Putrajaya must improve communication, described ‘weak’ by observers

Ravin Palanisamy

Communications minister Fahmi Fadzil is the government spokesman. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 22, 2024.

PUTRAJAYA’s communication methods are weak and failing to deliver correct information to the public, observers said.

They said the government is not delivering the right messages at the right time for maximum impact.

This can be seen in the confusion that often follows government announcements or new policies, such as the recent diesel subsidy cut.

Hisommudin Bakar at Ilham Centre said the administration’s communication is ill-prepared and scattered. 

“Look at the announcements about the Central Database Hub (Padu), Program Bantuan Subsidi Madani (Budi Madani), the rationalisation of subsidies, the new prices of eggs… there are no convincing answers to the questions raised by the people,” the political analyst told The Malaysian Insight.

Hisommudin said the government continues to rely on “media buys” with the mainstream media to reach the public when it should be focusing on social media, where an “information war” is taking place.

“Based on Ilham Centre’s data, dependence on social media for information has reached 56% compared to other media. Even the influence of radio, TV, and newspapers has shrunk dramatically,” he said.

“It shows that the psychological battlefield takes place on social media, but the government responds in the mainstream media. These are two fields that are not directly connected. This causes the narrative of the government media to be ineffective.

“The government media is also lacking in creative information compared to social media. Its infographics are not interesting, there is no good video content, and it does not use influential spokesmen.

“In a nutshell, the government’s communication is hollow and weak… it needs to keep up with the trends,” he said.

Hisommudin warned that if the situation does not change, Putrajaya will remain defensive in the face of public pressure.

The government releases information in press statements or through Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil, who is the government spokesman.

In March, Finance Minister II Amir Hamzah Azizan acknowledged that the government must improve its communication to prevent confusion.

MCA president and former transport minister Wee Ka Siong said poor communication and contradictory statements from the government were frustrating the public.

Former Klang MP Charles Santiago says the government must have a clear communication plan for disseminating information. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 22, 2024.

Collective effort

Former lawmaker Charles Santiago said the government must have a clear communication plan for disseminating information. If this is not done right, the former Klang MP warned, it could hurt the government.

“People are supportive of the government, but at the same time, when the messaging is not done properly, people misunderstand it.

“Because of the poor messaging, all kinds of criticisms are directed at the government, which backfires on the purpose and aims of a project,” he said, adding that the cabinet must take responsibility for the communications exercise.

Santiago, who is the National Water Services Commission chairman, said the government cannot avoid negative feedback when introducing new policies. He emphasised the importance of addressing information gaps and countering a backlash.

“The role of the government is to explain to each group how they will be affected and what the government is doing to counter that. If there is a need to say it in 15 different languages, do it,” the DAP member said.

He said there is a need for engagement with the stakeholders to listen to and address their concerns. Referring to the diesel rationalisation, Santiago said the cut would have been better accepted if it had been better communicated to the affected groups.

“People were like, ‘what’s happening?’. Some wanted to go on strike. This shows there wasn’t any proper engagement with the most affected sectors. The government must talk to the groups or sectors affected by the policy, but that did not happen,” he said.

Santiago said the government agencies must step up to help the prime minister when such issues arise.

“Too much of the burden of promoting policies falls on the prime minister, and I don’t see sufficient support from the cabinet.

“Of course, Fahmi is there to help him, but sometimes they all have so many things on their plate that they just can’t focus.

“The cabinet must support the prime minister, and the relevant ministers must take leadership. There must be a clear communications plan to convey the message to various groups. Get it out there. Get it organised in a managed manner.

“Certain things can’t be done in a hit-and-run style. Some things have to be done over a period of time,” he said. – June 22, 2024.

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