This was one media interview that many Malaysians were holding their breath for – the BBC Hardtalk interview with self-exiled Raja Petra Kamaruddin, more popularly known as simply RPK, in London on September 1st.
Hardtalk as the name suggests, has caught the public eye for its willingness to ask the difficult questions and being both uncompromising and provoking. In one instance, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, had commended Stephen Sackur’s hard grilling during a June 2010 interview.
But we were left with just that – holding our breaths – and nothing much else when the BBC called off the program a couple of days before the interview. Unsurprisingly, that brought it huge brickbats. The reason to call off the program was attributed to a possible defamation suit in relation to an unspecified court case. Many in Malaysia would recall that there’s only one court case that could cause so much “concern” – the Altantuya murder trial.
However, the online newspaper Malaysia Insider reported that the BBC had dropped RPK to appease the Malaysian government, while others were even more forthright – suggesting that the “British bastion of freedom of speech” had lost its marbles. The Malaysian Chronicle asks Hardtalk or MoneyTalks?
Southeast Asia Media Legal Defence Network (SEAMLDN) project coordinator H Dipendra agreed with other media experts that it was very strange for the BBC to drop RPK. Others concurred that it could have simply edited the program before broadcasting it. They pointed out that there have been even more vociferous personalities on board before.
Whether the BBC will eventually meet RPK is not clear. In the meantime, the online joke now is there is a proposal to rename Hardtalk as “Softtalk”, “Talksoftly lah” and “Don’t Talk”, among others!