UMNO-BARISAN’S ANIMAL MINDS AND THE FOIBLE OF HUMAN EXCEPTIONALISM

As British lawmakers pressure CNN’s Piers Morgan to testify in the ongoing News of the World hacking scandal, and as more revelations emerge about the breadth and depth of the hacking, media professionals should not squander the opportunity to take note of the more profoundly damaging scandal that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has wrought. That is the damage it has done to their profession and to the institution of journalism itself. And that damage, unfortunately, carries with it ripple effects that are contributing to much longer lasting societal and planetary ills.

Big liars

Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mr. Najib Razak’s carefull  LIAR
It looks like Prime Minister Najib Razak has stepped into a new mine-field by terminating a contract with British publicity firm FBC Media after a whistle blower website revealed that he and Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud had used public money to pay for expensive “positive publicity”.
Critics have lambasted the move as inadequate and accused Najib of trying to deflect blame onto FBC, when he was the one who had paid exorbitant sums to them to cook up glowing reports about him and his projects.
“If the reports are true, then Najib and Taib are the bribers and FBC the bribee, so to speak. For sure the contract must be terminated given that CNBC and BBC have already taken action against FBC. But the thing is, repealing FBC does not let Najib or Taib off the hook,” Tian Chua, an opposition Member of Parliament, told Malaysia Chronicle..
“The two leaders have been accused of using corrupt means to deceive Malaysians and the world at large and worse still, they used taxpayers’money. Even if FBC agrees to accept the blame, why should Najib and Taib escape? Where are the Malaysian regulators on this?
The Malaysian lawmaker was responding to a news report that claimed the Prime Minister’s Office had terminated FBC, just months after another public relations firm, APCO Worldwide from the United States, met with a similar end for alleged links to Israel. In the APCO episode, Najib was vindictive enough to suspend Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and three other senior opposition lawmakers for exposing the APCO deal, which had also cost taxpayers hundreds of millions.
“The contract with FBC Media is over. PMO has enough people to handle publicity locally and abroad,” Malaysian Insider had reported a PMO source as saying.
Deafening silence from Malaysian regulators
The Najib-Taib media-corruption scandal erupted earlier this month when the world was still reeling over an inquiry into the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal that saw the demise of The News of The World tabloid. Due to theSarawak Report’s revelations, CNN, BBC and CNBC rushed to take action in the hope that their authorities would not call for a similar public inquiry.
Both men tried to ignore the growing unhappiness from the Malaysian public and the global community over their actions, but calls grew for the global networks to play their part and roll out the stiffest punishment. Critics had said that not only should those who had succumbed to temptation be punished, but those who had offered the temptation should also be exposed.
The critics reasoned that the world media should not allow such operations by both Najib and Taib to go unpunished as what the two men did was tantamount to an act of ‘cheating the people of the world’ and these included investors by attempting to paint a false image of the country, their leadership and the business projects they wished to promote.
A deliberate act to deceive
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and industry regulator MCMC, both of which have been accused of being tied to the apron-strings of the Najib administration, are not expected to launch any inquiry or take any action against the two powerful leaders. Instead both agencies may even help to hush up the incident with complex threats against those who spoke up.
However, there are calls for the UK and US media regulators to demand full explanations from both the foreign networks and the Malaysian leaders.
Controlling the perception game was what Najib and Taib had in mind, when they engaged FBC Media to promote their “good” image overseas. Both men had no qualms spending public money to shore up their own “bad” public image in the eyes of the global audience. The gravity of the costs incurred by the two have been cleverly hidden behind governmental wordings, not hard to do when both Najib and Taib hold the finance minister portfolios at federal and state levels respectively.
According to official statistics, between 2008-2009 alone, a massive RM57.68 million was paid by the Prime Minister’s office to FBC Media to conduct a ”Global Strategic Communications Campaign” for the Malaysian government. RM29,337,650 was paid out in 2008 and RM28,350,000 in 2009. A further RM42 million was spent in 2010 on “Public Affairs and Government Services and Strategic Communication, Public Relations and Press Outreach”, according to the latest supplementary budget.
RM15 million was paid by Taib Mahmud to FBC Media to design programs to convince international viewers that the Chief Minister’s government of Sarawak has been beneficial in bringing development to the people of the state.
Hard to catch them on the spending, but deception should not go unpunished
Meanwhile, in a move to protect their journalistic integrity, CNBC has axed FBC’s flagship business show World Business while the BBC has suspended all FBC programming pending an internal inquiry after being exposed by the Sarawak Report website on August 1, 2011. Indeed, international journalistic standards are far different than those in Malaysia. Not to say there are no worms that do not fall through the cracks but more often that not, once discovered, the full course of due process is carried out and the culprits are unspared, regardless of rank and connection.
In contrast to mainstream media in Malaysia, which is heavily controlled by the BN government, there is no cap imposed by the governments in UK or America. Media in these countries are self-governing and impose their own strict code of ethics. Freedom of the press is closely guarded and this guarantees the kind of journalistic reporting that can only be dreamed of in Malaysia.
Thus, for Najib and Taib to pay a public relations company to paint a rosy picture of themselves to an international audience can be summed up as a move to deceive and lie about what is actually happening in Malaysia. This cannot and will not be accepted by any educated and professional journalist in UK or America. Chances are high that some form of action will be taken, and at the very least, both Najib and Taib can count on being black-balled.
