And in news you probably didn’t read:

“A range of mainstream American publications printed paid propaganda for the government of Malaysia, much of it focused on the campaign against a pro-democracy figure there.

“The payments to conservative American opinion writers — whose work appeared in outlets from The Huffington Post and San Francisco Examiner to The Washington Times to National Review and RedState — emerged in a filing this week to the Department of Justice. The filing under the Foreign Agent Registration Act outlines a campaign spanning May 2008 to April 2011 and led by Joshua Trevino, a conservative pundit, who received $389,724.70 under the contract and paid smaller sums to a series of conservative writers.

“Trevino lost his column at The Guardian last year after allegations that his relationship with Malaysian business interests wasn’t being disclosed in columns dealing with Malaysia. Trevino told Politico in 2011 that ‘I was never on any Malaysian entity’s payroll, and I resent your assumption that I was.’

“According to Trevino’s belated federal filing, the interests paying Trevino were in fact the government of Malaysia, ‘its ruling party, or interests closely aligned with either’. The Malaysian government has been accused of multiple human rights abuses and restricting the press and personal freedoms. Anwar, the opposition leader, has faced prosecution for sodomy, a prosecution widely denounced in the West, which Trevino defended as more ‘nuanced’ than American observers realized. The government for which Trevino worked also attacked Anwar for saying positive things about Israel; Trevino has argued that Anwar is not the pro-democracy figure he appears.”

The extraordinary scoop from BuzzFeed over the weekend has received scant follow-up.

Trevino — who told BuzzFeed the arrangement was a “fairly standard PR operation” — has had his HuffPo articles removed because, the site says, he “violated blogger guidelines”. No kidding.

A HuffPo report on the mess is cheekily headlined: “HUFFPOST HILL, sponsored by Malaysia — Choosy Moms Choose Malaysia®”.

The abominable ethics of the writers involved aside, details of the propaganda machine run by Malaysian PM Najib Razak are perhaps the most scandalous revelation yet in a country with a pathetically poor press freedom record.

Australia has raised the issue with Malaysia before. It should do so again.

Peter Fray

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