The Malaysian government has been lambasted by industry experts, victims, other governments, and the media over its mishandling of the missing MH370 aircraft. Reeling and under both external and internal pressure, the Malaysian government is now threatening to file lawsuits against various media outlets for what it claims are false reports.
The Malaysian government now appears to be trying to shift at least some of the blame to the media. According to acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, these allegedly false media reports have exacerbated the crisis and made it more difficult for the government to resolve the issue.
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Hussein has come on record stating that the government has been collecting all cases of what it claims were “false media” reports and will refer the information to Malaysia’s attorney general. Hussein has also stated that he feels the government should pursue charges when the time is right, though the final decision to do so will rest with the attorney general and prime minister Najib is certain to have considerable input.
Anonymous sources drawing government ire
The Malaysian government appears to be most upset over various “anonymous sources” allegedly leaking information regarding the on-going investigation. The government claims, however, that information is not being leaked but is instead being falsified.
The most serious case involves the British Tabloid, the “Daily Mail”, which claims to have obtained information suggesting that one of the pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was mentally unstable. The tabloid also claimed that Zaharie was a fanatic follower of Anwar Ibrahim, the Opposition leaders who had recently been arrested on a rather questionable sodomy charge.
The Malaysian government strongly denies this, and has instead pointed out that both pilots were mentally fit and well-trained for flying aircraft. The government has argued that the newspaper has been slandering the pilot and sensationalizing the case.
Malaysia’s local media muzzled, under tight control
The Malaysian government has now found itself on the world stage and the center of media attention around the world. While Malaysia is a regional power, it has never had to deal with this intense of a level of international scrutiny.
Further, Malaysia’s own local media, as while as the media of most South East Asian nations, is highly censored by the government. More or less, the media will rarely report on issues that the government does not want it to, and tends to take a pro-government stance. When the media does criticize the government, the criticism itself is often restrained, if not muted.
Thus the Malaysian government is now struggling to deal with an international media that is far more concerned with drumming up readership rather than staying in the government’s good graces. This is a situation in which the Malaysian government is woefully under-prepared for, and its poor handling of the press only highlights its weaknesses.