Was it wrong for Najib and Taib to spend tax-payers money in a deliberate move to deceive a global audience? Obviously, it is wrong but it is difficult to catch them. The act of spending public money is not wrong unless it is not justified and the paper work is not in order.
But Malaysians can bet that Najib Razak as the federal Finance Minister and Taib Mahmud as Sarawak state Finance Minister would have ensured that the books were in order and the expenses looked legitimate. All sorts of justification would be given, and if that failed, they could use their clout to pressure Parliament and the state legislative assembly to approve these expenses, thereby letting them off the hook. Public money would be seen to have been spent for legitimate purposes, yet under close scrutiny, these expenses would not have not benefited tax-payers at all.
What is tougher for both men to evade is the deliberate act to deceive. Bias and skewed reporting by international news organizations are back-flowed to the local news agencies which in turn present these reports to Malaysians. Malaysians will perceive the news as being credible and true and why not so, since the source came from the likes of the BBC, CNBC or CNN – all well-established and respected.
If such false perceptions continue to be churned out, Malaysians will eventually be deprived of knowing the truth. They will become conditioned to live within a form of reality fashioned by the very leaders who govern them. We are made to believe that all is well with Najib and Taib, because the very media that we trust reports that it is so and we are not talking about the local media but the foreign news agencies who provided the stories.
By using Malaysian tax-payers money, both Najib and Taib with the help of FBC Media have orchestrated and engineered a plan to deceive not just the world but ultimately the people of Malaysia. Such acts should obviously not go unpunished. The problem is, who will do the punishing? It looks like any reprimand will have to come from overseas as to imagine that the MACC and MCMC would play their roles as they should, would be folly.
Big liars
Even so, the wastage of public funds should be scrutinized by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and a report presented to the people of Malaysia, who deserve to know what benefit they have obtained from Najib’s ”Global Strategic Communications Campaign”. The MACC should also launch an investigation into the reports presented by Sarawak Report, which have already been acted upon by the foreign broadcasters? Why should these be conveniently disregarded here in Malaysia?
It is high time that Malaysians find out for themselves what it is that Najib and Taib were trying so clumsily to hide from the global audiences that they had to pay for such expensive whitewashing. There is no point in telling Malaysians to believe in their government when what their government tells them and the rest of the world may just be very big lies.
Mr. Manne was quoted as follows in The Australian:
Mr Manne made it clear that Malaysia’s human rights record, and particularly its treatment of refugees, would be put on trial.
“Amongst the claims that are being made among many of those that we are acting for are that they in fact would face the real risk of being persecuted in Malaysia due to the human rights situation there,” he said.
“Malaysia has a long standing record of very serious mistreatment of asylum-seekers and refugees including, as we know, arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, beatings, whippings, canings and even deportation. A number of our clients have made very strong claims of fearing that they would not be protected in Malaysia.”
Thus far, Mr. Najib Razak has had the upper hand in winning admiration from the international community through a very successful international public relations campaign. However, this momentum changed on 9, July 2010, with his heavy handed clamp down of Malaysians advocating for free and fair rlections.
A further blow came when Sarawak Report exposed how the Government of Malaysia was promoting itself unethically abroad.
We (Sarawak Report) revealed how BN politicians, including the Prime Minister Najib Razak, Abdullah Badawi and Taib Mahmud have been paying the production company, the UK-based FBC Media, millions of ringgit of taxpayers’ money to buy them positive publicity on the show. (The video above is one such example.)
Allowing slots to be purchased in this way, deceiving millions of viewers who thought they were watching impartial programming, is a serious breach of broadcasting laws, for which broadcasters such as CNBC’s parent company, the American broadcasting giant NBC, would be held ultimately responsible.
Last night the company’s Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Charlotte Westgate, made this statement to Sarawak Report confirming the decision to withdraw the show:
“In light of serious questions raised last week, CNBC immediately initiated an examination of FBC and its business practices and has withdrawn the programme ‘World Business’ indefinitely.”
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has also suspended its ties with FBC.
I had wondered why the Government of Malaysia would take such a high risk of exposing itself to the international community through this deal. The millions of dollars of tax payers money spent on promoting Mr. Najib Razak’s image abroad is about to go down the drain should the High Court of Australia decide that Malaysia is not a suitable destination for refugees.
Update 1: Government of Malaysia fires FBC
Putrajaya has now ended its contract with British publicity firm FBC Media after an embarrassing exposé last week revealed Malaysian leaders routinely appeared in paid-for interviews on global television programmes.
The Malaysian Insider understands that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) terminated FBC Media’s contract in the past week, just months after another public relations firm, APCO Worldwide from the United States, met an ignominious end for alleged links to Israel.
Extract from “Putrajaya ditches FBC Media as image experts after exposé“, Jahabar Sadiq, The Malaysian Insider.
Take the environment, for example. A few decades ago, journalists were the ones who acted as the bridge between scientific knowledge and the public. As noted in Grist this week, reporters back in the 1950s were helping audiences to the dangers of climate change.
“Today, more carbon dioxide is being generated by man’s technological processes than by volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs,” wrote Waldemar Kaempffert in the New York Timesin 1956.

