Monday, December 30, 2013

The defence information ecosystem in Malaysia: A look at Malaysian defence blogs and magazines

Although Malaysia lacks the budget and institutional framework that drives commitment to defence in Singapore, there appears to be no lack of interest that drives defence awareness north of the Causeway.

Whether among the Rakyat at the grassroots level or among its intelligentsia, the deep roots Malaysian society has sunk in the defence and security arena is best seen by these factoids:

* Malaysians author more blogs dedicated to defence matters than Singaporeans, this despite having compulsory National Service (NS) in Singapore since 1967 which has exposed more Singaporeans to military training than Malaysians.

* There are more defence magazines published from the Malaysian capital than in Singapore. Indeed, the region's oldest defence magazine, Asian Defence Journal, was started in Malaysia in 1970.

This state of play is interesting from a media studies point of view and is certainly beneficial to staff officers in Jalan Padang Tembak tasked to cultivate hearts and minds.

Expanded toolkit
The reason is simple: Malaysian defence planners have more tools in their toolkit than their counterparts in Gombak Drive. Ideas, viewpoints, unofficial yet credible impressions that border on plausible denial can therefore be floated using a whole spectrum of communication tools. These range from blogs at the lower end of the spectrum to full-fledged defence magazines at the other end of the scale.

Whether leveraging on the World Wide Web or magazine subscriptions, the audience Malaysia touches is global. Malaysian psywar officers are likely to view the defence media scene on the home front as an asset worth cultivating in peacetime and certainly worth exploiting during a hot-war scenario where an occupier's every misstep or transgression against a captive population would be given maximum, worldwide publicity using every available channel.

It is perhaps during a Period of Tension (POT), that grey area, the awkward phase of interstate relations that is neither business-as-usual and just short of all-out war, that Malaysia's expanded range of options in the defence information sphere will probably make its presence felt. When pitted against another country that is forced to make the first strike, is bound by operational constraints to occupy Malaysian terrain, the narrative that Malaysia can share to the world will likely fall on sympathetic ears. The more media channels, the merrier, as the impact will be keenly felt.

The state of play cannot be examined simply by a census of what Malaysia has and what another society lacks.

It is what the state of play points to - which is the presence of a (apparently) thriving defence ecosystem where points of view can be articulated and debated rigorously - that is all the more valuable than simply having more of one or the other.

Let's now look at their  defence information ecosystem, namely blogs and defence magazines.

Malaysian defence blogs
At first glance, the larger number of defence-themed blogs sustained by the Rakyat vis-à-vis Singapore isn't surprising. One could argue that this is proportionate to the larger population in Malaysia compared to that in the Lion City. True.

Malaysian defence blogs include but are not limited to the following:

A Secure Malaysia. Click here

Malaysian Defence by Marhalim Abas. Click here

Malaysian Flying Herald. Click here

Malaysian Military Power. Click here

We also have the Facebook page by Malaysian defence journalist, Dzirhan Mahadzir (click here) and assorted blogs that touch on defence matters such as OutSyed The Box (click here).

One needs to ponder why defence blogs have a ready audience in Malaysia when Singapore has had 46 years of NS. We also have an armed forces whose full force potential is larger than Malaysia's war machine. With 900,000 Singaporean males having served NS and with the fully mobilised Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) outnumbering the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (ATM), one could make a convincing and logical case why there ought to be more bloggers on defence matters in Singapore than up north.

Alas, this is not so. And mind you, the blogs listed above are all in English

More than just numbers, the quality of writing on a number of Malaysian blogs is noteworthy. Articles posted on Malaysian Flying Herald, for example, would challenge the viewpoint among some in the Singapore establishment that blogs are run by amateurs who churn out content that pales in comparison when ranked against mainstream media.

If our aversion to defence blogs is a result of NS-induced apathy, then the trend is worrisome.

If the trend is a by-product of officialdom's tight-fisted approach to handling the defence information scene, then aren't we scoring own goals when the system's suspicious attitude towards the inquisitive, the knowledgeable and the passionate ends up alienating the very individuals who could be brand ambassadors for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF?

If one views the glass as half full, it could also be a result of the proliferation of defence media - albeit government-run - such as Pioneer, Pointer and internal media (Army News, Navy News, Air Force News, RSAF Focus) as well as the many ORD publications that have sustained defence buffs in Singapore with a steady stream of military news and views. But hands up if you think this is so.

Malaysian defence magazines
The defence publication scene in Malaysia is also interesting to analyse.

There exists among some Singaporeans the blinkered view that the Republic is more articulate, more savvy with the English language than the backward, Kampung-style society they enter when one crosses the Causeway.

