The party’s publicity machinery has been working overtime since Chua Soi Lek took over the presidency, but its efforts have come to nought because of hypocrisy in the party and its leadership
Not too long ago, Perkasa boss Ibrahim Ali hammered out a warning to Barisan Nasional that it would lose both Chinese and Malay votes like a haemorrhage if MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek did not shut “his bad mouth”.
His had this advice for Dr Chua: “If you love MCA, better take a back seat. Don’t syok sendiri, as in the video.” (“Syok sendiri” is a popular Malay expression indicating that someone is basking in self-approval but does not deserve it, and “the video” is the one showing Dr Chua having extramarital sex.)
This was a remarkable and rare show of brilliant insight from the great champion of Malay rights. Ibrahim was saying, in effect, that it would be a grave error for anyone to assume that success in politics depends entirely on the shaping of perception through publicity efforts.
Malaysians are no longer dumb, deaf and blind. They can smell deception when a politician tries to advance an argument by re-packaging propaganda instead of by the force of facts.
If politicians still think they can convince voters of their worth merely by wagging their tongues or churning out daily press releases, they are in for a rude shock when the ballot papers are counted.
When Chua was trying to explain his return to active politics despite his abrupt resignation in January 2008 over a sex scandal, he cited the findings of a survey conducted by a local Chinese magazine. “The survey informed me that I can still get votes because it was a private affair and not affecting public interests.”
That was the beginning of his move to exploit publicity to the hilt for his political comeback. He calculated every political manoeuvre to ensure that it went in tandem with publicity games to undermine confidence in his presidential predecessors, Ong Ka Ting and Ong Tee Keat, who were his rivals in the 2010 presidential election.
Politicians are apparently akin to ships, noisiest when lost in a fog. So it is no surprise that MCA, under Chua’s leadership, is showing such prowess in its publicity attacks against political opponents.
The pertinent question is whether this is an effective strategy considering that the party has rows of cupboards full of skeletons? Will the constant firing of propaganda missiles at Pakatan state governments improve MCA’s image? Have the publicity spinners at headquarters forgotten that two of the party’s top leaders are facing court trials over the PKFZ scandal?
Many Malaysians no longer read mainstream newspapers and are therefore no longer misinformed. If MCA wants to take the high moral ground, it must first ensure that its leaders, past and present, belong on that ground in the eyes of the public.
Lies and propaganda
The main publicity obstacle facing both Chua and his party is that neither can qualify to be a guardian of the truth. The party’s recent history is riddled with distortion, lies and propaganda engendered by infighting and leadership tussles.
Not that Chua’s steamy sex scandal is a lesser problem, but since he apparently thinks of himself as the most publicity-savvy president MCA has ever had, let us ask another pertinent question. What has he done to ensure press freedom, which he promised to do during his presidential election?
A couple of years back, he wrote in his personal blog: “The problem is that many political parties own controlling stakes in the press, MCA included. It has controlling stakes in both the Chinese and English press. As such, the editors and journalists working for those particular papers are beholden to their political masters and would have to toe the line or risk facing the sack.
“With this in mind, how can the press truly be free? How can it ever have credibility when all and sundry know they are owned by certain political parties?
“A particular senior MCA leader has been ranting and raving about the importance of press freedom … (but) behind the scenes he exerts an inordinate amount of editorial control and interference.”
Referring to a former president whom he did not name but whom everyone could tell was Ong Ka Ting, he said: “Articles which are highly critical of him and his special ones do not see the light of day (in the Star, which MCA owns).
“I doubt I have to tell you who this leader is. He has been very busy making public statements these days.”
Well, we can ask Chua a few more questions.
To what extent has he pursued reform toward press freedom since taking over the party presidency? Has Chua not adopted a policy of admitting weaknesses but concealing mistakes, as was quite evident in the controversy surrounding the sacking of DJ Jamaluddin Ibrahim from a MCA-controlled radio station? Why did MCA appoint party veteran Fong Chan Onn as board chairman of the Star instead of choosing from among independent professionals to improve public confidence in the paper?
Since the questions above hint at hypocrisy in MCA and its president, let us move further down that road with more relevant questions. When MCA condemns Pakatan Rakyat for the alleged wrongdoings of its leaders, does this mean that MCA leaders hold themselves accountable to the public? When rumours surfaced in December 2010 that a Perak MCA leader had molested a girl, did the party leadership not orchestrate a news blackout?
When MCA leaders release press statements condemning public rallies as a nuisance, do they forget that MCA is a veteran at organising demonstrations, such as the dozens that took place in the mid 1980s to protest against phantom members and the jailing of a former MCA leader for CBT? And has Chua forgotten that a massive show-of-support rally took place in Johor before a press conference in which he confessed to be the man in the sex video?
These are but some illustrations that the publicity efforts at MCA headquarters are a sham and are ineffective because the public remains unconvinced that the party is serious about reforming itself.
Within 100 days of taking over the MCA presidency, Chua beefed up the MCA publicity machinery, recruiting several graduates to run it and manufacture press releases.
The political objective was to adopt a more aggressive strategy against the opposition.
Every morning, the publicity team scans all mainstream newspapers in all languages, popular news portals and pro-opposition blogs. The members of the team then discuss articles critical of MCA and decide on how to rebut them. Sometimes, they solicit inputs from the political and press secretaries of MCA ministers.
The press statements they write will be attributed to appropriate MCA leaders, depending on the subject. The normal practice is to inform these leaders before the statements are released. Slips have shown up when the party “spokespersons”, contacted by press reporters and unable to respond to their questions, have to own up that they are not aware of press releases made under their names.
This factory approach is both superfluous and superficial. There is a lack of leadership commitment to issues, resulting in the lack of intellectual content.
If emotions are not evidence, feelings are not facts and subjective beliefs are not substantive beliefs, why is MCA continuing to adopt a publicity strategy that drags the party deeper into the quagmire?
Some say that publicity can fool all the people all the time if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough. Not anymore.