Malaysia

Paid to shine Najib’s government, UK firm goes under

By Debra Chong
October 28, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 — TV company FBC Media, at the centre of the Malaysia news-fixing scandal facing broadcasters BBC and CNBC, is facing collapse, The Independent newspaper reported in London today.

The British daily said the London-based firm and its parent company FBC Group had gone into administration — a legal term that allows a company facing bankruptcy to carry on business — following reports it accepted £17million (RM85 million) from Putrajaya to burnish the Najib administration’s image on global broadcast networks.

The newspaper said FBC Media called in administrators last Monday, days before the BBC Trust was to review a BBC Executive report on a series of programmes the production company made for broadcast on the British corporation’s international news and current affairs channel.

FBC is also being investigated by the UK’s communications industry regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), and US broadcaster CNBC, for which it produced content on the latter’s flagship programme called World Business.

The show has been dropped. CNBC has suspended all shows produced by FBC, which has been exposed to have also doubled up as a publicity firm for the Najib government and was paid millions of pounds to conduct a “Global Strategic Communications Campaign”.

FBC was set up in 1998 by award-winning US journalist Alan Friedman and other prominent media individuals who built a network of blue-chip clients that included the governments of Greece, Italy and Zambia, with contracts to promote tourism in Malaysia, Indonesia and Hungary.

But Putrajaya has ended its RM96 million contract with FBC which started in 2009 after it was revealed Malaysian government leaders regularly appeared in paid-for-TV programmes.

The Malaysian Insider has reported Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been contracting a series of public relations strategists, including APCO Worldwide, to shine his personal image and his government’s locally and worldwide.

APCO’s time in Malaysia was marked by controversy after the opposition alleged the public relations firm was linked to Israel.

The most recent hire are members of the team behind former British PM Tony Blair’s “New Labour” campaign who were reported to have started work to reinvent Najib as a moderate reformist.

The team is also understood to be pushing a “Cool Najib” image to appeal to progressive voters as the PM prepares to lead the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) into elections for the first time.

But Alastair Campbell, once the powerful director of strategy and communications during Blair’s administration, denied yesterday that he has been to Malaysia in response to suggestions that he recently visited Najib to advise the prime minister on his image.

“I see I have been spotted in Malaysia. Therefore I must be advising the government. Must have a double. Not been. Not advising. Fin d’histoire [Sic] [end of story],” he wrote on his Twitter account @campbellclaret.

Campbell, a former journalist, quit Blair's office in August 2003 after it was revealed that he ordered dossiers on Iraq’s purported possession of weapons of mass destruction to be altered to be consistent with the US government’s stand.