The Asian Voice

The brouhaha over Saddiq's bathtub picture and what it says about us: Star contributor

Malaysia's Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman removed a photo of himself shirtless in a bathtub from his social media accounts after it drew criticism from Malaysians. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/SYEDSADDIQ

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - I think my editor was a little hesitant about the topic I chose for my first column.

"It's a very contentious issue," he warned.

Oh no, sir.

Deciding if a hotdog is a sandwich or not is a contentious issue.

There's nothing the matter with a picture of a young politician in an ice tub.

But wow, did Malaysians lose their minds.

I couldn't go anywhere on social media this week without coming across talk about that picture of Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

You know which one I'm talking about.

Was it his best?


Was the outrage stupid?


The blow-up this has had online is absolutely ridiculous.

Let me draw you the picture.

Guy posts a harmless photo. People get upset about it. "Is this the kind of example you want to set to youngsters?" says one. "This is not the United States or any other free country ... Malaysia has limits", says another.

The photo goes absolutely viral.

The media, in a quest to fuel click-driven ad revenue, covers the story, even though none of them wants to. The same "dim as a rock" armchair commenter are now the ones lecturing the media for "not reporting news" while still talking about a picture of a 25-year-old.

First, any youngster has seen worse examples of pictures on their Instagram feed and any who claim to have not is lying.

Second, it's very ironic that conservatives are the ones spending more time ogling and discussing how much skin is being shown by strangers, than the so-called infidels.

Third, saying "Malaysia has limits" and is not free sounds a lot like what the old regime you just voted out used to say.

Also Saudi Arabia.

We have a Victoria's Secret now. We're better.

This column isn't about Syed Saddiq.

What I want to do is try to have a conversation with my fellow Malaysians.

Guys. People. Why are you like this? Why is a picture of a shirtless guy getting your knots all up in a twist when there are clearly bigger, bigger problems we need to be worried over?

According to friends in the media, this story has out-performed most politically, socially, financially relevant issues this week.

My jaw drops at the sheer craziness of that thought.

How does this bother you more than the fact that we just had a by-election that made a mockery of our Constitution and was done with disregard to voters, for the sole purpose of allowing one man to ascend to Parliament?

Or that this Minister's picture had more attention than what that same Minister said about mental health amongst youths this week (studies found that one in 10 young Malaysians has contemplated suicide)?

Or how this picture could reflect his character more than the fact that he refused to defend an LGBT staffer and friend to save his political image, claimed to be an inclusive politician but works for an all-Malay party, and is very comfortable having what should be private disagreements with sports officials out on Twitterjaya?

But this is what gets people talking? Why? Just why?

Two years ago I wrote a story with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on the state of media literacy in Malaysia.

They found that the majority of Malaysians have incredibly low levels of media literacy.

Most can't determine whether the information they are reading or sharing is false or not.

I argue that Malaysian media literacy goes beyond just being able to sniff out fake news. Being literate also means being able to analyse and evaluate the importance of the information you access.

And judging from this week's bathtub brouhaha, we fail miserably as an online species.

Anger over this ridiculous excuse for a news item will obviously get thrown at the media, because the media are the easiest people to pick on when both sides are acting dumb. No politician will ever tell his or her voters they're being stupid.

Luckily, I'm not a politician. Malaysians need to stop being fascinated with the trivial and understand that there are more desperate matters that require their attention.

Some politicians and media try to highlight these daily, hoping people will listen. It's up to you whether or not you want to be a good Malaysian or a good idiot.

The writer is a former Malaysian journalist. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.

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