by Justin Ong
The Malay Mail Online
March 20, 2014
COMMENTARY, March 20 — Australia’s response to satellite imagery of debris possibly from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 could not have been more different from Malaysia’s in the past 12 days.
Choosing the country’s Parliament as the venue to announce the discovery, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott conveyed both the gravity of the matter — a missing jetliner with 239 passengers — and that it went beyond partisan lines.
And while the discovery remains far from conclusive — the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) repeatedly said the debris may even not have anything to do with the missing plane — it chose to come forward with the information almost immediately.
During the press conference, AMSA Emergency Response Division general manager John Young spoke with lucidity and deliberate caution, readily professing a lack of expertise when he was talking on matters with which he was unfamiliar.
And even with the press conference attended by international media held just hours after Abbott made his announcement, the Australian maritime authority made readily available online all the information it shared with the press then, preventing any possible misinterpretation of its findings.
The alacrity, transparency and neutrality of the response stood in contrast to Malaysia’s actions, which have invited criticism by some and condemnation by others.
In the early days, Malaysia held on to critical information that could have shed valuable information on the plane’s whereabouts. And when it finally shared that information, it turned out to be nearly a week old.
Malaysia insisted that the information needed to be corroborated by, as it repeatedly said, global agencies such as the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Board (AAIB).
It was also not until two days ago that it finally clarified the timeline of the crucial moments before the plane’s disappearance.
Malaysia also chose to put a variety of personalities in front of the media, not all of whom were familiar with the matters they were answering to but still spoke with apparent authority.
The answers that came at times sounded confused. At others, they were delivered with an anxiety that suggested an evasiveness where none probably existed.
This allowed misinformation and misinterpretation to cloud available facts, at a time when a word said in error could spread from one end of the world to the other in an instant.
Malaysia also chose not to address those errors quickly, often waiting until the next daily press conference to seemingly contradict the information shared the day before, much to the chagrin of the reporters covering the events.
At times, Malaysia has acted with a lack of delicacy. Yesterday, authorities forcibly removed Chinese relatives of those aboard MH370 from speaking with media following the daily press conference at the Sama-Sama Hotel in Sepang.
Decisions to only brief lawmakers from the ruling administration rather than share the information it had in Parliament also suggested an unwillingness to set aside enmities long enough for a matter of national concern.
It is undeniable that MH370 is “unprecedented”, both for the aviation industry and Malaysia.
Malaysia has never experienced anything on such a scale, and is clearly still coming to grips with the situation.
With mystery of MH370 possibly still far from being resolved, Malaysia can still rectify some of the issues raised with its handling so far.
But what is undeniable is that Australia today has significantly raised the bar.