‘You are not safe’ in Malaysia: Media self-immolators and ‘media self-destruction’
As Malaysia prepares to celebrate International Women’s Day, we are seeing the rise of self-imposed self-harm in some of the country’s media.
Many of the Malaysians I spoke to for this story were concerned about how these self-inflicted acts could impact their livelihoods and the way in which their work is viewed.
But many others, like my own son, felt they were doing the right thing by their self-destructive behaviour.
“They want to make sure they are not hurting anybody else, but the reality is it’s harming me as well,” he told me.
“I don’t know what to do, I don’t have anything to do.
I just want to stop my life and be happy.”
The media self immolator I spoke with, who did not want to be identified for fear of being fired, told me that he was once called a ‘media whore’ by a local television station, but felt the word “sham” should be used to describe his actions.
I spoke exclusively to three Malaysian journalists who self-identified as self-immovers: Malay-born editor-in-chief and former BBC journalist Samiuddin Yusuf, and journalist Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohamed, both Malaysian citizens who live in Singapore and are also self-published authors.
Both of them have been accused of self immolation, and each has been referred to a mental health clinic.
Sami, who said he has been “in denial” for the last four years, told the Al Jazeera I called him a “media whore” because he was doing the wrong thing.
I didn’t know how to call it right.
I called it the “shameful and wrong thing” and I told him, “I am sorry you felt this way.
I am sorry, but I am just a journalist and this is how I feel.”
“My parents are not very religious, and we have never been a big family.
So my mum was very protective, and I felt like I had no choice but to do this,” Sami said.
“But I’m not a religious person.
I’m an atheist, so I’m kind of the opposite of that.
I have never felt like this before.
It feels really wrong, and it makes me feel bad.”
Muhydin told me he felt his parents were “very scared” about him self-exploding.
“My dad used to say, ‘You can’t do this’, and I always think, I can’t be a journalist,” he said.
He said he felt “traumatised” by the media and that his parents “didn’t want him to be a media whore”.
The media are “so big in Malaysia,” he added.
“There’s more and more of us, we’re not even in the public eye, we just get noticed in the media.
That makes us feel like we’re less than human.
And the media, they take away our humanity.”
Tan Sri told me there were other reasons why he felt he had to self-isolate.
“When I started my journalism career in 2003, I used to do things in the streets, and in a few years, I was a part of a group of journalists who took pictures of journalists, and some of them were arrested,” he explained.
“And now I’m one of those journalists.
And I don of course think that I’m a journalist.
I was just one of many.
And they used to treat me like I was.”
Sami’s mother was also concerned about her son’s behaviour.
She told me she was “very upset” when she found out he had self-created a suicide note, saying it was an “abhorrent and disgusting act”.
“She has had no clue about what he did,” she said.
Muhiddin said he was also afraid his parents would “not be able to protect me”.
“They don’t want to hear about what I’ve done.
They don’t like to hear what I’m about to say,” he revealed.
“So they don’t think I’m going to be able [to] speak out against what I did, and they donít want to know what my thoughts are about what they did.”
But despite the challenges facing them, both of these Malaysian journalists feel they are doing the “right thing” by self-injuring.
They feel they can make a difference in the way Malaysia’s media portrays its citizens, and the world as a whole.
The Malaysia media self harm story is the latest example of how the media is failing to reflect reality.
It is also the story of how Malaysia’s citizens, who make up the majority of its population, are being treated in a way that is unacceptable and dehumanising.
I reached out to Sami and Tan Sri