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MH370: Are foreign media abusing media freedom?

MH370: Are foreign media abusing media freedom?
Members of the press, both local and media, gather during a press conference updating events on the search of flight MH370. -File Photo
KUALA LUMPUR: Till today the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines' (MAS) Flight MH370 remains the main story in the newspapers, news portals and television.

Both the local and foreign media, provided wide coverage from day one up to the present search in the south of Indian Ocean.

They have been trying their best to outdo one another in reporting on the latest developments on the jetliner carrying 239 passengers and crew that went missing on March 8 while enroute to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

Nonetheless, some of the foreign media went overboard by painting a negative picture on Malaysia especially through the lopsided and speculative reports.

'The foreign media's speculative powers'

Malaysians could only read, listen and watch in anguish many of the news reports especially by the foreign media that was critical of the of the airline, its crew and the country's leaders.

As the days passed more stories that were spiteful appeared and one good example would be the US based Fox News Channel's news that linked Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his co-pilot Fariq Ab Hamid with terrorism, sabotage and hijacking.

While search and rescue efforts were still on, CNN's security analyst Peter Bergen prematurely concluded that the plane's disappearance had something to do with terrorism or pilot suicide.

Britain's tabloid the Daily Mail even went further in its speculation that Capt Zaharie had sabotaged the plane as he was unhappy with the Appeal Court's decision hours earlier on defacto opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim over a sodomy charge.
The Daily Mail too in another article stated that Capt Zahari went into recluse several weeks before the tragedy, indirectly pointing that he could be behind the plane's disappearance.

And there was this news carried by the foreign media that a Chinese national Liu Guiqui, the mother to one of the passengers on the ill-fated flight, was manhandled by police after she gate crashed into the press conference room. The misreporting was so appalling that Liu herself found it fit to rubbish the report in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV).

Soon after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that based on satellite ping analysis flight MH370 had ended in the Indian Ocean, CNN hit out at MAS' for informing the fate of the passengers to the families through SMS.

The report drew public wrath on MAS that had made all attempts to communicate directly with the next of kin and made the company appear as if it was totally irresponsible.

And the list of wrong reporting or unsubstantiated speculations and claims on MH370 continues.

'Misusing media freedom'

The media reports were obviously unfair and lacked integrity, and what more when it was the wanton abuse of freedom of the press.

A lecturer at the Universiti Teknologi MARA's (UiTM) campus in Shah Alam, Associate Professor Dr Ismail Sualman noted that the foreign media had a tendency to sensationalise the missing flight MH370.

The lecturer with the Communications and Media Studies faculty noted that the foreign media were ready to overstep the journalistic ethics boundary all in the name of so called transparency.

He opined that much of dramatic speculation and theories were to get the scoop, to enhance the circulations and ratings without bothering of their implications.

"If this is all about the freedom of the media, that its nonsense! These media are totally irresponsible and unethical as they are ever ready to spin stories knowing well they are not true.

"There is no point in clamouring for the freedom of the press when they cannot provide fair and true coverage," he said to Bernama.

'This should not be happening'

Media speculations are harmful not only for the next of kin's emotion but also diverts the attention of the investigators, and search and rescue teams though their stories are just based on assumptions.

Ismail noted that the media often gets their facts wrong and were quick to point fingers without checking further.

He also found it shocking that a renowned news network like CNN could get its facts wrong like Kuala Lumpur in Indonesia and that the Malaysian prime minister's name is Najib Rahman.

"Mistakes like this coming from the so called credible news network are unbelievable and shocking... they are just no more than spin doctors," he said.

'Malaysia is doing its best'

Whatever said and done by the media, the fact remains that Malaysia has given utmost priority to the welfare and the feelings of the family members of crew and passengers, something that cannot be seen elsewhere in such tragedies.

"This is unlike in the foreign countries, the government only emphasizes on search and rescue mission beforehand, before looking into the family's welfare.

"I feel Malaysia is really good in this aspect," he said.

Despite the unwelcome remarks from the foreign media and some next of kin, Malaysia took everything in humility and continued to seek a closure over the MH370 episode.

'Actively deflecting criticisms'

Meanwhile, he said that the local media has to be proactive in refuting the negative and inaccurate reports issued by the foreign media.

The move is highly pertinent in preserving the nation's image, apart from disseminating credible information over the incident.

"The local media has to work harder in uniting the Malaysians across the political divide and provide full moral support for the leaders in facing testing times like this," he said.