Every century, man is increasing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere by 30 percent–that is, at the rate of 1.1 degrees Celsius in a century. It may be a chance coincidence that the average temperature of the world since 1900 has risen by about this rate. But the possibility that man had a hand in the rise cannot be ignored.

A year later, in 1957, Robert C. Cowen explained in the Christian Science Monitor:

Industrial activity is flooding the air with carbon dioxide gas. This gas acts like the glass in a greenhouse. It is changing the earth’s heat balance. . . . Every time you start a car, light a fire or turn on a furnace, you’re joining the greatest weather ‘experiment’ men have ever launched. You are adding your bit to the tons of carbon dioxide sent constantly into the air as coal, oil, and wood are burned at unprecedented rates.

But journalism has changed, led in large part by News Corporation. Thoughtful reporting, bolstered by the two-source minimum rule to assure factuality has been replaced with rumor-mongering, emotional appeals and attacks on people’s characters — precisely the opposite of what ethical journalism should be. After News Corporation media outlets relentlessly attacked climate scientists — who incidentally are doing societies an enormous favor by studying and informing us about our very survival — the public began to doubt scientifically established facts about the earth’s climate. In a few short years, polls showed a precipitous drop — more than 30 percent — in their understanding about climate change.
Given that Mr. Murdoch, himself, has acknowledged the seriousness of climate change on his News Corporation website, why would his media outlets continue to disseminate rumors and untruths that were damaging to persons and the planet itself? In part, it is the media model itself — the publicly-held, profit-only structure that drives the entity’s relentless thirst for more and more market-share at any cost. Unfortunately, the financial success of this inaccurate style has diminished coverage at other outlets too. Even CNN and CBS used suggestive teasers that belittled climate scientists’ integrity, and with it, the entire body of work on climate science.
In the end, all of the scientists who were publicly ridiculed during the so-called Climategate were absolved of any wrong-doing, and the integrity of their work confirmed. But the damage had already been done — to their reputations, to the esteem of science itself, to the environment, as mitigating policies were shelved.
There is too much at risk now to continue down the path of a News Corps style of media. It may take abandoning the publicly-traded, exclusively for-profit model as the primary source of journalism. And there are other models, which should be explored by ethical media professionals who wish to take back their profession form unethical or corrupt forces.
Maria Armoudian is the author of Kill the Messenger: The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World.
“Man in his arrogance thinks of himself a great work, worthy the interposition of a deity. [Yet it is] more humble and, I believe, true to consider him created from animals.” (Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)
Nonhuman animals (animals) are magnificent and amazing beings. They clearly have wide-ranging cognitive, emotional, and moral capacities. We can learn a lot from them if we open or minds and hearts to who (not what) they really are. We should be proud of our citizenship in the animal kingdom. Scientific research is changing the way we view other animals. We don’t have to go beyond the science or embellish what we know to appreciate how they express their intellectual skills and emotional capacities. We’re clearly neither the only conscious beings nor the sole occupants of the emotional and moral arenas in which there are also some surprising residents including honeybees, fish, and chickens. Surely we have no right to intrude wantonly into the lives of other animals or to judge them or blame them for our evil ways.
When we say animals are conscious and smart we mean they know what to do to adapt to ever-changing environments. The versatility and flexibility of their behavior show clearly they are not machine-like automatons, but rather actively thinking and feeling beings. Donald Griffin, often called the “father of cognitive ethology” (the study of animal minds), postulated that the ability of animals to adapt to unpredictably changing conditions showed they were conscious and able to assess what needed to be done in a given situation. It’s not a question of if animals are conscious but rather why consciousness has evolved.