Nothing could be further from the truth when one assesses the defence magazine market.

Malaysian entrepreneurs have proven they know how to make a buck in the competitive defence publications scene and have outlasted at least three Singaporean magazines that dabbled partly in defence matters in the 1990s.

While there is no denying that higher postage rates and the availability of defence content - much of it free - in cyberspace has challenged the business model for print publications, there are loyal customers in the Federation and beyond who underpin Malaysian defence magazines.

If the  English ones help Padang Tembak address a global audience, those in the vernacular help fortify the Rakyat's faith in the ATM as the defender of the realm.

The editorial slants taken by Malay language publications such as Perajurit when writing about ATM operational taskings such as Ops Daulat, Fajr and Piramid have been nothing short of what MINDEF/SAF would wish local media journalists would bang out on their respective keyboards.

The Malay language articles steer away from jingoism - which can be off-putting - and hit the sweet spot by projecting the ATM as a professional, disciplined, motivated and operationally-ready armed forces even when venturing into intellectual minefields like Ops Daulat.

This is not to say that KEMENTAH has KL's defence magazines eating out of its hand. Far from it. KEMENTAH probably realises the credibility of the editorials is more valuable in serving its defence information needs than having a compliant media. Good for it.

As with the blogs, having precious few defence magazines Singapore can call its own (Defence Review Asia doesn't count as it has Australian shareholders, despite its Singaporean address) is not in itself a source of weakness.

It is also true that when one looks at other benchmarks for cultivating international opinion, our island republic appears to hold an unmatched advantage.

This includes its standing in international fora and the multi-year yet low-profile effort to spawn a new generation of Singapore-friendly foreigners by hosting them for higher studies in Singapore as young adults. It is thought that in time to come, some of these bright young students will rise to positions of authority in their home countries and look upon Singapore with kindly eyes, having spent part of their life here.

It is a noble initiative that should, in theory at least, work in Singapore's favour. But one must recognise this is a long-term effort whose results are difficult to measure and a potential double-edged sword that could haunt Singapore should a bright young student have a sour experience on home ground.

In the meantime, the disparity between the defence information scene in Malaysia and Singapore is likely to stay the way it is.

In peacetime, the image of MINDEF/SAF will not die just because of a single nasty blog post from the Federation or one stinker of an editorial from KL.

But we need to be self-aware of the imbalance and that where we have few, Malaysia has many.

Death by a thousand cuts still results in the same thing.


Anonymous said...

SAF=serve & f*** off, what are you expecting? Gratitude.....

Anonymous said...

That is why I say that those regulars in the SAF are just there to "control NSF men" and of course the high salaries..they are having now..and the free time to go shopping lah.

Why dont you write about the acccess to Changi Naval Base...all jam up with lorries carrying earth to the dumping ground....and how are our Navy personnel going to "activate" if needed to..

Or the Navy Admiral are just happy with the jam every day...

Anonymous said...

wef 1 Jan 2014, johor state govt depts/agencies' rest days will be changed from Saturdays and Sundays to Fridays and Saturdays. will this change to the new off-days affect (in anyway) the military units that are based in johor ?

Anonymous said...

Right, now the SAF units will be on STAND-BY every Sunday..

Anonymous said...

at any one time, there're SAF units on stand-by duty.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could asked the CDF / Chief of Army / Chief of Navy / Chief of Air Force...or the Commandos Chief or former Defence Minsiter etc contribute to your blog...of 'WHAT THEY THINK" if they do ready think...or They actually cannot think, without a "ghost writer."

WHAT DO YOU THINK...Do you dare to ask them..

Anonymous said...

Sgs blogs are devoted to civic issues. A chief reason for this is ob markers for military matters or what is covered or not covered under OSA. Most people find it better not to comment at all than risk the knock on the door. Meanwhile, Malaysia is experiencing political discord at an unprecedented level. People dare to talk openly about everything even though they might unwittingly make matters worse. Different political ethos.

Anonymous said...

Level of frustration. Simple as that. If things are so rosy, you'd think you want to set up a blog and talk about it. Singaporeans, by and large, want a strong SAF and satisfied with SAF's current capabilities. I know some want the SAF to be even stronger. Hence, Singaporeans' attention are devoted to bread and butter issues like public transportation, jobs, etc.

Anonymous said...

December 31, 2013 at 8:07 AM

Federal employees, federal work week.

Anonymous said...

