KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 12 — 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.
File photo of Defterios appearing on a TV programme. — Picture courtesy of cnnfan.org
“The contract with FBC Media is over. PMO has enough people to handle publicity locally and abroad,” a source toldThe Malaysian Insider.
FBC Media’s dealings with the Malaysian government came to light after supplementary supply Bills showed vast payments made for a “Global Strategic Communications Campaign”.
The records showed that between 2008 and 2009, RM57.7 million was paid by the Prime Minister’s Office to FBC Media for the campaign.
Despite FBC Media’s contract, veteran newspaper editor Datuk A. Kadir Jasin’s also revealed that Putrajaya has some 11 press aides working for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak against the three who served Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his 22 years in power.
FBC Media has also been linked to Najib’s predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who apparently paid US$5 million (RM15 million) for public relations services that included television programmes and professional bloggers to burnish his image before the April 16 state polls.
Global broadcasters have been scrambling to contain potential damage after the allegations of impropriety surfaced following the expose by whistleblower Sarawak Report, which linked the interviews and other programmes produced by FBC Media as having been paid millions of ringgit by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to shine its international image.
US-based broadcaster CNN denied last week it was paid to interview Najib during his visit to London last month but questions remain about the role played by its anchor John Defterios after the latter’s FBC Media programme “World Business” was axed early this month by rival network CNBC.
The spotlight is on the relationship between FBC Media — the British publicity firm led by media giant Alan Friedman with Defterios still listed as its group president — and broadcasters like CNBC, CNN and the BBC.
As a result of the allegations, the BBC has also said it will suspend programmes produced by FBC Media and investigate the company.
Influential Washington-based news website Politico.com said FBC Media is listed in lobbying reports as having paid tens of thousands of dollars to Washington-based lobbying firm APCO in recent years to lobby on behalf of the Malaysian government.
CNN’s denial comes on the heels of rival CNBC’s decision to drop its flagship show “World Business”, which has similarly been alleged to have been paid to feature Najib in its prime-time news slots last month after his administration cracked down on a civil rally pushing for cleaner and more honest elections.
Both interviews were conducted by Defterios which has raised eyebrows over his appearance on the rival channels as well as questions over a conflict of interest to his unclear ties with FBC Media.
Defterios was listed as director in the British firm on the FBC Media website before it was stripped down to a one-page fact sheet yesterday, with all information about its board members removed. The information remains available on the whistleblower Sarawak Report website.
CNN told Politico that Defterios has been a full-time employee since March and had cut all ties with FBC Media at that time, but he remains listed as CNBC’s managing editor for the just-axed “World Business” programme.
In profiles of Defterios available online, he is listed as the group president of FBC Media.
Apart from CNN, FBC Media has also produced editorial content for the UK broadcaster BBC.
The British broadcaster told Politico all independent TV companies are required to sign strict agreements with it to prevent conflicts of interests and that it was not aware of some of the information provided by FBC but will be investigating the claims “as a matter of urgency.”
The Sarawak Report, in a story published in early August, claimed insider sources revealed Najib “suggested” to Taib that he hire FBC Media to bolster his seemingly flagging popularity after the Sarawak chief minister appeared to suffer a publicity crisis due to allegations of extensive corruption.
Both have not denied the report since it was published by the whistleblower website.