LAST_UPDATEMon, 19 Mar 2018 2am

Public Relations In Politics, Getting The Right Message Through

Politics and public relations in Malaysia has been incorrectly interpreted due to its perception rather than its true value and position in society.  More often, it is seen as an unfavourable profession instead of being the ‘bridge’ that connects people and organisations.

The common definition used and accepted by many public relations practitioners’ is – ‘public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and their publics.’

Politicians are representatives of the people and have a moral and ethical responsibility to work with the government of the day in implementing policies and laws that are fair and acceptable to the public they represent.

Public relations is a professional art and knowledge that is required to communicate, educate, create awareness as well resolve issues in a timely manner.

The problem we have among many Malaysian politicians is their inability and shallow understanding of public relations which they have defined as any form of ‘publicity’ or ‘visibility’ in the media.  Many will jump at the opportunity to say something that will be carried by the media – though it may be destructive to nation building !

One politician who has combined politics and public relations with astounding results is the Deputy Minister of Education I, Dato’ P. Kamalanathan.  Kamalanathan is an accredited public relations practitioner and was the past Hon Secretary of the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia.

A simple google of his name will bring you to the many issues within the education ministry that he had taken heads on and resolved amicably.  Kamalanathan is an excellent communicator and it has enabled him to understand issues and resolve them with clear and definite actions.

The recent issue on retaining the name of the St Thomas school in Kuantan is a case in point.  There were many interpretations of the issue given by different people and the matter was being blown out of proportion with the education ministry looking very bad and insensitive to the feelings of the local community there.

However, before the matter escalated further, Kamalanathan came out to clear the air with a statement to inform and create awareness among the public that the land the school was built on is owned by the church and the church has taken the land back.  He made it very clear that the school was not being relocated but a new school is being built to accommodate the students affected by the closure of the St Thomas school.

Being a politician with public relations background, he did not stop there.  He continued to engage and communicate with the church and the international school that was occupying the St Thomas school building.  With his communication skills, Kamalanathan was able to propose that the international school explore the possibility of changing their name to St Thomas International School as a middle ground to resolve the sentiments of the people.

It is hoped that his efforts to find a resolution to the matter will be accepted by all parties.

Another issue that crept up recently was the proposed rise in school bus fares in 2018.  This will directly affect many parents.

Yet again, Kamalanathan made a strategic appeal through the media to the various school bus operators to reconsider their decision in the interest of the students and their parents.  This was a classic public relations effort in trying to build a mutually beneficial relationship between the bus operators, the students and their parents.  He was the ‘bridge’ that the two parties were looking for and he reacted promptly to communicate the appeal on behalf of the students and parents.

A few days after Kamalanathan’s appeal in the media, Pertubuhan Persatuan Pengusaha Bas Sekolah Semenanjung Malaysia, which is one of the main 3 school bus associations in Malaysia, announced that they will not be raising the school bus fares in 2018.

We hope the other two associations will do the same too.

There were many more instances where public relations was used very effectively by smart politicians to engage, communicate and build relationships that are mutually beneficial to all stakeholders.

We hope more politicians will understand and use public relations in a professional and ethical manner to ensure the reputation of the profession is protected and its use is beneficial to the public at large.

Thomas Samuel
Past Hon Secretary, Institute of Public Relations Malaysia