Half-baked Ideas Only Fit For the Frontpage

Posted on July 22, 2008


One unscientific but fairly reliable way to gauge the newsworthiness of a region is to sample the frontpages of its newspapers. The frontpage of a credible newspaper in a global, influential city like New York would most likely carry news that impact even those living far away, while the frontpage of a small town in isolated New Zealand would consider itself lucky to report on the opening of a new grocery store across the road. We like to think of Malaysia as being a reasonably newsworthy entity, situated so centrally in the commercial cross-roads of Asia, a melting-pot of cultures, and all of that. But a sampling of two of its prominent daily sheets proves otherwise.

Electric is the way

Today’s frontpage of NST Online carries an article on the government’s latest fight against rising oil prices. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, perhaps in an effort to stifle popular public perception that he is rather dull and sleepy, plans to introduce “unconventional ways and the latest technology” to tackle the skyrocketing price of petroleum.

This is all well and good. We always welcome unconventional methods. But when the so-called unconventional method involves the government’s ambition to introduce electric cars on the road, we can’t help but remain skeptical. Global carmakers like Ford and Toyota have been toying with the concept of electric-powered vehicles since the 90s, but the main obstacle with commercializing the concept is the prohibitive cost and limited life of the battery. Today, with the onslaught of climate change and rising fuel prices, the car giants are once again taking a serious hard look at electric cars, but even then, the earliest date for introduction to the American market, in a best-case scenario, is 2010. The reality is usually very far off the best case scenarios.

The NST article reports that national carmaker Proton Holdings has been given the green light to carry out in depth validation and testing of cars using electric batteries, and according to the Prime Minister, the “assessment can be done in less than one year. If it satisfies all Proton’s requirements, then it can be commercialized”. If the car makers of the world’s most advanced economy are unsure about the commercialization of electric cars, can we really be confident of being pioneers in electric-powered vehicles? Proton already has a hard time making sure its Perdanas don’t disassemble themselves. Would we really trust them to test electric cars? If this is the best “unconventional way” the government can come up with, then we’d prefer if they just stick to conventional methods like increasing public transport.

Road Signs in George Town

Meanwhile, the frontpage of the Star Online carries a report on Gerakan members’ tit-for-tat move against the DAP state administration by putting up Chinese road signs in the city. An accompanying photo shows a Gerakan member explaining the move to a tourist couple who pretend to be interested in Chinese characters.

In June last year, DAP Youth illegally put up Chinese road signs to pressure the previous government to install signs in Chinese, which it claims could boost tourism by attracting tourists from China. And all this while we thought tourists come to George Town for the history. We’ve seen a similar move in Kuala Lumpur with road signs in Arabic, to assist Arab tourists. Do they really assist foreign tourists, especially in our current globalised world where many more people are now familiar with the Roman alphabet, if not the English language? What happens if we experience an influx of tourists from Russia, with its Cyrillic-literate citizens, or Korea, India or any other country with its own alphabet script?

These petty news items might have been funny if not for the desperately static state that our country is in at this moment. Chinese road signs and electric cars might give glossy photos for the frontpage, but at the end of the day it is serious news that makes a newspaper worth reading.

Posted in: Society