Friday, June 18, 2010

Newspaper Editorial....

I wonder how many of us read the newspaper editoral, especially the NST Editorial, which (as the most well-established newspaper in Malaysia) is supposed to help mould public opinion and orientate the thinking of the nation. Yes, as an editorial comment, it's written in high-flown, queen's English with a journalistic flourish. Check this piece taken from NST June 17, 2010 page 16.

" Modern Malaysian historians now uniformly acknowledge the double-edged sword that was forged in the crucible of the global expansion of tertiary education beginning in the early 1970s, when the first local scholarship recipients under the then New Economic Policy were sent abroad to university. That quantum leap in the educational refinement of Malaysian - especially Malay - youth indeed fuelled the new technocracy serving their country's subsequent transformation, but that vastly expanded exposure was also infused with the heady flames of radicalism, rebellion and revolution. What has since come to be termed"Islamism" was gestated among young Malaysians at tertiary levels of education abroad, transplanted home to local soil by the alarmed cancellations of overseas scholarships." That should be enough for the purpose of this observation.

The English is fluent and replete with metaphorical extravaganza. But the question is : Can the average Malaysians with an SPM or an STPM or even a basic degree ( knowing how low the standard of written English has fallen among Malaysians even after a first degree education) understand what the editor is trying to communicate to them? The two long sentences are so crammed up with explicit statements, implied insinuations, and enuendos, that you've to read them again and again to really appreciate the skill with which they were written. I dare say that even some of our Parliamentarians ( I stressed the word "some") would not be able to imbibe and appreciate the full import of the two sentences.

As such the average Malaysians and some of the Parliamentarians whose English is not up to the NST Editorial level, would miss out on the gravity of the statement that the tertiary education given overseas since scholarships were given in the 1970s to study abroad, is "infused with the heady flames of radicalism, rebellion and revolution." Further , that brand of education is also termed as "Islamism" by the editor although he insinuated that the term had been used or coined by others. I'm not sure that everyone will agree to that for the seed of radicalism, rebellion and revolution, is not necessarily spread through Islamic studies only. Students taking graduate courses in Political Science, Management and Organizational or Behavioral Science, Administration, Sociology etc will surely be introduced to the subject of societal changes and transformation. That the 'heady flames' are only found in oversea's study programs and not at all in the study programs of local universities, is also questionable.

At this point I'm not arguing with the facts of what is presented. What I question is the purpose of the editorial column in the newspaper. Is it not to bring to the attention of the public some of the highlights of the news and issues that the nation is grappling with, to analyze and crystalize some of the controversial factors which could lead the public to wrong conclusions and misguided actions, to present issues that the public should be thinking about etc. If so shouldn't the writing be more "down to earth" or easily comprehensible by the public, and not geared for the indulgence of the high-brow readers. If the purpose of the high-flown and flamboyant language is to raise the standard of English comprehension in the country, then the editor is trying to do what many English teachers have failed to do. What I fear most is that, behind the grandiose display of metaphorical and linguistic agility lies some hidden message or insinuation that would be distasteful if said in plain English.
The last clause in the quote: "transplanted home to local soil by the alarmed cancellations of overseas scholarships" suggests an outcry or protest ( allegedly caused by the oversea education) against PSD's cancellation of scholarships for tertiary study abroad. The connection seems inadequately explained.

I think the message should be communicated to the public in a more easily comprehensible manner. The editorial comment must be readable to the averagely intelligent public in plain, good English and not elaborately embellished by metaphors, metonyms, synecdoche etc. Let's not hide the sour lemon or the bitter pills underneath some sweet sugar coating to the extent that people do not appreciate the gravity of the issues that the editor wants to bring forth for public awareness or debate. Diplomatic subtlety is accepted but not journalistic equivocation or euphemism.


Al-Manar said...

