Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Malaysian Newspaper Discourse and Citizen Participation

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Malaysian Newspaper Discourse and Citizen Participation

Article excerpt

Abstract

Newspapers are a particularly important tool for the communication of government agenda, policies and issues to the general public. An informed public makes for better democracy and active citizen participation, with citizens able to make well-informed decisions about the governance of their nation. This paper observes the role of Malaysian mainstream newspapers in the facilitation of citizen participation to exercise their political rights and responsibilities through a critical discourse analysis on newspaper coverage of the New Economic Model (NEM), a landmark policy of the Najib Administration. It is revealed that Malaysian newspapers carry an ideology that depicts the government and the elite in positions of power. The government, the Prime Minister, the NEM and the NEAC report were foregrounded and positively highlighted. Although many of the articles contained calls for the people to prepare and support the NEM, issues pertaining to the people and the importance of the support of the people were frequently being backgrounded or left out of the newspapers. News reporting should facilitate understanding of government agenda, because the news media is a main avenue of communication between a government and its people. The failure of the press to inform, communicate and stimulate citizen participation among the people could very well prove to be damaging toward the credibility of the local press. The mainstream news press should provide access and support citizen participation by recognising that they are a valuable resource for citizen decision-making and for democracy.

Keywords: Criticial discourse analysis, Topicalisation, Lexical choices, New economic model, Political citizenship

1. Introduction

The mass media play an important role in the communication between a nation's government and its citizens. Newspapers are a particularly important tool for the communication of government agenda, policies and issues to the general public. An informed public makes for better democracy and active citizen participation, with citizens able to make well-informed decisions about the governance of their nation. This paper observes the role of Malaysian mainstream newspapers in the facilitation of citizen participation in exercising their political rights and responsibilities.

Isin and Wood (1999) describe citizenship as a combination of a set of cultural, economic and symbolic practices merged with civil, political and social rights and duties. According to Faulks (2000), the concept of citizenship not only concerns the individualistic rights of the citizen, it also entails responsibility in the form of duties and obligations that a citizen must perform for the society as a collective. "Political citizenship" as coined by Marshall (2009, p. 149) describes a citizen's right and responsibility to "participate in the exercise of political power" through active involvement in shaping governmental institutions.

2. Citizen participation

According to Nagel (1987), citizen participation is "citizen action that influences or seeks to influence policy decisions" (cited by Mohd Aizi, Shahizan and Mohd Syakiran, 2011, p. 5). These influencing actions can be either direct or indirect (Richardson, 1983). Indirect citizen participation is in the form of sharing of opinions, organisation of demonstrations, and indirect correspondence with political representatives. Direct participation on the other hand involves direct mutual discussions with appointed officials. Barber (1969) attributes levels of citizen participation to three interdependent key elements: citizen motives, opportunities and resources. The author states that these elements may both support and compensate for one another; a citizen may lack in motive but his/ her access to resources may prompt participation. In turn, a citizen who possesses the motives to participate in policy decisions may actively seek the relevant opportunities and resources. …

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