Friday, May 12, 2006

The Malaysian Cabinet - A Collective Public Relations Disaster.

As I viewed the title for this post I asked myself whether it was a fair description of the topic for discussion. After a little reflection I decided that indeed it was appropriate.

From the time our Prime Minister took office after a landslide victory, one problem after another has cropped up to test his abilities. In the process many decisions have been taken by him and his Cabinet Officers. However among these, there have been crucial ones that have shown a remarkable disregard for public sentiment.

The recent hoo haa about the banning of the film 'The Last Communist' is a case in point. Despite the film having been passed by the censor board, the Minister concerned took it upon himself to ban it by exercising the executive powers vested in his portfolio. When questioned he said that it would be 'insensitive' to release the semi-documentary about Chin Peng, the country’s most notorious communist, at a time when UMNO was celebrating its 60th anniversary. UMNO is the major component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional, period. What has that got do with the screening of a film? The government must understand that people laugh and shake their heads in disbelief when a senior officer of the cabinet speaks in this fashion. On whether he had viewed the movie before deciding, he said he saw parts of it, including a scene showing the house where Chin Peng lived! The Information Minister added his considerable voice in backing the decision when he said, "the Government is right in banning the movie The Last Communist as many Malaysians are still hurt by the brutality inflicted by Chin Peng’s Communist Party of Malaya (CPM)". When queried he said he had not seen the movie and could be wrong, but from what he read in the newspapers, it “seemed to champion someone as a hero"!

This is what I meant by public relations disaster. The minister who bans and the minister who supposedly 'informs', both not having seen the film and admitting that in public, still stand by that decision without a care for the rakyat's opinion. In this episode they have both come out looking like silly old men out of touch with reality. This is the same information minister who recently pronounced from on high that 'Malaysians are not ready for live telecasts of parliamentary proceedings as they are not open minded'!

At a time when the government was spouting 'national unity', the Education Minister brandished a kris at the UMNO general assembly while simultaneously warning the non-bumiputras not to raise the issue of special privileges - the Education Minister, mind you! Did it not occur to him then or for that matter, even now, the real damage he has done to the image of the government and his own reputation in the eyes of the non-bumiputras merely for a little political mileage?

This list of public relations faux pas and gaffe can be prolonged ad infinitum, but that is not the intention. Ministers of the various political parties of all ethnic groups have been equally guilty of these lapses and if they are reading this they will know that.

The Prime Minister and his senior officers must understand that the days of talking down to the public is over, never to return. Every decision made by you especially those having a direct bearing on us will be subjected to strict scrutiny- discussed, dissected and rebutted if necessary. If the cabinet has the predilection for more such bloopers it is my fervent hope as well as my sincere advice - please engage the help of a reputable public relations firm.


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