Local and Foreign Media Coverage on The Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

Written by Nor Diyana Abd Kadir

Three years ago, 239 people on board a Malaysian flight from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing mysteriously disappeared. At that time, many believed that the plane had crashed into the Indian Ocean. However, news reported from foreign media had spurred many assumptions on exact whereabouts of the aircraft. This had led too much of the confusion and anxiety to those who are affected by the tragedy in one way or the other. During the weeks following the incident, the government spokesperson had given out statements that reassure the situation is under control. While some may agree that the authorities could have done things differently in their ways of reporting, many rely on foreign sources that were steadfast in supplying an endless stream of information.

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Image credit : freemalaysiatoday.com

Identity of News Organisation

Local Media: New Straits Times (NST)

The famous local  English-language news daily, The New Straits Times began circulation as The Straits Times in 1845 before changing its current name in 1974. Initially, the paper is recognised as Malaysia’s only broadsheet format English language newspaper. It has changed to a tabloid version on 1 September 2004  to be syncronised with British newspapers; The Times and The Independent. The tabloid format paper was either controlled or owned by government coalition parties under ‘Barisan Nasional’ or companies who have strong relations with the ruling party and now is part of Media Prima group of companies (Lim, 2007).  Thus, it has become a government mouthpiece and progressive nation-building newspaper which covered a rich editorial content of various weekly sections such as lifestyle, business and technology (New Straits Times, 2013).

International Media: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (the ABC)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (the ABC) was formed by the government and launched on 1 July 1932 by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons and ABC radio announcer Conrad Charlton. Since its inception, ABC has become a modern day broadcaster and reliable source of news and information for Australian society across the nation and to the region. ABC being the government’s mainstream channel, it is aimed to provide informative, entertaining and educational services that reflect the breadth of its nation. Among ABC prominent contents are nightly entertainment, music, comedy shows, children’s programming and sport.

Chronology of Event (Timeline)

Practicality

Both local and foreign media were somewhat extensive enough in their documents citing various references from the time the incident had occurred up to 12 months after. This exhibits the degree of transparency in their narrative although we could observe an apparent variation in reporting style. For instance, ABC laid the timeline in ascending order while NST chose to have their latest reports shown first.

Degree of transparency and level of reporting

Interestingly, if we look at this from a different angle, the western media is often critical to the management (or mismanagement) of the crises. They sometimes try to discredit the Malaysian authorities by insinuating headlines that feel less relevant, vengeful and trailblazing away to the actual search and rescue efforts. A case in point, the ABC sub-headlines reads on October 31, 2014 – “First lawsuit filed over disappearance” which was not mentioned in the NST version of the chronological report. This seems to be a deliberate attempt by the mainstream foreign press to shame the authorities adding further insult to injury.

On another incident, they also shrug and criticise how the airlines were handling next of kin, where they were informed via text messages of their missing loved ones. In a press conference journalist threw questions that further draws anger to their relatives of the casualness of the text message as if there’s no hope to find the victim. Many argued Malaysia Airlines (MAS) should have waited and contact the family members before releasing the text message. This move may have single-handedly tarnished the integrity and reputation of the channel of public communication for both MAS and the country.

An NST report stating that there is information such as “air traffic control radio transcript, radar data and airport security recordings” that cannot be shown to the public. These statements came from representatives of Malaysia Airlines who were supposedly being told to inform the relatives on any updated information. These sorts of reports demonstrate on attacks by the press while taking advantage of the venerable opposition. By any measure, one cannot deny that Malaysia Airlines were on a clear path of PR disaster when they texted the message. They often layout an incomplete and inconsistent accounts leading to undermining the confidence of relative and press of any further statements. Without a doubt, the local media has been protective of their information. NST reported on both positive and negative statement on how authorities update the MH370 passenger next of kin whereabouts. However, being a government mouthpiece; the statement is contradictory to other media reports.

Another contradiction came when their official report entitled Factual Information Safety Investigation for MH370 said that “civilian radar had tracked the plane for a short time after it diverted on March 8 of last year, apparently contradicting earlier Malaysian statements that only its military radar had monitored the plane”. Furthermore, the government also at a fault as they controlled the media too strictly by not disclosing one of the more key dates which were when the preliminary assessment of the report was released on May 1, 2014. The reports highlight several steps that show weaknesses in crises management.  Instead, its timeline focuses on somewhat monotonous tone omitting any information that can jeopardise the credibility of the government when in fact they have made numerous public statements of their commitment to being transparent.

The final observation seen is the stark contrast of freedom of speech and media control. Relatively, western media tries to create public discourse where people can come together to give an opinion, discuss and identify societal problems freely, and through that discussion it will influence political action. Meanwhile, on the local front, nations described as authoritarian that practices state-owned media channels where they have complete control over information in direct or indirect ways. Although they sometimes are seen to work independently, there is absolutely no room for media to speak against the predetermined narrative. Many public relations experts conclude that the country was caught off guard by an aggressive international press mainly because curbs on free expression effectively muzzled Malaysian press.

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Image Credit: thenewdaily.com.au

References

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Timeline of events. (2017). ABC. Retrieved from

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-08/timeline-a-year-of-searching-for-mh370/6261778

Malaysia confirms worst fear about flight MH370. (2017). ABC. Retrieved from

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2014/s3971390.htm

Malaysia says there’s sealed evidence on MH370 that cannot be made public. (2014, March 26). The Straits Times. Retrieved from

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysia-says-theres-sealed-evidence-on-mh370-that-cannot-be-made-public

MH370: Sister of crew member says next-of-kin have not been receiving updates on plane search. . (2017, March 26).

http://www.nst.com.my/news/2017/01/202486/mh370-sister-crew-member-says-next-kin-have-not-been-receiving-updates-plane

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