On August 1st, 2011, a London-based online newspaper, the Sarawak Report (SR) published a news breaking article, implicating the Chief Minister of Sarawak for engaging in an unethical news-fixing deal with FBC Media.
The incriminating article entitled, ‘Taib Paid Out GBP 5 million to Attack Sarawak Report’ claimed that Taib Mahmud’s Sarawak Government paid the UK-based media and public relations company (Fact Based Communications Ltd or FBC Media), huge sums of money in return for favorable news coverage.
FBC Media was to be paid RM 800,000 per documentary film (by comparison, local national TV stations, pays only RM25,000 for each 30 minutes documentary); RM 570,000 for organizing conferences (per conference); and RM 162,000 per MONTH to manage a blog.
Also implicated in the same report was the fact that the Malaysian Federal Government (under Prime Ministers Abdullah and Najib) too engaged in similar unethical activities. An opposition Member of Parliment, Saifuddin Nasution questioned the payments of RM 29 million to FBC Media in 2008 (possibly while still under Abdullah’s tenure), another RM 28 million in 2009 and a further RM 42 million in 2010 (the latter two presumeably under the present Najib’s administration).
While the news may have caused an uproar in the UK, which resulted in the demise of FBC Media; the Malaysian Government took the news, in strides. (FBC Media officially ceased operation and filed for ‘administration’ by late October 2011).
So, how did the Malaysian Government became a partner-in-crime in an illegal and unethical international news-fixing activity, yet got away with it, practically scorch-free? What was the game plan?
To understand the severity of the news-fixing crime is to first understand the basic fibre of responsible journalism. Responsible journalism works on the pretext that every reader deserves an access to unbiased news reporting.
One of the reasons why international news broadcasts command such high respect in the international information industry is the expectation of fair and truthful reporting. Once such faith has been broken, no amount of money can bring back consumers’ confidence.
FBC Media has broken the underlying trust when its stakeholders knowingly accepted payment, in return to producing favorable news coverage for its benefactors. In this case, FBC Media had accepted payment from both the Malaysian Federal Government and Sarawak State Government, in return to attacking opposition party leaders (via blogging), producing doctored films (featuring members of the Taib family as actors), plus arranging pre-recorded interviews and conferences for the latter parties. All the while, FBC Media made no disclosure to its ‘highly profitable partnership’ and had therefore successfully turned a paid advertisement into an editorial. These doctored editorials and films were then sold ‘at next to nothing’ to major international broadcasting companies, such as the BBC, CNBC, CNN and ecetera.
The Independent News reported that FBC Media made seven films on behalf of Malaysia, slated to be aired in the BBC, four out of which were part of a series, called Develop or Die. At an estimated RM 800,000 per film, Malaysia already lost RM 5.6 million of PUBLIC MONEY. By 2010, the Malaysian Government paid a grand total of RM 83.3 million to FBC Media.
So how did the Malaysian government got away with it? What was the Game Plan employed?
- The FBCgate did not get its due coverage in Malaysia’s mainstream media. Not Bernama, Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, not even the supposedly-liberal English daily, The Star. All of the above newspaper are government-controlled (and the ruling party-owned) media.
- The opposition, long denied access to owning a publicly available newspaper and free access to government-controlled TV stations, neither have adequate means, nor efficient machineries to reach the masses.
- When exposing the FBCgate, the opposition leaders arguments were heavily weighted towards the payment of GBP 70,000 to an Israeli-link organization, APCO; rather than the disbursement of RM 83.3 million of public fund, for use in an illegal and unethical activity.
- The BN-controlled parliment are headed by a BN-friendly Speaker (a member of BN party, instead of an independent), who most often than not, limits discussions on ‘matters that deemed detrimental to the ruling party.
- Pro-government bloggers (estimated 10,000 in number based on 1000 recruitments per state) started a systematic character assassinations to ward off dissents. One such blog entitled, Edisi Terlajak!! Anak Dara Tua Gersang Mengamuk Lagi!!! (Old Spinster Ran Amok Once Again!!), purposely made a mockery to an opposition’s maritial status