Saturday, January 24, 2009

Are Boycotts an Effective Tool for Change?


Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia

Rockets in Israel have prompted a retaliatory military offensive against Gaza and international outcry over Israel's heavy-handed response.  

Dr M has been quoted in papers as telling people to boycott American and Israel products and businesses. So he was naturally my first choice for guest. It wasn't easy getting him to confirm attendance although getting the press secretary was easy enough. One obstacle was Dr M's reluctance to do studio recordings. "No problem. We'll go to wherever he is." Sorted. That only left the "slight" problem of him fitting us into his schedule. Lots of waiting on our end. Finally, we were informed 24 hours before recording that he had agreed to see us. A mad scramble ensued to book crew, transport. Also, it would be the show's first out-of-studio recording. Would it change the show's format too much? Did I care? Not at that point,  I didn't. I'd deal with this in the edit room, I thought. 

One guest down, another to go. The obvious choice was of course a businessperson, preferably one with American links. But that was hoping for too much as they all felt it'd be a bit dicey to appear on tv talking about boycotts when passions were still running so high following Israel's continued bombardment of Gaza. 

I must have written to more than 10 people, spoken to countless PR persons (usually I don't call more than 1 person until I've been turned down. You don't want to have to tell someone whom you've just begged to come onto your show that another person has also confirmed in the meantime and you're sorry but you don't need them anymore).   

In the end, I got an economist and a consumer activist to talk about whether boycotts have been successful in changing policies and what it would take to organise a successful boycott. 

Recording with Dr M
The first thing I noticed about the man was how frail he seemed. But his mental faculties were as sharp as ever. He advocated a less hardline stand than the one he had taken just several days ago. I asked him if he had told people to stop working in McDonald's and Starbucks, a comment he's reported as having made but he denied he saying that. Am still kicking myself for not asking him why his government never advocated a boycott of Myanmar over its human rights abuses. 

Note: A good friend of mine was part of a boycott against Pepsi when she was in university in the UK.  I asked her recently if she'd do the same thing now. She said no because she had come to realise that in certain cases it's more effective to try to effect change from within. As for Pepsi, it eventually withdrew from Myanmar. But there's been no regime change in the country and last I checked Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vernacular Schools - stumbling block to national unity?


Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, University Malaya
(in favour of single education system)

(in favour of vernacular education)

This issue became a talking point again late last year when Mukhriz Mahathir called for vernacular schools to be abolished to stem racial polarisation in the country. In views echoing that, Prof Khoo suggested that the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia should consider giving up vernacular education. He suggested that vernacular schools had produced Malaysians who couldn't converse in either Bahasa Malaysia or English. His statement got some parties pretty riled up. MCA issued a strongly worded statement, saying the Prof's stand is no different from Malay extremists'. 

I wanted desperately to get Dr Mahathir into the studio for this topic, knowing his stand against vernacular schools. But to no avail. So I got the Prof into the studio to explain his stand and to ask him if he had any regrets over what he'd said in view of the furore his comments had created. Nope. And to defend vernacular schools, a representative from Dong Zong who basically argued that vernacular schools isn't just about learning a language, it's about learning a culture and values. Which, to my mind, then begs the question - where should young Malaysian children go to learn how to be Malaysian?   

Caveat: I've been labelled a "banana" most of my life, despite the fact that I speak decent Cantonese and a smattering of Hokkien. So I wouldn't be the first person to defend the existence of vernacular schools and I do wonder if this colours my views on this topic a litte. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Maths and Science in English?


Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, chairman, Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE)
(in favour of Maths and Science in English)

Professor Emeritus Isahak Haron, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris
(in favour of Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia/mother tongue)

The maiden episode of POV attracted lots of comments from office personnel surprisingly. The producing team was surprised that in our very own back yard, were so many people with passionate opinions about this subject. Pity we don't allow NTV7 staff to appear on the Vox Pops segments. I'm sure we would have had a lot of great soundbites from the guys in the editing department, the cameramen, production crew - it seemed like everyone actually had something to say about maths and science.

Securing the guests for this show was relatively easy because there are a fair number of lobby groups formed by parents who are keen to be heard in the mainstream media on this subject. The debate did get somewhat heated with the Professor - I find out later that the producing team thought it was almost a little too heated.

We also got great feedback from the viewers although there were a fair number of viewers who also felt I was a little too hard on the guests.