The search for flight MH370 continues with help from the Australian government for the second day, the latest country to give their help in this international effort, though still without any results. While the Malaysia Airlines flight remains missing, how the different governments involved handle the release of information has been put in the spotlight amid allegations of mishandling. The release of information regarding satellite images of possible debris, however, has already created a bit of controversy as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot had to defend how quickly he reported it to the media, even as the second day of the search ends without any results.
The satellite images showing floating objects near the search site were released two days, almost as soon as Abbott had seen them. Some were critical of his speed, wondering if waiting longer to release new information would have been best. The Prime Minister responded to questions about the issue during a press conference on his recent trip to Papua New Guinea by saying that he owed it to the friends and families of the passengers from flight MH370 whose fates are still in doubt. He expressed deep sympathy for their anxiety and anguish, which entitled them to any information that was available.
Abbott’s candor and swiftness to release information regarding the search is refreshing after the questionable releases coming from the government in Malaysia. In a story where people have come to expect nothing new after days of uncertainty, Abbott has taken the lead in giving information quickly, something to be appreciated by both family and media alike.
Nevertheless, he has avoided making spurious claims or jumping the gun like China did earlier in the search. Days after the flight went missing, China released satellite images of debris floating in the water, but later said that the release was a mistake and that the images were not of the missing flight. Abbott did not claim to have found the Malaysia Airlines flight, remaining cautious about identifying it at all, but his actions do point to a willingness to keep concerned parties updated on the goings-on of the process, even if the news isn’t all that great.
The Malaysian government, however, has not been so forthcoming. While some in the country have defended the government’s tight-lipped mode of operation, many are seriously concerned about the ramifications of this policy. Some are wondering how much harm Malaysia is actually doing by being so reluctant to communicate. China, especially, is desperate to hear anything about the flight, which had Chinese citizens flying on it.
This desperation is only made worse by the families and friends who are slowly getting more and more frustrated with the way the situation is progressing. Anger is being directed at whoever happens to be nearest them with reports of protests breaking out, including a hunger strike. This has led to a strain in the relations between China and Malaysia, as the Chinese government has started to vent its frustration by denigrating Malaysia’s capabilities to conduct an effective search at all.
After a second day of fruitless searching, it is not just Australia that is on display here, but the other countries involved whose release of information patterns are nearly as closely scrutinized as the search areas for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight. The longer this situation goes on, the more tensions are rising and the more important it becomes for countries to be diplomatic towards each other.
In this, Tony Abbott has set the bar for good behavior. In the press conference, he was diplomatic and even eloquent in expressing his sympathies for those suffering through this process. Unlike China, he did not insult the Malaysian government, nor did he obscure any information that he had available to him. Really, Abbott made Australia look pretty good.
Malaysia, meanwhile, is sinking into a mire of bad press. China is making its opinions known regarding the smaller country’s actions. Some opinions elsewhere are beginning to wonder whether Malaysia is hurting the search effort more than it’s helping. One opinion in Australia was particularly stern. Some have commented on the nearly farce-like conduction of the Malaysian press conferences.
Malaysia’s government is hardly accustomed to this level of scrutiny. The government there is notoriously corrupt, oppressing its people while showing a good front of economic development and success to the rest of the world. Subsequently, little is understood about how this country’s government works in practice, though there are signs that people are beginning to understand.
It is interesting to note as well that the premise of the press conferences regarding flight MH370 have given journalists a visible platform to probe their government’s inner workings. During one press conference, a journalist asked acting transport minister Hishamuddin Hussein if he was related to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and whether the Prime Minister had taken him under protection for any reason. While the transport confirmed the familial relationship, he declined to answer the question of protection. Instances such as this might point to a need for more scrutiny of the Malaysian government in future.
In addition, the case of two Iranian refugees traveling with false passports highlights the booming trade of stolen passports and Malaysia’s lax security control over travel. People have been asking questions about the security of the nation and flights traveling from Malaysia to other countries. While the priority should be locating the missing plane, these are questions that have yet to be answered and will remain pertinent even after the search is concluded.
All in all, the situation for Malaysia’s public relations doesn’t look very good after all this negative press. Even after a bit of criticism and a luckless day 2, Tony Abbott and the Australian government have managed to stay in everyone’s good books. In this respect, Australia is a model for the world. Whether Australia finds the missing Malaysia Airlines flight soon or the search continues for another two weeks, it is certainly clear that how these governments release their information will continue to be in the spotlight, and rightly so. As Tony Abbott said, they owe it to the families who are living in a constant state of uncertainty that few others in the world can understand. The loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 isn’t just an international mystery, but a constant source of unresolved grief for many who are still looking for relief.
Opinion By Lydia Webb