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Political communication in Malaysia: a study on the use of new media
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posted on 22.02.2017by Leong, Pauline Pooi Yin
To gain and retain political power, politicians utilise the mass media to persuade the polity to support them, especially during elections. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has successfully manipulated the mass media in Malaysia to maintain power for the past 57 years, making it one of the longest serving government in the world. The emergence of new media, however, has challenged this status quo. The purpose of this thesis was to investigate how new media has influenced the political process and communication strategies in Malaysia, and its subsequent impact on the Malaysian political landscape. Nineteen in-depth interviews were conducted among politicians, bloggers and media consultants from both sides of the political divide, along with direct observation of the use of the new media during elections.
The study revealed that new media, especially Web 2.0, has expanded the public sphere and enabled more Malaysians to participate in the democratic process – through information dissemination, mobilization or crowd-sourcing and fund-raising. At the same time, the cyber-warfare between the Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) caused considerable confusion and disinformation on the polity. The online public sphere was inundated with political propaganda, often resulting in information overload for Internet users, thus affecting their quality of decision-making on political issues. Nonetheless, the emergence of the new media in Malaysia has become the single biggest threat to the BN’s political hegemony on the flow of information. Malaysian voters now expect greater engagement and interactivity with politicians via social media. Malaysian politicians are increasingly forced to be more accountable, transparent and responsive. Malaysian users of social media tend to be better educated and vocal; they can set the agenda for public discussion.
This study concluded that the Internet and the use of social media have led to unprecedented complexity in the political communication process in Malaysia. The new media can function as a catalyst for media-savvy political actors working towards gaining power but this may not lead to a more democratic system as a whole. External factors such as the structure of the electoral system and political institutions play a part in determining whether ideas spread by social media can find fertile ground in the polity who can ultimately bring about political change.