David, I am a fairly regular reader of Perajurit (I read in Bahasa) and I something find the tone of the articles a bit "jingoistic" to say the least especially the editorials. There have been articles posted by "amateurs" that openly portrayed Singapore as the adversary and made allegations against Singapore and the SAF capabilities that are unfounded. There is a distinction between the English and Bahasa defence publications in Malaysia, with the quality of the Bahasa publications seemingly lower. I agree with your points that in terms of "official" publications and media, MINDEF/SAF is better than MINDEF-KL/MAF.

Anonymous said...

My fellow Singaporeans, many of the Bahasa publications are indeed anti Singapore, anti West and of course anti Israel. It actually helps advance Barisan Nationals cause securing votes amongst the rural Malays. That is also why Singapore will continue to have issues with them. They see us threats and become more exasperated when they realize we have beaten them in many areas. The narrative of me them being better than Singapore fails when they find out we are more advance. They have immense problems reconciling this fact, made worse by the kampung mindset of not wanting to lose face.

bob villa said...

'When pitted against another country that is forced to make the first strike, is bound by operational constraints to occupy Malaysian terrain"
Interesting scenario you paint, By the way , the concept of 'force to make the first strike'makes me wonder if the word ' choose to strike first' is the real excuse exercise the military option.?

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 12.53,
At least it is only the pesky BM publications that conjure real or imaginative enemies. But leaders of some country are bolden enough to scare its citizen on who their enemy is.
Kampung mindset or savvy urban brains, it does not augur well to think one is better than the other.
Battles may be won many times over, but the scar of a war runs deep both to the victor and the vanquish.

Anonymous said...

Best example - Dr M. Generations of Singaporeans hate My because of him.

Anonymous said...

"At least it is only the pesky BM publications that conjure real or imaginative enemies. "

Do you know how silly that sounds? So national Bahasa and BN newspapers are painting Singapore as the enemy? This influences minds and actions. This is reflected in what My politicians say frequently. Don't blame Singapore for regarding My as the enemy.

Anonymous said...

"At least it is only the pesky BM publications that conjure real or imaginative enemies. "

Do you know how silly that sounds? So national Bahasa and BN newspapers are painting Singapore as the enemy? This influences minds and actions. This is reflected in what My politicians say frequently. Don't blame Singapore for regarding My as the enemy.

Anonymous said...

As if the blog owner is not aware that there is a Singapore-Malaysia flame war going on here.

To substantiate your charge, how about posting some of the offending articles, shouldn't be a problem since you are regular readers.

"I am a fairly regular reader of Perajurit (I read in Bahasa) and I something find the tone of the articles a bit "jingoistic"

"many of the Bahasa publications are indeed anti Singapore"

Anonymous said...

Just google Mahathir and Singapore. Enough to ruffle feathers for generations. Take for example:

How about this English article:

It takes two hands to clap. If you want peace, watch your mouth.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon@1204 2 Jan

I had pasted some samples for your views to illustrate how some of the bahasa publication can be a bit explicit about things sometimes. Apologies I did not make the effort to translate for you but you can use Google Translate which should provide a reasonable gist of the content.

Sample 1: The Singapore-bashing was especially bad in the lead up to the GE. This is the BN campaign blog for P143 Pagoh whose MP is the Malaysian DPM. The URL here is an article on the blog

Sample 2: Utusan was quite explicit in playing up the Singapore threat card in the 13 GE lead up. There are many examples but I just randomly selected one here for your view

Sample 3: An example of the article that Perajurit deemed fit to publish is this which described Singapore as a security threat to Malaysia. This URL below is an extract with the scanned Perajurit pages

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the samples.

The remarks by Muhyiddin and Utusan (Umno-owned) are surely jingoistic. If you noticed, the Utusan article came from the newspaper's ghostwriter Awang Selamat. I was unsurprised, Umno has long history of blaming everyone but itself for political gain.

The Perajurit article did not offend me, it was a tactical discussion similar to what we engage in on this blog and elsewhere eg when we critique Malaysian armoured vehicles. The article noted that Johor is weakly defended, which does show that the ATM does not consider Singapore a threat or raise tensions by stationing closer to the border. The ATM is concentrated in central West Malaysia to hedge against threats to the whole peninsula.

Anonymous said...

Well, if Malaysia's intent is to create an enemy of Singaporeans, they have succeded. Well done. Ironically, the MAF is very weak now. A request for assistance from Sg would be difficult for Sgs goverment to oblige if Sgs electorate is against it.

Anonymous said...

We should withdraw from FPDA and have separate agreements with UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Anonymous said...

To the contary, these countries view Singapore and Malaysia, Thailand and more as the key to security in South East Asia, not one alone. Rather than split the FPDA, we should enlarge it.

Anonymous said...

Malaysia needs military aid. Thailands in political limbo. Funny.