There are sound biological reasons for recognizing animals as conscious beings. Charles Darwin stressed that variations among species are differences in degree rather than kind. There are shades of gray, not black and white differences, so if we have something “they” (other animals) have it too. This is called evolutionary continuity and shows that it is bad biology to rob animals of the traits they clearly possess. For example, we share with other mammals and vertebrates the same areas of the brain that are important for consciousness and processing emotions. We need to abandon the anthropocentric view that only big-brained animals such as ourselves, nonhuman great apes, elephants, and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) have sufficient mental capacities for complex forms of consciousness.
The ramifications of how we view other animals in relation to ourselves are wide-ranging and greatly influence how we treat them. There are social, political, and environmental implications when we ignore who other animals are and think of ourselves as above and better than them. An essay by philosopher Steven Best provides a penetrating analysis of why human exceptionalism, the belief that human beings have special status based on our unique capacities, is a false view and has serious consequences because of how we (or at least some of us) conduct ourselves when we view ourselves as “members of a distinct species in relation to other species and Earth as a whole…” Best provides a comprehensive review of recent research in cognitive ethology to support his argument that we do indeed share many traits with other animals. The database grows daily and science is supporting many of our intuitions about the cognitive, emotional, and moral capacities of a wide-range of animals.
Clearly, we need to rethink human “uniqueness” and dispense with speciesism. Best notes that humans do indeed show unique capacities such as writing sonnets, solving algebraic equations, and meditating on the structure of the universe, and he also points out that other animals have abilities and traits that we don’t have. Speciesism, “discrimination against or exploitation of certain animal species by human beings, based on an assumption of mankind’s superiority,” involves assigning different values or rights to individuals on the basis of species membership and constructs false boundaries among species. Speciesism doesn’t work because it assumes human exceptionalism and also because it ignores within-species variation that often is more marked than between-species differences.
What we now know about animal minds (certainly among mammals but also among a wide variety of other species) does not support human exceptionalism and we need to factor this into how we treat other animals and Earth. Best concludes, “If humans have for so long failed to understand animal minds it is because their own stupidity, insensitivity, and deep speciesist bias have for so long blinded them.” We also can add arrogance to the list of why some people think other species are no more important than dispensable objects. But the blinders are coming off. And we’re learning a lot about other animals that can make us better people.
Alienating ourselves from other animals and dominating them is not what it means to be human. I often wonder if future humans will sit around and scratch their heads and wonder how we missed what is so obvious about the lives of other animals.
We are a significant force in nature. We need to be more compassionate, empathic, and humble and act with greater concern for animals and their homes. We suffer the indignities to which we expose other animals and in the end we all lose when we ignore nature and act as if we’re the only animals who count, that we are exceptional and better and can do whatever we want because we can. Power is neither license to make other animal’s lives miserable nor to redecorate their homes with no concern for their well-being.
Whether you agree or disagree with all of Best’s arguments against human exceptionalism and their social, political, and environmental implications is immaterial. What does matter is that his stimulating essay should get us all to appreciate how fascinating other animals are and that we can no longer continue to be over-producing, over-consuming, arrogant, big-brained, big-footed, and invasive mammals who don’t give other animals the respect, compassion, and love they deserve.
The time has come to debunk the myth of human exceptionalism once and for all. It’s a hollow, shallow, and self-serving perspective on who we are. Of course we are exceptional in various arenas as are other animals. Perhaps we should replace the notion of human exceptionalism with species exceptionalism, a move that will force us to appreciate other animals for who they are, not who or what we want them to be.
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