tip off

No plane, but foreign media have found an enemy

With the lack of any evidence as to where Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went, the foreign media have all turned on the Malaysian government, writes Asia-Pacific freelance journalist Hari Raj.

In the six days since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared, search and rescue personnel from around the world have scoured wider and wider swathes of ocean for a sign, a wreck, anything. But as rumour piles upon innuendo and bizarre twists emerge, one clear target has emerged from the confusion: the Malaysian government.

First to launch a broadside was Businessweek, which drew parallels between the way the incident has been handled and the government’s lack of transparency and dismissive, hostile attitude towards the press:

… Malaysia’s major state-controlled media outlets, which in theory could have been ahead of the plane investigation story, have been very timid in their reporting.

This lack of accountability filters down, especially at state-owned enterprises such as Malaysia Airlines, which are notorious in Malaysia for insider dealing, corruption, and lack of transparency.”

Thomas Fuller in The New York Times held nothing back either, writing that the plane’s disappearance had “challenged [Malaysia’s] paternalistic political culture and exposed its coddled leaders to the withering judgements of critics from around the world”.

Bloomberg had the pithiest quote, from University of New South Wales emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology Clive Kessler: “They’re handling a huge global issue as if it was domestic politics.”

Malaysia’s governing coalition has been in power since the country’s independence from British rule in 1957. It retains control through blatant gerrymandering, racial politics, occasional thuggery and a stranglehold on the media that starves the opposition of the oxygen of publicity. These things are reported whenever there is an election, and whenever the government chooses to react to protests in a manner as ill advised as it is heavy handed.

The reaction to the vanished flight has been similarly clumsy. Frustration is boiling over in China and Malaysia as passengers’ relatives wait in hotel rooms for answers that have not yet come. Offers of cash have been turned down. Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has drawn widespread flak for his response to criticism of the way the search has been handled: “It’s only confusion if you want it to be seen as confusion.”

On Tuesday, the Malaysian military issued a series of whiplash-inducing denials and recalibrated statements, admitting that the plane might have been picked up on radar somewhere to the west of peninsular Malaysia. The search had previously been concentrated on waters to its east; by this stage, the search area had swollen to 27,000 square nautical miles.

The official reaction from China started off with carefully worded swipes, but it has taken on more strident tones. On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang described the information released as “chaotic”. The event has not been allowed to overshadow mainstream coverage of the annual National People’s Congress, but Chinese social media is abuzz with theories, including one alleging that Malaysia’s response is due to its desire to maintain strategic control over the Straits of Malacca.

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that MH370 might have been airborne for up to four hours past its last confirmed location — a report promptly denied by Malaysian officials. China said that its satellites had spotted floating objects, but a search of the area turned up nothing.

As far as leads go, these were comparatively concrete; much of the reportage has been of rumours and conjecture. The Guardian responded to the WSJ piece with a bit of clickbait, claiming the missing jet might have ended up in Australia. Reports that passengers’ relatives were accidentally flown to India have been denied. A Current Affair took an approach in typically good taste. An oil-rig worker says he saw the plane burst into flames. Some unusual methods have drawn barely concealed ridicule.

And then there’s the terrorism angle, involving stolen passports and all manner of conspiracy theories. This is a snapshot of the media in real time, jostling to report the absence of information on an up-to-the-minute basis.

A rare note of positivity came in another New York Times report, as US naval commander William Marks discussed the difficulty of the search and lauded the Malaysian response: “They have done what I call an exceptional job.”

But while the Malaysian government has correctly been castigated for the way it has fuelled speculation, as well as for the sins of the past, it is undeniably tempting to assume that secrets are being withheld instead of accepting that authorities around the world simply do not know what is going on. The event is unprecedented in aviation history. Planes do not simply vanish … until they do.

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  • 1
    Drew Green
    Posted Friday, 14 March 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    This whole affair is rapidly taking on the look of a charade. And not necessarily on behalf of the Malaysian govt.

    When we see the entire world’s MSM assailing an individual or a nation there is usually an alterior motive.

    What about US aviation officials commenting yesterday that the plane had probably been hijacked and taken to the Arabian Gulf or Pakistan and might be used for another purpose. Don’t tell me! That purpose would be t-rorism..Right? This is blatantly leading the witness by suggestion via the MSM.

    Lets not forget that Malaysia is one of the non supportive Z-onist nations.

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 14 March 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    In this hysterical media feeding frenzy contest - where someone’s going to have a heart attack star-jumping to conclusions - I’m surprised someone hasn’t trotted out “Aliens”?

  • 3
    Malcolm Harrison
    Posted Friday, 14 March 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    been following this story since it started. malaysian govt mentioned possibility of radar indications showing a possible turn away from its designated course on the first day.
    its explanations I find quite plausible and the suggestion by Clive Kessler that this is a huge global issue is ridiculous. Its a storm in a teacup, a molehill that will have some kind of rational outcome. To blame the Malaysian govt is where it gets weird, like a bunch of primary school kids arguing about a lost ball. m.

  • 4
    AR
    Posted Friday, 14 March 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    klewy - I did hear some talk of analien activities, though not yet probes, on one of the (Sydney)westie bogan stations and even they thought it weird, dissing 2GB’s resident maddie, Brian “Fine Print” Wilshire.
    However, the article is right to point out what happens when a government/kultur has to deal with the real world beyond their own cranium-in-cloaca society.
    The same thing happened to Shrub when non US journos. wondered in print WTF? but why would a hyperpower care.
    On tuther hand…

  • 5
    Dan B
    Posted Friday, 14 March 2014 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Where have all the comments gone from the “did China find flight MH370” article?

  • 6
    zut alors
    Posted Friday, 14 March 2014 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    In one respect there’s a silver lining to this cloud for the Malaysian government.

    While the media is dominated by the missing Boeing, it conveniently distracts from the plight of Opposition Leader, Anwar Ibrahim. Less than a day before MH370 disappeared he was sentenced to five years gaol, convicted of sodomy on the government’s Appeal to overturn his earlier acquittal.

  • 7
    Michelle Greenfield
    Posted Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Behind the Scenes, Airlines and Organisations cover up vital evidence of incidences.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jg8x1IXhnf4
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT1oXsb7xww
    http://www.news.com.au/world/oil-rig-worker-says-he-saw-malaysia-airlines-flight-mh370-burst-into-flames/story-fndir2ev-1226853302184

  • 8
    stephen dolan
    Posted Monday, 17 March 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    @ Zut Alors.

    Everything eventually comes back to Anwar Ibrahim”. Rather than push him aside, Malaysian Gov will be putting a great deal of effort into pinning this on Anwar. Thankfully this has gained little traction internationally but is another example of Clive Kessler’s observation.

    It’s the muppet show.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/03/pilot_zaharie_ahmad_shah_supported_anwar_ibrahim_was_he_a_terrorist.html

  • 9
    Bahudin Mansor
    Posted Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    The Chief of the Malaysian Air Force has to resign and the Government acknowledge that top positions in the Government including the Military and Police have been filled by less than competent cronies. The UMNO and Barisan Nasional crony culture has all but destroyed Malaysia.
    What if the aircraft was hijacked and then targeted a Malaysian city? What would the idiot Air Force chief and Defence Minister say?

  • 10
    Michelle Greenfield
    Posted Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Airlines and authorities cover up https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuMNT3HoI5o

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