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PR agencies speak up about Utusan

The recent Malaysian general elections have sparked outrage among citizens with local dailies gaining criticism due to racial slurs and editorial content published.

Over the past week, several dailies, widely known for being associated to ruling government parties in Malaysia, have been publishing content blatantly stating racist comments that have been reiterated and extended on a daily basis.

Amidst this, local public relations (PR) agency Pi PR Consultancy has come out to take a firm stand against racism-inciting media propaganda, launching a boycott of local publication Utusan Malaysia.

Pi PR managing director Lee Ting Ting said in a press statement: “Pi PR will halt its support to Utusan Malaysia for any media-related engagement. As a responsible Malaysian PR agency, it is imperative to make a stand against blatant racist-based editorials. Although PR agencies depend on a close working relation with all media channels, however the business and media community needs to abhor blatant racist propaganda.”

Following the Malaysia’s general elections results last Sunday (5 May), Utusan Malaysiaprinted racist remarks on its front page targeting a section of the Malaysian community that has worried the majority of the moderate-view business community.

“The media and PR practices own a duty to promote facts, fairness and unity – especially in the crucial current times. Every company, small or big, needs to conscientiously integrate this principal into all of its business operations and decisions.”

A+M asked several other PR agencies in Malaysia what they thought of the issue.

WestCoast Public Relations executive director Redzuan Hanafi Abu Zarim said Pi PR’s move was a brave one but could be risky.

“At the end of the day our work is for clients. To totally boycott a publication, unless it’s with clients’ consent, could be dicey. We have to understand that publications not only report on politics, they also report on other news that is related to clients’ activities,” said Zarim.

On whether he sees Pi’s move as one that could affect the business, Zarim states uncertainty.

“They are only boycotting one paper. It also depends on their clientele. If their clients are catering to a specific audience, let’s say the English speaking, then at this point it doesn’t affect them much.”

But Utusan Malaysia‘s choice to publish the content, being associated to a particular political party here, is something that could have been toned down, according to Zarim.

“It’s not just unique to Malaysia. Even in other countries there are publications that support certain political parties and even there biases occur. With that being said, they [Utusan Malaysia] could have toned it down a bit.”

“It might be understandable, given the ownership of reporting to favour certain parties, but it’s also the duty of the media to report fair coverage,” he added.

Rene Leow, managing consultant of Emerald Communications, said it could be possible that Pi PR’s move would affect its business.

Commending Pi for standing up against Utusan Malaysia‘s choice of content, Leow said, “Although I do not know about Pi PR or their standards of customer service and their track record, however, if any current or potential customer would pull out their business dealings with Pi PR because of their stand against Utusan, then these customers appear to stand for Utusan and their racist remarks.

“It is better then for Pi PR, that they do not work with these type of customers, whose judgement seems to be very poor and without any guts to stand up for the right thing,” said Leow.

On Utusan Malaysia‘s move, Leow said it is unfortunate that publication did so and action should be taken.

“As a newspaper, they should be uniting people, instead of pitting Malaysians against each other. They should be hauled up by the authorities, instead of being supported by political figures. Those people or parties behind Utusan Malaysia should realise that having political power this way is so wrong and more importantly for them, unsustainable,” he added.

When contacted by A+M, Pi PR’s Lee said that the boycott is not indefinitely.

“If Utusan Malaysia‘s editorial stops going down the path of playing on racist sentiments, we would be most grateful and happy to work with them again,” said Lee.

“I believe most of our clients are on the same camp of moderation, and definitively against blatant racism-inciting propaganda. I would like to reiterate that this Pi statement is not an indication of political party preference, as we have all party voters within the team as well, but it is a firm stand against racism. Our country, being multi cultural, needs it more than any other to be non-discriminatory of race,” she added.

The fight against racism continues

In similar light, Pi PR has also urged all Malaysian media to stop accepting race-specific job placement advertisements, be it via print media channels or online job portals.

“Accepting such advertisements only encourages a further divide in Malaysia’s multi-culture nature. It is clearly discriminative to Malaysians and is a dis-service to all the hard efforts in fighting for meritocracy in the workforce,” said Lee.

Being an issue that has been much talked about in the past as well, Leow of Emerald said it is possible that more companies might stop playing the race card in job applications.

“This is a vicious cycle that is being perpetuated by those in power and by Malaysians themselves.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power to stop this, in our own individual ways.

In all aspects of life, including job applications, employers should rightfully employ people based on their aptitude and attitude, instead of race, gender, age, sexual orientation or other forms of discrimination,” said Leow.

But WestCoast’s Zarim said that the specification on race in job ads are within boundaries of law and is the prerogative of law.

“We have to understand that it might also be the requirement of certain jobs scopes,” he said.

“As a PR agency that liaises between corporate communication and the local media, we hope to set an example for all in making a positive stand against racism propaganda in our multi-cultural society,” said Lee.

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