I cannot agree more with you. For the same reason the stall I get my newspapers sells about half a dozen copies of this newspaper a day as against its main competitor. This is a Malay-domnated area with perhaps 0.2% non Malays ( who own the two largest general stores in this area!)and the most 'laku' newspaper is one which has lots and lots of the London's 'News of the World' type of issues, written in very basic, very explicit bahasa 1Malaysia. I should not mention the name of this daily that I feel ashamed of myself to buy one. And these people, young and old, go through it from page to page. Those who cannot read, (there are many of them ) enjoy the pictures, looking at them again and again pretending hard at seeing. This is our world.

norzah said...

Thanks for the views and info, Akhi Pakcik. Today's NST editorial (June 19) seems more straightforward, no flamboyant mumbo-jambo. Must be written by a different person. The issue is also simple and mundane: about the need for a new Parliament house.
It's more readable even by SPM holders. Salam.

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
1) Our English teacher said the same thing - 'read the Editorial'. I never did, not that faithfully every time, anyway. I didn't need to pile pressure on myself.This I realised 1 day when I borrowed from a smart guy in the class an 'A+ rating' English essay.The essay was in perfect Queen's English.

I then happened to see his History and Geography essays. You know what? Both were written in the simplest of simple English. You would have thought it came from a different person.I asked him why 2 different techniques. He answered that 'the English essay was to impress with your command of good English, befitting of an English essay but the History and Geography essays were to present facts and should be easily under stood with just simple English' I always opt for simple English since then.

2) Great to have met you in person at OP Halim's daughter's wedding today. No opportunity to snap a picture with the 3 of us. Maybe next time.

norzah said...

It was so great meeting you in the flesh, Akhi Hank. Unfortunately I was a bit late and there was too big a crowd already to have more time just between us or to take some photographs.
On the way out after the wedding I met TS Ghanalingam. I didn't know that he had a stiff neck or something and realized that money alone cannot ensure a comfortable life.
Yes, our Form teacher also advised us to read the NST Editorial before, to improve our command of the English Language. I did, learned up some big words and used them in my Composition. Dr Rawcliff, the HM always gave me a C+++ when I used the Times Editorial English and an A when I used the Reader's Digest English. Now I know why.
Anyway I read today's editorial and the English was simple and straightforward. The one I commented on must be written by a different person, hehehe.

rawcliffe will give me a C++

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
It is nice of him to have come. For old friend's sake he takes the trouble.

It is true, I used to subscribe to Reader's Digest, when it was thinner, cheaper and in Queen's English. I thought it had everything that I had wished for then, drama, adventure, Word Power, Jokes, easy reach all-in- one (especially the little anecdotes.We could identify also with the stories that made it interesting)

I've not touched one now. It is expensive, in American English (spelling and all)and more so cyberspace filled the void for almost free! ( readership has dwindled and it is almost in its last throes of life)

It is also true for me. There was a time when it was utterly confusing on what to make out of a good essay. When we thought it was perfect with a lot of the high flown words, we were rewarded with just average marks.

'It shouldn't be bombastic' our PD Bond (English Literature) and the late Michael Low (English) teachers used to say with a resounding roar.

'The right word at the right place and you'll never go wrong, just plain and simple'. So it is!

norzah said...

I had a few friends from RMC in Form VI and UM before, Akhi, and their command of English, like you and Hal, is excellent. PD Bond and Michael Low (including earlier and later ones) had done a wonderful job. The English spoken and wriiten by the younger generation is as you see in the FB. Bahasa Malaysianya pun capcai jugak.Apa kena TS Gnanalingam tu? Kena stroke ke? Kepala senget je nampaknya. Kesian..

rambomadonna said...

I prefer simple and straightforward english with twist of humour if implied meaning is needed. Perhaps, it's because I don't speak or write in Queen's English. I am sure HM the Queen of England don't speak that way too, else all the butlers or ladies in waiting will be confuse hehehe.

I read one English magazine in Suvanabhumi Airport and the English was a total mess, despite having editors!

Nonetheless, those who have the flair in the language should write for a special column, something descriptive. Perhaps on tourism or lifestyle?