Incredibly, Asia has world’s freest media
By Nury Vittachi
MONDAY: It was the worst possible start to the week. Someone tampered with my morning fix. At the coffee-shop my barista/ pusher shouted out something I didn’t catch and placed a paper bucket on the bar.
A woman approached, saying: “Oops, sorry—that’s mine. I picked up the wrong one.” She guiltily puts the one she’s holding back. I pick up the drink she has returned and take it to the office.
I take a sip and spit all over my keyboard. In the 30 seconds she had my drink, she’d added cinnamon, a slice of ginger and something which smells suspiciously like garlic.
The day gets worse when the boss gives me an impossible assignment. “I want you to write a piece proving that the media in Asia is freer than the media in the West.”
“But it isn’t,” I object.
He waves away this inconvenient obstacle and me.
TUESDAY: Last night I sent out a request to regular contacts asking for examples of Asian media freedom. This morning my inbox contains a report from a Manila newspaper about an assassinated politician. The victim “was widely believed to have been corrupt, so perhaps it’s not such a bad thing”, says a quote from a policeman.
I phone a friend at the New York Times and ask whether he’d be free to quote a thumbs-up to murder? “Of course not,” he replies. “It would be utterly tasteless.”
Can’t help thinking about the woman in the coffee shop who likes ginger and garlic in her coffee. Talk about tastelessness.
WEDNESDAY: I receive a news clipping from a reader in Indonesia. After a hotel guest committed suicide, a hotel public relations officer said: “Please tell the public that if they have to die, they should not do it here. They can use the river for example.” Now that’s pragmatism.
Decide to slip a bit of ginger into my coffee just to see what it is like. Surprisingly nice.
THURSDAY: I’ve been sent a link to a Tokyo newspaper report in which an official at JR East railways says people who throw themselves in front of trains should use other lines, as dead people cause delays. I call a friend at The Guardian in London. “Media relations officers in the west just don’t say such insensitive things,” she replies. “Although I’m sure they think them.”
FRIDAY: I am in the boss’s office. “You’re right,” I tell the editor. “The Asian media is freer than the Western media. We are not bound by limits on decency, taste, political correctness and so on.”
“Hmm,” he says. “Is that good?”
“You didn’t ask me whether it was good. Just whether it was free.”
SATURDAY: I see the woman in the coffee shop. “Why do you put garlic and ginger in your coffee?” I ask.
“You the guy whose coffee I spiked by accident on Monday? Sorry. Garlic and ginger give you clarity of mind,” she says. “Did it work for you?”
“That’s absurd,” I reply. “But I think it did.”