Monday, April 19, 2010

An Expensive PR Spectacle

I did my sixth advanced speech this evening at the KL Advanced Toastmasters Club meeting – The Play which is assignment # 4 from the Interpretive Reading manual. Members generally believed that this was a difficult assignment and that I was very brave to attempt it. I did a portion of the Act IV Scene I from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”. This segment tells of Portia’s success in defeating Shylock and releasing Antonio from his bond – if at all you can recall this story from your English Literature class! Although my interpretation of this play was by no means brilliant, still it turned out okay. My evaluator was ATMB ALS Lucky who highlighted two main areas for improvement. One was to work harder so that I could carry different types of voices to characterize the different characters – Arvind in the open evaluation suggested I give one of the characters an Italian accent. The second suggestion was that I consider using props (e.g. caps, scarves) to add color to the characters and also to allow me to get into the respective characters more easily.

I was also the evaluator for Nini Yeoh who did her project speech # 2 from the basic Competent Communication manual, titled “Retirement Plan”. Nini like me will represent Area W1 at the Division W International Speech & Table Topics Contest this Saturday.

Well, I have now completed six speeches and I have only 4 more to go!

Of late we have been treated to a well-orchestrated PR spectacle of Najib and Rosmah visiting the US of A. I have always been critical of these extravagant displays of cheap publicity that Najib seems to love to indulge in. It already puts me off if these PR exercises are celebrated in the country, it is even worse when it is done abroad.

So I trembled with disgust when I read Tunku Aziz’s article in The Malaysian Insider today, when he wrote: “And so it has finally happened. What a great honor for Malaysia. Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the prime minister of 1 Malaysia fame, was thrown a few crumbs, a few brief moments to savor, exchanging pleasantries with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.

Naturally, it was not quite the same as being driven down Pennsylvania Avenue to be welcomed at the portal of the White House, but I am being churlish as usual where Najib is concerned. Najib did get to see Obama via the tradesman’s entrance.

What irks me about this non-event meeting is that we had to resort to employing a very expensive public relations firm, for which read grubby Washington lobbyists, for close to US$25 million (RM80 million), give or take a million dollar here and there. Small change I suppose when it is not your hard-earned money”.

Wow, so this is how our money is being spent! And all for what?

As Tunku Aziz said, “A photo opportunity at most for Najib, but for Malaysia, toeing submissively the American/Israeli policy against Iran. We decried Junior Bush’s attack on Iraq because we were not convinced that the claimed weapons of mass destruction really existed. Why are we so quick off the mark this time to believe the Israeli-inspired conspiracy against Iran? Where is the incontrovertible evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons? What have we done to urge the Americans to dismantle Israeli nuclear warheads?

On this issue, there has to be a great deal of soul-searching to be done on our part if we are to remain true to our sense of justice and if we wish enhance our standing among the morally decent nations of the world”.

But you know what? The New Straits Times today reported this revealing one-liner: “Najib saw his meeting with Obama as a clear indication of Washington's new attitude towards Malaysia”. Yeah, true wad! Malaysia which used to be vocal in support of Iran now supports American hegemony over Iran!

And I also read that there has been zilch mention of Najib in the local (i.e. American) press. This tells you a lot about his news value!

Wait a minute! I have erred. Malaysian Mirror did report on April 15 that Najib was in fact mentioned in The Washington Post – not as a news item but in Al Kamen’s column called “In the Loop”. This very significant mention was made on the day after the summit closed: “"The winners at this week's nuclear summit were easily identified: They were the ones who got bilats with President Obama – not a bodybuilding term, it stands for bilateral, or one-on-one, chat – showing their prestige and importance". Chinese President Hu Jintao who had 90 minutes with Obama headed the list, Kamen said and went on to name a few more – King Abdullah of Jordan, Najib, President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine, President Serzh Sargsian of Armenia, Nigerian acting president Goodluck Jonathan and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. And the columnist added that Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reportedly requested but did not get a meeting with Obama.

So Malaysians should stand tall that we can afford to splurge US$25 million in order that our Najib got a 40-minute tete-a-tete with Barack Obama! This works out to about US$625,000 per minute! For sure, the PR company laughed all the way to the bank! And Malaysians are left looking stupid again!

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