Was it wrong for MinDef to bar a reporter because of her attire? No — Syed Jaymal Zahiid

JULY 3 — Of late, there has been much discussion over dress code regulations at government departments. Since it was inevitable that the issue was seen through a racial lens (virtually all-Malay public service and culturally different Malaysian Chinese or Indians), the uproar was expected.

Much to the delight of the media of course, “liberal” or otherwise.

And just yesterday, Malaysians were again told of a seemingly similar incident involving a Star reporter and the Ministry of Defence. The reporter was apparently denied entry for wearing a dress that was slightly above the knee.

But she was eventually allowed in to cover a press conference after she grabbed a longer skirt from her car and wore it. How convenient that she actually had that skirt in the car, which makes one presume that she was very well aware of the dress code regulations at certain government agencies.

After all, she is a reporter. But that’s another story.

So the reporter then proceeded to write her account of what had transpired, had it published and just hours later it went viral (again that all-Malay-public-service-versus-minorities dynamic is just too damn effective when it comes to getting the clicks).

What drew my attention, however, was not so much the reporter’s account about how MinDef was more worried about her kneecaps than national security, but the inability of regular Malaysians to differentiate the context of this particular incident and that of the other dress code kerfuffles reported in the past few weeks.

Firstly, the Star reporter is a reporter. She was there to cover a press conference, meaning she was on duty. As reporters, we (yes, I am one too) are required to observe attire etiquette which is in line with our profession.

Secondly, and the most pertinent point, is that the ministry implicated here is not a service government agency like the Road and Transport Department or a hospital. It is a ministry that oversees the armed forces, regiments that require of its members the strictest compliance to attire etiquette.

As much as I agree that service-oriented departments have no business imposing religious values on its customers (the public), the case is obviously different when it comes to a ministry like MinDef.

Are we to suggest that it is wrong for Parliament to set a dress code that requires women to wear knee-length skirts or the men, suits? Or that the Courts require lawyers or even members of the public to dress decently? Is it really a religious issue if a business meeting requires that you dress accordingly?

Last I checked, knee-length skirts have become a standard for professional attire worldwide. And why is it that some non-Muslims are making it a religious issue? If it was about Islam, then the dress requirement would have to be a baju kurung and a veil. But no, the regulation only requires that you put on a skirt or a dress that is just slightly one or two inches longer than what the Star reporter was wearing.

The key issue here is context. Not all dress codes are preposterous. 

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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