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Media gaffes are no laughing matter

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Malaysian voters expect a higher standard of governance from Pakatan Harapan; so a misstep on its part would immediately incur the wrath of the people, warns Mustafa K Anuar.

Political faux pas are nothing new in the Malaysian political landscape, especially during the rule of the previous Barisan Nasional government.

In fact, it has become a trademark of sorts among certain BN cabinet ministers prone to making a fool of themselves in their public remarks. They even mocked the intelligence of ordinary Malaysians by trying to wriggle their way out of such gaffes, saying that they’d been misquoted or, worse, that Malaysians were a confused lot.

That is why Malaysians in general can no longer stomach and are less forgiving – after the recent general election – when it comes to any public statements from the current cabinet ministers that would remind them of blunders of the Mazlanesque (of GST notoriety) genre.

What comes to mind in recent weeks is, firstly, the public ruckus that erupted following a hasty announcement by Human Resource Minister M Kulasegaran who insisted that local restaurants get rid of foreign cooks and employ local ones.

The public outrage, particularly via social media, accused the minister of being, among other things, xenophobic. A few rightly reminded the minister that Malaysia’s delicious cuisine was the result of invaluable contributions by our multicultural ancestries.

Faced by a barrage of stinging criticism, Kulasegaran opted to say that his recent public announcement was only a proposal and he had not yet received the views of all the stakeholders, especially the restaurant folk.

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Trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted does remind us of the previous administration. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The minister obviously should have consulted all the stakeholders, as suggested by an outraged user of social media, before making such an important decision.

Secondly, ruling politicians are expected to be on the ball, especially those who hold high office in the present administration. It was, therefore, predictable that social media became noisy when Deputy Prime Minister and Women and Family Development Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said she was unaware of what happened to lawyer-activist Siti Kasim recently because she was too preoccupied with her husband’s health.

Although we appreciate her deep concern for Pakatan Harapan’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim’s health, her response regarding Siti’s questionable arrest was disappointing nonetheless, especially given that her second portfolio is about women’s affairs. The controversy over the arrest issue involves two women: Siti and her female client.

Wan Azizah is expected to be more media-savvy. To be seen as “clueless”, as headlined by a news portal, is not exactly a much-needed feather in one’s cap. The least she could have said was that she was concerned about the arrest and that she would make further comments after all the information was gathered.

Finally, the media gaffe that raised the political temperature recently concerned the controversy over the Mandarin statement issued by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

While Malaysians in general may accept the standard operating procedure of the ministry to issue statements in three languages, ie Bahasa Malaysia, English, and Mandarin, some may find it distasteful to see the minister issue another statement only in Mandarin, as reported by The Star, to defend his use of trilingual statements.

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This explanation only in Mandarin is perceived to be a show of defiance, which isn’t necessary given that Lim has so much on his plate, what with the humongous 1MDB scandal that is still being unravelled and which requires urgent attention.

The new government is expected to focus on substantial reforms and pave the way to a better Malaysia – not to be waylaid by unpleasant gaffes.

Incidentally, minorities, such as those speaking Tamil and the major languages among subgroups in Sabah and Sarawak, may feel neglected by this SOP that was practised when Lim was the chief minister of Penang. In short, it is a question of inclusivity if one is to go the whole hog.

PH politicians should be fully aware by now that Malaysian voters expect a higher standard of governance and of their public remarks; a misstep on their part would immediately incur the wrath of the people. And this doesn’t necessarily come only from the opposition or their cyber-troopers.

The new Malaysia is watching.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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