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The Star: How low can it go?

CPI Writings

 star-alvin-vivianThe Star has made a circus out of Sumptuous Erotica, a blog jointly put up by a pair of fresh graduates featuring explicit photographs of their sexual exploits.

The paper carried four stories related to the “sex blog couple Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee” yesterday, seven on Saturday and six on Friday, making for a total of 17 articles just over the long weekend alone.

Earlier, The Star’s breaking story ‘ Porn blog couple causes furore’ published on Oct 17 attracted 86,649 page views online. Its follow-up story ‘ Vivian Lee defends postings of her erotic pictures and videos with boyfriend ’ published on Thursday was read 85,675 times in The Star Online.

It would not be at all surprising if the Alvin-Vivian show netted The Star all in all close to half a million reads both in print and over the Internet.

In contrast, Utusan Malaysia has thus far only published one online article on the affair and even that, it was mainly to quote an officer from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) saying that no action will be taken against the couple.

There is much to be commended for the restraint shown by the Utusan – a paper whose views and news reports I am mostly in disagreement with – in its single clinical mention compared to the score of stories carried by The Star since Wednesday.

For now The Star is still milking the sensational exposure with its ‘ Sex blog couple blasted for giving a “free show”’ about how the pair became a topic of discussion at the MCA Youth and Wanita AGMs as well as by an op-ed piece by the paper’s group editor Wong Chun Wai.

What better tribute to the MCA’s new found sense of morality and righteousness (and perhaps to help swing some votes their way?) than to draw attention to the party’s concern with the declining standard of sexual conduct amongst some of our youth.

Wong’s editorial titled ‘ Red-faced? Certainly not!’ observed that publicity “is something they [Alvin and Vivian] obviously enjoy. To Wong, they “seemed delighted by the attention”.

While Wong elects to pontificate on the couple’s attention-seeking and implied shameless behaviour, he conveniently ignores that it is his own paper leading the pack in the paparazzi feeding frenzy.

Exploitation by The Star and its three sister radio stations of the unfolding melodrama has exposed the MCA-owned media conglomerate’s adherence to low ethical standards – previously in politics but now social matters.

Wong and his colleague Ho Kay Tat as the paper’s top brass must take the blame for this. In attempting to sell their paper through splashing the “porn blog” item for several days running, they have shown their true colours – profit-seeking at any and all cost.

The Star yesterday noted ‘ Sex bloggers still hog the limelight’. The two bloggers are hogging the limelight precisely because The Star – whose print readers number 1.26 million, and additionally with the publication’s online version ranking among the country’s most popular websites – is the main culprit keeping the spotlight on them.

Alvin and Vivian are two young people who have challenged Malaysian social and sexual convention. They are now reminded that they live in a conservative (as well as often hypocritical) society where the position they have taken on freedom of expression is deemed to be unacceptable, and a holier-than-thou facade and double standards are dominant in our sexual and other aspects of life.

They are not the first and let us hope that they will not be the last to challenge our prevailing notions of sexual behaviour and mores especially when these do not conform to those held by so-called representatives or articulators of public morality.

Vivian’s complaint – “It is all right for Westerners to do this but not Asians....I cannot understand why people have to judge us” – may sound like foolish logic. But she and Alvin are at the least open and honest about their views with respect to restrictive and repressive social norms. We may disagree with them but still, their views do have some merit.

Let us not forget that one of the greatest British scholars on China – Joseph Needham – was an ardent nudist who in his early years as a Cambridge graduate pranced around the gardens of the university town by himself and with his colleagues, clad only in Grecian foot thongs. Needham would never have been able to produce his monumental 25 encyclopaedic volumes of Science and Civilization in China had The Star been a British paper carrying copious reports with the intent of spotlighting his deviant behaviour.

Veteran newspapermen like Wong complain that the moralists and ultra liberals alike who are angry with the media for providing the coverage “would probably have read every line of every article about the duo”. But it is the media foremost who are pandering to the voyeuristic instincts of our society.

Many of us disgusted with The Star’s coverage have not read every line. We do not intend to – on this and similar stories. The Star should stop and leave Alvin and Vivian alone and move on to coverage of more serious and weighty news such as an analysis on the National Education Blueprint.

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