CNBC drops flagship show over paid Malaysian interviews

By Debra Chong, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 4 — International news broadcaster CNBC has confirmed cancelling its flagship show World Business as allegations of impropriety surface linking the programme to FBC Media, a British firm apparently paid millions of ringgit by Putrajaya and Sarawak to shine their images globally.

The satellite news channel said it has also started investigating FBC Media’s business practices, in what is seen as a bid to remove itself from being tainted by any possible scandal that could smear it like the phone-hacking allegations that ended the 168-year-old News of The World last month.

“In response to your question below, you are correct in that we have withdrawn World Business in the light of serious questions raised last week and we have initiated an examination of FBC and its business practices,” Charlotte Westgate, CNBC’s vice-president of marketing and communications, told The Malaysian Insider in an email last night.

The news of CNBC’s popular business news programme, under the eye of its managing editor John Defterios, being dumped was first reported yesterday by Sarawak Report.

In the story “CNBC Dumps FBC Media!”, the London-based whistleblower said the decision came on the heels of its earlier expose disclosing how Malaysia’s powerful ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians have been paying FBC Media millions of ringgit a year out of public coffers “to buy them positive publicity on the show”.

The Sarawak Report listed the ruling coalition politicians as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud.

“Allowing slots to be purchased in this way, deceiving millions of viewers who thought they were watching impartial programming, is a serious breach of broadcasting laws, for which broadcasters such as CNBC’s parent company, the American broadcasting giant NBC, would be held ultimately responsible,” Sarawak Report said.

CNBC’s Westgate, however, declined further comment on the case for the time being.

FBC Media is also said to have dealings with British national broadcaster BBC and US-based CNN.

The Malaysian Insider tried to contact both FBC and CNN to clarify Sarawak Report’s potentially damaging allegations, but have received no response at the time this report is published.

Award-winning journalist Defterios, who recently interviewed Najib in London for CNN, had been criticised for lobbing softball questions compared to the hard-nosed probing befitting a 25-year veteran of his standing in financial news global affairs, raising questions over a possible conflict of interest.

A full transcript of the interview as released by CNN on July 14, just days after the controversial July 9 public rally for clean and fair elections organised by Bersih 2.0, showed Defterios failing to press his interviewee for details over the BN government’s response even as videos depicted policemen cracking down on marchers.

Below is an extract of the transcript: