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Senior journalists call for better handling of 1MDB issue

1MDB is mired in controversy over its financial position.

Nikita Nawawi
Written by Nikita Nawawi

KUALA LUMPUR – May 26, 2015: Questions over the effectiveness of the government’s communication strategy had drawn the attention of senior journalists following what appeared to be the worsening public perception of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue.

Prominent blogger and senior journalist Datuk Ahirudin Attan in a blog post pointed out the need for a better strategy to be employed by the government to explain the issue to the public.

“What Najib needs to do is defend and explain his policies, not attack his ex boss. I am quite certain Lim Kok Wing would agree with me, that the PM’s existing strategy, which is to attack Mahathir to defend Najib, via the newspapers and prime news, is backfiring,” he wrote.

Other senior journalists interviewed by The Mole today agreed that the worsening perception towards the government’s investment arm is due to incompetent internal communication practices.

Former New Straits Times group editor Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun said the ‘utter confusion’ towards the debt-laden company’s status is very much the result of poor communication.

“The government and 1MDB are not doing a good job in communicating with the masses as people are still wondering when the crisis started and when is it going to end.

“The way they are handling the information is terrible. One minute the money is in Cayman Island, suddenly it is in Singapore. First, they said it was in cash but now it is in units. Which one is the truth?” he said.

Syed Nadzri added that it is time for the government to appoint experts from the communication sector to handle the dissemination of information to the public.

“It does not matter if they (the experts) are from the media industry. As long as they are knowledgeable about the situation surrounding 1MDB and skilled enough to give eloquent and unbiased explanation on the company’s current state, then they should do the job,” he said.

He added that the current methodology to counter criticisms by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad towards 1MDB is not helping the situation.

“Firing back at him through mainstream media by bringing up the flaws during his administration is only going to deflect the problem and open up different issues.

“We need to focus on solving the issue at hand. If he (Dr Mahathir) alleges something, the government and 1MDB itself should just answer him and rectify the problem, if there is any,” he said.

Meanwhile, former New Straits Times deputy group editor Abdul Rashid Yusof while explaining the need for a better strategy to handle the 1MDB issue pointed out that the new mainstream media is ‘Quality Content’, and that it is wrong to suggest social media as the new mainstream.

“Quality Content is the powerful game changer. A strong culture of journalism would have spotted the 1MDB situation early on,” he said.

“It is not in the interest of everyone associated with 1MDB to share their troubles at every juncture. They were probably hoping for a comprehensive solution, hoping that time would afford them a breather. It was not to be because they were confronted midway by body politics. Journalism arrived after the facts.

“Since 1998 the dailies have been trying to stay relevant having to at the same time ‘counter’ the torrent of ‘attacks’. The content capacity of the dailies and all their attendant platforms has suffered as a result.

“No one platform retains the capacity to set the agenda every single news cycle. It is shared by many.

“Events and trends have made journalism a top profession. Few are willing to acknowledge this. Quality Content and by extension great journalism shall mitigate the collective disappointment,” he added.

Former Berita Harian group editor Datuk Ahmad Rejal Arbee opined that the government should have acted earlier on the 1MDB issue since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is the advisor to the controversial organisation.

“There has not been any legitimate explanation to untangle the mess and though 1MDB board of directors is made up of credible figures, they just keep silent.

“Maybe they are not allowed to make any statement but it is only going to hurt their reputation in the future.

“They should come forward and answer all these allegations. Najib himself must be present, if possible,” he said.

Rejal also unwound the questions lingering the 1MDB atmosphere.

“People are still wondering how a governmental body that is only capitalised with RM1 million can be given loan as big as RM42 billion and why do they need such big loan?

“They claimed to be investing in property, power plants and so on but does everything sum up to RM42 billion?

“More importantly, where is the money now? Such a huge loan will not be approved by only one bank as it usually requires approval from a consortium of several banks and how could those banks approve the loan? Was there any pressure being put on them? These are the questions that need answering,” he added.

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About the author

Nikita Nawawi

Nikita Nawawi

Nikita Nawawi is an up-and-coming writer who started his involvement in the media industry serving established local English daily, before joining The Mole in October 2014 as journalist.