Dunia Tersembunyi and the Hidden Line in the Sand

It’s been awhile.

Here we go.

So last night we tune in to TV3’s Dunia Tersembunyi, a program which is supposed to highlight the many different “hidden” cultures in our region. Interesting premise – especially as last night’s episode was about the transgender community of India.

Obviously intriguing, especially for the station in question.

So after 45 minutes of interviews and inside looks at what it’s like being a member of India’s unofficial “third sex”, the episode ended with this (and I paraphrase):

“…any of God’s creations who go against the laws of the Creator, face a lifetime of misery.”

That final line took me aback, and initiated an intense discussion with the wife (more on that later).

As a viewer, I feel that last line of moral high-horsing cheapened the work that went into the previous 45 minutes. Highlighting a different culture or way of life is not enough without us asserting our moral superiority, of us telling other Malaysian viewers “look at these heathens, and how we are better!”.

I wonder if the Indian Transgender community knew that the interviews they participated in would be subjected to that editorial slant. I wonder if they knew this was a documentary with an agenda. Last of all, I wonder if they ever had a chance to view the final edit.

So that’s the part we see.

There’s another side to this story. The side of the broadcast journalist struggling to push his/her boundaries in a stifling environment. Broadcast journalists in Malaysia need to eat too, you see. And while it’s easy to imagine TV3 being full of evil, pro-establishment drones, that’a flawed assumption. We know it is.

“So why not quit?” you ask.

As if it were that easy. Unlike the retail, IT, or banking sectors, the broadcast industry in Malaysia affords little leeway. In banking, if you were unhappy with the policies in bank A, you could quickly jump to bank B with little detrimental effect to your career. Broadcast journalists in Malaysia? No such luxury. No matter where you go, you’re bound by the edicts and guidelines of the Ministry, and the undocumented political lines in the sand (depending on who owns your station).

So we can’t blame the journalists entirely for trying to push the boundaries of what they can do. Obviously someone worked hard at getting this program greenlit and funded – but the compromise (and there is always a compromise, make no mistake) is that the editorial slant (in this case to appeal to the Malay-Muslim mass market which comprises the bulk of TV3’s viewership) must fall within the accepted guidelines. If it doesn’t, then it never sees the light of day.

What a scary thought it must have been; and to me at least, what a waste of an opportunity.

There’s a reason why the great documentary makers of our age are great, and in some sense, maybe in our fledgling Malaysia we don’t want that. We want masturbatory content – at least on our national channels. We need to assert superiority over the “others” to divert our attention away from the many problems we’re already facing in this house. The Malay-Muslim herd mentality demands it.

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