On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Pressing need to tighten media links

"We have heard about the amazing economic pace in
Malaysia but what we saw was unbelievable,'' said diplomatic journalist Mirce

The reporter from Macedonia's largest newspaper, Nova Makedonija, was among the
20 invited by the Malaysian Government to see for themselves what the country
is like.

"But you must do something about your traffic congestion and public  transport in Kuala Lumpur. It's very
difficult to move around,'' he said.

At the farewell luncheon, Malaysian counterparts urged the visitors to  give their impressions of Malaysia and to be

Were they frustrated by our cabbies? Did they check out the KL nightlife? What
did they think of our multi-racial and multi-religious society?

The end result was a free flow of opinions and a new friendship was  struck between fellow journalists from two
different parts of the world.

Although it must have cost the Foreign Ministry a substantial sum to  bring these journalists here, it certainly
was money well-spent.

The tour is a good follow-up to the visit by Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad to
the Balkans in April, where he said the Balkans could act as a  gateway for Malaysia to export its goods to
Eastern Europe.

The Prime Minister had said that his visit to Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and
Macedonia was not merely to gain access to Balkan nations but also to Eastern Europe.

For a long time, Malaysia's trade has been confined only to certain European
countries and Japan. His visit and follow-up will be important for Malaysia to
expand its trade.

Although these newly-independent Balkan countries are small, their size  do not reflect their potential.

Despite Dr Mahathir's high profile and Malaysia's aggressive foray in the
diplomatic front, the fact remains that Malaysia is still unknown in most  parts of the world.

Except for Commonwealth countries, the average American and European are
unlikely to know where Malaysia is.

As our businessmen expand their links overseas, Malaysia needs to polish its
image and public relations exercise. One way of doing so would be to bring
foreign newsmen here.

In most developing countries, the press depends on Western news agencies to
supply the bulk of material to their newspapers.

What gets printed about Malaysia eventually is what these news agencies want to
see published. The situation is worse, for example, in Zimbabwe and South
Africa where the newspaper owners are whites.

Malaysian companies, which have successfully outbid Western businesses in
Africa, have found themselves to be the target of these white-owned media. The
situation is the same in Brazil, where not a word is mentioned about Western
loggers, but Malaysians get a bashing.

For example,London-based Reuters attached great importance to a news item about
a three-hour blackout in Kuala Lumpur.

And thanks to some of our non-governmental organisations and the unruly action
by the People's Action Front in stopping the Second Asia-Pacific Conference on
East Timor (Apcet II), Malaysia made it into CNN and the International Herald
Tribune, while most of the viewers and readers try to figure out where East
Timor is.

As the trade war hots up, the Foreign Ministry will be entrusted with a  bigger responsibility. It will have to take
the bull by the horns.

Unlike their Western counterparts, the Malaysian diplomatic corps is reluctant
to write to the media to counter allegations brought up in the  press.

Embassy information officers, under the Information Ministry, will have to
cultivate a relationship with local journalists in order to become more

The US Information Agency, for example, spends millions of dollars inviting
young leaders, journalists and unionists to international programmes and
fellowships to universities for such purposes.

But there is no hard-sell. The agency does not bore its guests with government
propaganda participants  get to stay with
American families to  experience life in

Such people-to-people contact is the most memorable and the participant  is likely to maintain close ties with his
host. The same participant would  most
likely not correspond with a government official after his trip.

The Malaysian Government should sponsor such trips for influential figures from
Eastern Europe, South American and Africa.

It should also engage a professional film-maker to produce videotapes of  Malaysia for distribution to television
stations whenever the Prime Minister 
visits developing countries.

Whenever Dr Mahathir goes overseas, accompanying television crew from RTM and
TV3 would use the facilities of local TV stations to send their feed to Kuala

On many occasions, the Malaysian TV crews would be asked by their  counterparts whether they had brought along
videotapes of Malaysia which they could air in conjunction with Dr Mahathir's
visit. Often, the answer is “no''.

Thus, a chance to showcase development in Malaysia and its unique makeup is

The time has come for more professionalism in the various ministries
responsible for making Malaysia known to the world. It would mean spending  some money but then nothing is free.