On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The circus is in town

Our politicians should spare us the blushes and sign up for media engagement courses.

WE are indeed still in a silly season. From gaffes over the price of kangkung to comparing a politician to the likes of Winston Churchill. From idolising this same politician as godsent and world-class material to producing a distasteful Chinese New Year video, it simply means our politicians are lousy at media engagement.

Even the Prime Minister has suggested that Cabinet members should take media engagement courses, pointing out the importance of giving out “clear and proper explanations” on government policies. We assume that includes himself.

Here are 11 points that politicians should accept before they even bother signing up for such a course.

Point No 1: The world has changed. No one has a monopoly on the distribution of news. The last thing politicians, especially those in government, should do is to dictate terms on how news should be skewed and written to benefit them. Only one politician still has the privilege of doing that – Kim Jong-un. Well, he has total control over everything, everyone and every piece of kimchi in Pyongyang.

Point No 2: Learn to laugh at yourselves. Humour seems to be lacking in our politicians. They confine themselves too much in a straitjacket. They are too sensitive to criticism and are easily upset. That’s being thin-skinned, which is strange because all politicians are supposed to be thick-skinned. The only exception, again, is if you are the Dear Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is anything but democratic.

Humour is also possibly scarce in Taliban country. How can they possibly smile and laugh when they are stuck in caves most of the time with only camels as their companions?

Just take a leaf from London Mayor Boris Johnson, who sportingly joked and laughed at himself when he was stuck dangling in mid-air while riding a zip wire as part of the 2012 Olympics celebrations. He has also cleverly used his many guffaws to endear himself to the voters.

The Chinese New Year video by the MCA Youth taking a dig at that superbly ridiculous “Love Is In The Air” election video by the Bukit Bintang MCA is refreshing. Learn to laugh at yourself.

Point No 3: Chicken is simply food to people. Chickens are not used for political purposes. Older Chinese may insist on slaughtering chickens in temples to prove their innocence but to most of us, a lie detector would do a better job. Besides, what have these innocent chickens done to politicians that they have to be sacrificed in this manner? You can slap my back for laughing at silly video jokes but why must you offer me RM1,200 to slap someone on her face? Now, that could be slapstick comedy! Pakatan politician Teresa Kok can be likened to a fighting cock and her video may be full of cock and bull. But it’s best we leave the animals out of the fight. Just leave that to the real political animals.

Point No 4: Can we cut the charade of addressing every Tan Sri, Puan Sri, Datuk Seri, Datin Seri, Datuk-Datuk, Datin-Datin …? This whole salutation takes up too much time. Can we just get straight to the point? Most journalists find such salutations a complete waste of time. The only ones excited are these titled people. Surely, not the ordinary people. The time will be better used explaining what needs to be said by our leaders. We are no longer feudal although we respect the traditions.

Point No 5: Never talk down to the people. The rakyat are not stupid. Don’t lecture us and don’t expect Malaysians, especially the taxpayers, to be thankful, grateful and blindly loyal to politicians for just doing what they are voted in to do. Politicians are supposed to serve the people and not the other way around. So if that point is made clear, our leaders will be able to communicate more effectively with the people. It’s that simple, really.

Point No 6: Stop paying a bomb to spin doctors calling themselves media consultants. It’s really a con job. How would these guys know the political behaviour of Malaysians when they don’t even know their way around town? Except maybe Bangsar? So, forget about giving fat contracts to these expatriate self-declared experts with their fanciful graphs and power point presentations.

There’s a battalion of Malaysian ex-newsmen working as press secretaries, advisers and aides in Putrajaya. They know the job better.

Point No 7: Politicians get into trouble because they tell different things to different audiences. That’s what happens when their mouths are bigger than their brains. Everything and anything can now be captured as pictures, sound bites or video clips via the smartphone. Voters love to expose politicians and these videos have a way of going viral on social media.

Point No 8: Be clever. Using those instant one-man outfits disguised as non-governmental organisations to carry out your dirty tricks, and then disassociating from these political jesters, won’t work. The public hates it. The media hate it. Everyone can see through these devious schemes except the politicians who think we don’t. Does anyone actually join the Persatuan Mukabuku Malaysia?

Point No 9: Be straight to the voters. If you want to quit politics and land yourself a teaching job, just do as you have promised. If you want to contest a state seat, just say so, rather than deny a fact or give us runaround answers. And if you want to be a Mentri Besar, then just admit it. Surely, no godsent and world-class politician want to be just an ordinary state assemblyman who is expected to look at dengue-infested longkang (drains)?

Point No 10: Press freedom and freedom of expression mean accepting being criticised, belittled, ridiculed and scolded. All of us have seen how the biggest advocates of the freedom of expression show the same intolerant behaviour when they get into power. They clamp down and bully the media and critics. Of course, these brutes would not have done that without the blessing from their masters – the same politicians who get voted into power talking about accountability, freedom and justice.

Point No 11: Finally, the best and most important point of all. No amount of training, classes and advice could really help unless you think before you open your mouth to talk to the press and people. We all know that most politicians treat the microphone like some strange, desirable objects that they cannot let go of.

But keep it short and simple. Don’t sound like a philosopher when your degree is purchased online. Remember, our attention span is short. We need to run off to watch the football match on TV. When players don’t wallop each other, officials do it, at least in Malaysia.