A 'Bomoh' ritual for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight has been widely reported on in international media.

The much-publicised ritual performed by ‘bomohs’ or witchdoctors at Kuala Lumpur International Airport as part of search efforts for missing flight MH370 has embarrassed many Malaysians at home and abroad.

On social media, it is clear that Malaysians are dissatisfied with the way the situation is being handled.

 

“After waiting for so long, Malaysians are getting disappointed. The idea of using witchdoctors to carry out the search makes a farce of this issue. This can be done, but not in the full glare of the media, and the ritual performed in front of the media shows that the Malaysian authorities are terribly out-of-depth when it comes to handling the media,” Ibrahim Suffian, co-founder of research firm the Merdeka Center, says.

The lack of proper crisis management and contradictory reports issued from the Malaysian authorities have diminished the confidence of those waiting for news about the missing aircraft carrying 239 passengers.


In the face of increasing criticism, Acting Transport Minister Hishamuddin responded at a press conference this week with his opinion that, “There is confusion only if you want to see confusion.”

Given the absence of clarity on the disappearance of the plane, there has been a spontaneous global prayer movement. Candlelight vigils have been held expressing hope for a miracle.

So why is there embarrassment amongst Malaysians when witchdoctors are brought in to help with the search of the missing flight?

  In the absence of results in what has been perceived as a bungled search mission, turning to witchdoctors feels like desperation on the part of the authorities.

On Twitter, it is clear that many Malaysians feel that their political leaders are not handling international media well.


“The missing flight is a timebound crisis, and there is a lot of stress on individuals to perform,” says Suffian. “This crisis exposes the weakness of the government’s ability to deal with pressure with real issues, as opposed to political ones, and this is not creating the kind of confidence that people would expect.”

He adds that, “The Malaysian government has little experience on how to deal with major disasters when faced with international press. Authorities are rarely exposed to tough questions because the local media is quite pliant. They get away with giving assurances, and are rarely pressed to deliver facts and figures.”

What works for a specific audience might not be received the same way by an international one.

“The use of witchdoctors can be perceived as a way of reassuring the rural Malaysian public that largely relies on traditional media for information and opinions. None of the issues of confusion is discussed in government controlled Malaysia broadsheets, and local media outlets have all focused on the search efforts, and not on the conduct of the crisis management,” says Suffian.

Coordinating information during a crisis between the next-of-kin, media and other countries’ search missions is a huge challenge that has to be acknowledged. On Twitter, there is no doubt that the perceived Malaysia bashing has not gone down well with many who prefer silence to speculation and blame.