Anisah Shukry | March 6, 2013
The prime minister must explain the government’s dealings with US writers paid to besmirched Anwar Ibrahim, says Nik Nazmi.
KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak must respond to claims that his administration paid RM1.2 million to US columnists to write editorials painting Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim in a bad light, said PKR.
The party’s communications director, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, pointed out that although the revelations had attracted global interest and was now a “major international news scandal”, the Barisan Nasional government had yet to respond.
“Najib has to answer questions arising from this scandal: How much taxpayers’ money has his administration paid PR [public relations] consultants, particularly overseas, to write anti-Pakatan Rakyat and Anwar Ibrahim pieces?” asked Nik Nazmi at a press conference today.
“Other than APCO in the US and FBC in the UK, where else has the BN paid PR consultants to damage the opposition’s image?”
He was referring to the BN government’s media strategist APCO Worldwide, which contracted right-wing American journalist Joshua Trevino to write anti-Anwar articles from May 2008 to April 2011.
Trevino’s writings were published in US news websites such as Huffington Post, the San Francisco Examiner, Washington Times, National Review and Redstate, as well as websites MalaysiaMatters and MalaysiaWatcher.
According to Buzzfeed, Trevino’s belated filings to the US Justice Department revealed that the interests paying him were the government of Malaysia, “its ruling party or interests closely aligned with either”.
FBC or Fact-Based Communications was another firm also involved in the contract. Trevino had reportedly subcontracted the work to 10 writers, and told Buzzfeed that it was a “fairly standard PR operation”.
Taxpayers’ money spent on propaganda
Nik Nazmi today demanded to know who was involved in the hiring and coordination of the “PR consultants”.
“What instructions were given as to how the consultants should deal with Anwar as the bulk of the work by the consultants are solely about attacking Anwar?” said Nik Nazmi.
But according to Trevino, neither he nor “the client” knew what the writers were going to write before it was published, Buzzfeed reported.
“I provided a stipend to support their work in this area and they would just ping me whenever something went up,” he reportedly said.
Nik Nazmi also hit out at the government for dealing with “Islamaphobic” writers, including Trevino, who he said was US former president George W Bush’s speech writer.
“Is the government aware that many of the consultants hired are known for their extreme right-wing and Islamaphobic views, who deride Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood and American Muslims?
“Is the government aware that many of the consultants hired are staunch and avid supporters of Israel to the detriment of the Palestinians?” he asked.
He added that if the prime minister refused to respond, he would resort to other avenues, such as writing a letter to him.
“It is significant that while Najib spent millions of taxpayers’ money for spin and propaganda, he continues to evade Anwar’s call for a policy debate for the benefit of Malaysian voters,” said Nik Nazmi.
Govt paid US writers for covert campaign