports alone and not use it as a tool to propagate an ideal. The media should also do their share and stop politicizing sports, observed former Malaysian former athletics giant Jegathesan. “Why is there a huge coverage when an influential politician witnesses an (sports) event?” he asked. Because majority of Malaysia’s media organizations are owned by political parties, they, in turn, have become mouthpieces for political figures. Writing on Malaysia in the book, The right to know: Access to information in Southeast Asia, Malaysian journalist Padmaja Padman noted that the Malaysian Chinese Association, through Huaren Holding Sdn Bhd, held a 58-percent stake in Star Publications Bhd, publisher of the leading English-language daily, The Star. Several directors and executives of Utusan Melayu group (Utusan Malaysia) are leaders of UMNO. Sports administrators can also help de-politicize sports. For starters, they should embrace professionalism, said Badminton World Federation deputy president Datuk Punch Gunalan. “The players behave professionally, but the administration of the sport is still amateurish. That’s the problem in Malaysia,” he said.


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shackled shuttercocks p. rajessvary paul thurai The Sports Commissioner himself can prevent politics in sports. His office is empowered to delist associations or clubs that violate the Sports Development Act 1997. Former NSC director general Datuk Mazlan Ahmad also urged national sports associations to adhere to the rules set by the Sports Commissioner’s office. He said the Sports Commissioner, in turn, should ensure that the association’s annual general meeting is held on time, elections carried out according to the rules, development programs implemented as stipulated in the Sports Act, and that financial records were kept in order. “If all (national sports associations) maintained their standards and discipline and run their elite and grassroots development programs as they should, they can minimize politicking,” he added. If SBA’s Mahalinggan had his way, political figures should be barred from heading sports associations. “The elected president must have knowledge of the game. It will help him to remain independent. If he does not know, it will be easy for others to influence him and use him for their personal gains,” he said. Doha 2006’s Kelly, meanwhile, urged Malaysia to rethink the current setup of letting political figures hold several positions in sports. Athletics Association president Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, for example, is also president of the Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia, president of the Kabbadi Association of Malaysia, and president of the Perlis Football Association. He is also Perlis state’s Menteri Besar or chief executive. “Are there no other competent people around? This is ridiculous, and it would have not taken place in Australia at all. There is bound to be conflict of interests,” Kelly pointed out. However, efforts to prevent politics from ruining sports would be futile if the system remains untransparent. Malaysia has a number of laws like the Publishing Act, Internal Security Act, and Official Secret Act that restrict freedoms. Under these laws, certain issues pertaining to race and special privileges for Malays cannot be discussed openly. Violators risk imprisonment. The restrictive legislation notwithstanding, Yeoh of TI-M said: “There is ample scope for transparency in all aspects of our public and private lives if Malaysian individuals and corporations would embrace a culture of integrity and transparency and let these noble values guide every decision, thought, and action they make.” The sports environment in Malaysia will also im- 11 prove vastly if all players would adhere to a set of principles, including integrity and ethics. Global ethics, as envisioned by the United Nation’s Human Development Report, can serve as the backbone for Malaysia’s sports fraternity, especially the decision makers. p Rajes Paul joined the Star newspaper in Malaysia as a sports journalist in 1997. She studied at the University Kebangsaan of Malaysia (UKM) from 1993-1997 and graduated with a degree in English. She did her MA in Journalism with the Ateneo de Manila’s Asian Center for Journalism from 2005-2007.



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