MH370 is a disaster on many levels: academic
A UNIVERSITY of the Sunshine Coast public relations lecturer who has lived and worked in Malaysia has slammed the handling of the search for lost flight MH370.
Not only has Dr Umi Khattab described Malaysia Airlines' conduct throughout the baffling event as "an excellent case study of a global public relations disaster", she believed the crisis had exposed "the truly ugly side" of a nation she claimed was tainted by secrets, corruption and racism.
Despite intense and relentless search efforts by 26 countries for 40 days, there is still no trace of the ill-fated flight.
Air traffic controllers lost contact about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing at 12.41am on March 8.
There were 12 crew and 227 passengers on board, including five children aged under five and six Australians.
In the weeks since, fading black box pings, fears of a terrorist attack, eye-witness reports of a plane on fire,
social media conspiracy theorists, inconsistent official information, foreign press frustration, an absence of wreckage and the search focus shift from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean north-west of Perth have added to the intrigue.
If this were pitched to a Hollywood movie studio, producers would likely reject it as being too far-fetched.
The relatives of those on board surely would wish it was a work of fiction, tortured and drifting as they are, in grief limbo.
Dr Khattab said the crisis had significantly impacted the reputation of the airline and the Malaysian Government, the Barisan Nasional.
"Clearly, in a globalised crisis situation, the Malaysian authorities lacked the expertise to skilfully manage the flow of communication across borders, cultures and spaces," she said.
"In many ways, the communication appeared hierarchical and bureaucratic in the form of orchestrated media conferences, with pre-packaged speeches often taking place in posh and polished office spaces.
"This approach speaks of the arrogance of the ruling Barisan Nasional, in power now for almost 60 years with a big economic share in Malaysia Airlines as well as other corporations.
"The manner in which this mysterious episode was hand led is a reflection of the overarching political and cultural environment in Malaysia."
Dr Khattab said this was not the first "unsolved puzzle" in Malaysia, pointing to the sodomy allegations against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the gruesome murder of Mongolian beauty queen Altantuya Shaariibuu.
Dr Khattab said the airline should have appointed Prime Minister Najib Razak as the key spokesperson from the very start of the ordeal and that translators should have been available.
"They should have organised to work in partnership with the Chinese Government, sought advice from local media specialists and public relations consultants on how to effectively manage the international news media and respond promptly to social communication," Dr Khattab said.
"The visit by the Malaysian Prime Minister to Australia was rather late and a similar and earlier visit should have been made to China.
"Malaysian authorities seem not to know how to respond to foreign journalists."
Dr Khattab said the global furore over the mishandling of the disaster was not simply triggered by cultural misunderstandings.
"It is a case of the East having lost their traditional Eastern values as they pursue power and progress in a neo-liberal world," she said.
What can companies big or small learn from this? "Politics and business do not mix," Dr Umi Khattab said.
"Openness, compassion, dialogue, generosity, cross-cultural skills and modesty are key elements in situations such as this."