Avoiding bad publicity …

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

– Groucho Marx, American writer-comedian

Some of our politicians have the tendency to say the darndest, dumbest and most outrageous things, and end up being paloi (stupid).

Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, the Pasar Salak MP and Prasarana Malaysia Berhad chairman, a man with a long history of controversy, was shown the exit by the Finance Ministry for his latest fiasco — a disastrous press conference on the light rail transit Kelana Jaya line collision crash which injured nearly 250 passengers last week.

At the media conference, he showed little sensitivity for the victims with his disdainful and flippant remarks, attempting to joke about the crash by likening the head-on collision to “two cars kissing each other”.

His comments and cynical laughter infuriated Malaysians. To be fair to the Umno politician, a one-time deputy minister, he did some damage control by apologising later, but it was a tad too late.

Netizens immediately started an online petition demanding his resignation. The petition exceeded more than 130,000 signatures in less than a day, and the rest is history.

These are hard times, and we don’t have to remind our representatives on how to avoid PR boo-boos. Make one mistake and it might be their last.

First and foremost, politicians, especially if they are a minister or a deputy minister, must be well-prepared with ready information when meeting their constituents, the public or journalists. Never assume that these people know very little about what’s going on. For all we know, they are better informed than the politicians.  

Public relations, especially in politics, is very important for conveying information and shaping political opinion.

Politicians must maintain a positive media relationship, acknowledging the needs which each profession has of the other. This is especially true when considering that politicians are always on the radar and widely criticised.

Some politicians take the media for granted; of course, I am not saying media practitioners are angels. A small number of my counterparts are themselves guilty of being unprofessional when carrying out their duties. (But that is a topic for another day.)

As journalists, we attempt to present the facts while politicians want news stories to reflect the messages that they wish to convey to the people.

Remember, politics is a dirty game, with people from across the political divide looking for dirty laundry to wash to distort the image of a rival politician. So, look before you open your mouth, least you say something that will make you paloi

The following are some past infamous media remarks from some Malaysian politicians in 2016 (source — Vulcan Post):

• Locals can’t work long hours. They can’t work as welders or do hard labour as they cannot take the stress. It’s the right and timely decision as we badly need the 1.5 million Bangladesh workers. — Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Azalina Othman

• I promise the May 13 tragedy will repeat along with flying parang if Bersih 5 is held at the time, date and place as planned on Nov 19. — Datuk Jamal Md Yunos, Sungai Besar Umno chief

• The salaries of MPs are not paid by the people but the government and the government’s money is not the people’s money. Once money has passed on to another quarter, it is no longer our money. If the government’s money is really the people’s money, let us attack all government departments to take back our money. — Nawawi Ahmad, Langkawi MP

• Marriage is the most potent solution in curbing this social ill (rape). Society, specifically parents, must encourage and facilitate the marriage of their children. While the government must help provide incentives to lessen the burden of couples planning to get married. — Datuk Khairuddin Aman Razali, Kuala Nerus MP

• My initial reaction, he (Mark Zuckerberg) doesn’t look very smart. But actually, he is very smart. He is super smart but doesn’t look very smart. — Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, prime minister

Former Minister of Information, Communication and Culture Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim’s poor public relations with the press is well known. He once ticked off a local journalist during a press conference: “Where are you educated, you can’t speak Bahasa at all … cakap orang puteh?”

Personally, my experience with Sarawak politicians has been pleasant over the past 40 years.

Former assistant minister Datuk Sharifah Mordiah Tuanku Fauzi was my favourite politician when she was in office.

She always obliged me whenever I asked for quotes. “Rajah, pandei, pandei kita. Molah quote bagus bagus, okay! (Just, come up with some good quotes that will be acceptable).”

I never failed her and she trusted me to do a good job. Thank you, Datuk!

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg is the current darling of the press. No matter how busy he is or appears stressed up, he would go out of the way to entertain the media by fielding all questions.

If certain questions appeared sensitive, his simple reply would be: “No comment,” or “That will be answered another day.”

Former deputy chief minister Tan Sri Datuk Patinggi Dr George Chan’s press conferences were legendary. No questions went unanswered.

Another of my favourite is Entrepreneur Development and Cooperative Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar who is well-liked by journalists. 

He never fails to oblige the press when asked for his views. Call him at anytime — even when he’s about to hit the sack — and he will WhatsApp you his comment.

At the national level, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s relationship with the media, during his term as the fourth prime minister, was also legendary.

As a former Star colleague put it: “Every time Dr Mahahir opens his mouth, he makes the headline. There is always something new to report. He’s a true friend of the press. His PR is exemplary.”

I end with this piece of advice: One can’t bank on getting good press for bad things. Misbehaviour and scandals will get you attention. Bad attention!