Rural viewers — seen to form the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) bloc’s traditional vote bank — now are no longer limited to radio or television programmes on the state broadcaster’s channels as telecommunications lines that snake all over the country have vastly widened the reach of new and social media networks.
Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) associate professor Shaharudin Badaruddin disagreed with conventional wisdom that PR parties had missed the chance to gain more votes through the RTM airtime.
“For me, it’s quite low compared to Internet, SMS, Facebook, Twitter,” he said, adding that in comparison, the social media he listed accounted for 91 per cent consumption.
Malaysians who relied on television and radio as a source of political information stood at only 24 per cent and 53 per cent respectively, the deputy dean of UiTM’s Industry, Community and Alumni Network told The Malaysian Insider, citing from a nationwide study his university had carried out last year.
Malaysia has one of the highest Internet and mobile phone usage in Asia, according to data from the United Nations.
The country’s broadband penetration rate stood at 66 per cent out of roughly 6.74 million households or 21 per cent of a population of 29 million people in the fourth quarter of 2012, based on figures from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) while smartphone ownership stood at 27 per cent last year, according to market researcher AC Nielsen.
In comparison, national broadcaster RTM with its two terrestrial television channels has a 21 per cent viewership, while private television stations control more than 70 per cent of the market, English-language daily New Straits Timesreported last April. A Bernama report in January 2008 put the two RTM channels’ combined market share at 26 per cent.
Shaharudin suggested that PR could continue to spread its message on the ground through face-to-face contact, saying that the same 2012 survey had ranked the importance of handing out flyers, door-to-door visits and holding ceramahs at 80 per cent, 75 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.
The academic also said that giving 10 minutes for each political party to explain their manifesto was too short.
Although he was doubtful that extending the airtime would make any difference to PR or help the opposition pact win more support from rural voters, Shaharuddin said it would show voters BN’s “openness”.A political communications analyst from Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), Mohd Badarudin Othman, agreed that PR’s rejection of the government offer was a lost opportunity to reach out to fence-sitters and rural voters.
But he said it was not a substantial loss, pointing out the opposition had been using other methods in past elections.
“However, the withdrawal of PR in the 10-minute programme is not a big loss because PR was never given chance and space to be in the mainstream media from before.
“PR is still confident with the method of spreading political information and manifesto through the existing methods,” Mohd Badarudin said.
Another analyst, Professor Dr Jayum A. Jawan from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) said PR would also not lose out to the BN as they might have decades ago, even if they did not take up the RTM airtime offer.
He noted that communications was no longer the “monopoly” of the BN government.
“I don’t think it will be a disadvantage to them,” he said, and added, “They will be able to have other avenues to reach the rural voters.”
Jayum said the government should not worry that leaders would make inflammatory statements or make unfair accusations when speaking live, saying there were laws to deal with such situations.
Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim had warned parties against making defamatory statements, statements that touch on national security or sensitive issues, belittle human rights or insult the Yang di-Pertuan Agong when he announced the 10-minute television offer to present their Election 2013 manifestos.
“The offer is good but I think the offer must not come with conditions. We must be mature enough, we have to allow party leaders to explain to the people without any censorship,” Jayum said, and highlighted PR’s fears that the pre-recorded videos of their speeches would be edited.
“The real issue is people are entitled to hear messages from all political parties that are contesting,” he said.
Andrew Aeria, an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak also said that the time allocated for PR’s presentation is too short, noting the opposition’s concern over the timing of the broadcast and possible editing on the recording.
“I think it’s a cynical joke on the part of government to say that, to offer only 10 minutes.
“How can anybody put across a message in 10 minutes?” he asked.
Aeria said he was for a total reform of the media industry and called for Putrajaya to abolish the publishing licences required by law, as well as bar political parties from holding controlling stakes in media companies as is the norm currently.
“They should stop controlling the media,” he said, referring to the BN government.
Last week, several analysts told The Malaysian Insider that social media and the Internet have limited impact as political campaign tools, despite their wide reach.
MCMC’s latest statistics showed that those in urban areas dominate the country’s internet users, making up to 89.7 per cent as compared to rural residents at 10 per cent in 2009.DAP’s publicity chief Tony Pua acknowledged that some rural voters would lack Internet access, but said the party hopes that there would be a “ripple effect” from urban to rural areas, following the launch of its online television station Ubah.TV yesterday.
Voters in urban areas tend to lean towards the opposition, while rural seats which are typically BN strongholds could play a big part in determining who wins Election 2013.
Opposition leaders have frequently complained of the alleged lack of fair reporting and allocation of media space in the traditional medium of newspapers, television and radio - mainstream sources that are largely-controlled by the ruling BN government and relied on by rural voters.
~ The Malaysian Insider