Subsidies: PR and perception management


It is not surprising to read reports of government media advisers telling newspaper editors how to report on price hikes, following the move to reduce or eliminate subsidies.

It seems it is okay to say ‘upward price adjustments’ and ‘subsidy rationalisation’ but not ‘price hikes’ or ‘barang naik’. Ridiculous? It’s all part of the info-war.

Increasingly governments are using public relations experts to manage the way the public reacts to controversial new policies and to neutralise dissent. In public relations circles, this is referred to as ‘perception management’.

Perception management essentially means changing the reality as seen by your target audience so that it corresponds with your reality.

I have a feeling this art of managing perceptions has been applied in the approach to scrapping or reducing subsidies. Logically, public perception of the plan to remove subsidies would be largely negative. The task of the public relations folks would be to try and alter the way the public views reality so that it corresponds with the government’s perception of reality. In other words, the government’s public relations people probably aim to try and narrow the ‘perception gap’.

Thus an elaborate plan seems to have been put in place involving “subsidy rationalisation labs”, displays of superficial but much publicised efforts at ‘consultation’ with the public, and dubious opinion polls apparently showing the public as open or receptive to the idea of removing subsidies. Look at this online poll on the Government Transformation Programme website, for instance: if you vote “No” to the subsidies, you must still vote for a time-frame (1 year, 3 years or 5 years) for the government to reduce subsidies; otherwise you cannot submit your vote!

There was even an attempt to create a sense of impending crisis by highlighting the possibility that Malaysia could face bankruptcy by 2019, if subsidies were not slashed. Why, the slashing of subsidies was touted as one of the key ways of averting possible bankruptcy. (No mention of cuts in other areas of government spending such as defence.)

What is perception management? It has been described as follows:

Perception is a way of seeing, understanding or interpreting. In business, perceptions describe the way stakeholders perceive an enterprise or a brand, based on its actions and the behaviour of its people. To stakeholders, perception is their reality. Perceptions may be good or bad, depending on the experiences that stakeholder groups might have had when engaging with the organisation. We suggest that companies become more sensitive to these perceptions and work to address the perception gap – i.e. the gap that exists between stakeholder perceptions and the company’s ideal perceptions of itself. Hence, perceptions have to be managed to ensure that a sound reputation of the organisation is nurtured. Perceptual assets are intangible but nevertheless valuable. By managing perceptions, an enterprise builds reputational value.

How do you manage perceptions? Can perceptions be managed?

The answer is yes! Typically, the process would begin with a Stakeholder Perception Audit to gauge perceptions held by key stakeholder groups towards the organisation. Following from that, the organisation would commit to addressing each key issue of perception, identifying perception gaps where they exist and implementing appropriate change programmes. Meanwhile, the task of communicating messages begins, messages founded on truth and fact. Over time, the leadership succeeds in growing the enterprise into an organisation whose values represent those sought by its key stakeholder groups. Essentially, there must be interest in feedback and a commitment to addressing the issues raised in the interest of changing negative perceptions to positive ones.

Is Perception Management similar to public relations?

Yes and no. It is similar to PR in that we are all concerned with reputation. In traditional PR practice, however, insufficient attention is given to the view from the outside. Oftentimes, PR and communication campaigns address the needs of the enterprise with the result that messages are one-way and directed from the inside-out. To be truly effective, messages must consider the needs of the stakeholders and be strategic. They have to be focused on their value in changing perceptions. Managing perceptions means communicating with an outside-in perspective.

Do you know, the art of perception management was used to sell the Iraq War to a US public that had been wary of major foreign military adventures ever since the debacle in Vietnam.

The government probably feels the media have a crucial role to play in shaping public perceptions. Thus the mainstream media are advised against using the terms ‘price hikes’ and government savings and instead play up the benefits of reducing subsidies to get the public to buy into the idea. Why, the removal of subsidies for sugar is touted as a health benefit.

The spin continues. Coffee shops land up shouldering the blame when they raise the price of teh tarik by a few sen following the government’s price hikes. (On the other hand, you hear little criticism of Pos Malaysia when it implements hefty hikes in postal rates despite making substantial profits.)

The problem for the Malaysian government is the mainstream media have low credibility and thus the proposal to scrap or reduce subsidies is that much harder to sell to a more critical and discerning public, post 8 March 2008.

Please help to support this blog if you can.

Read the commenting guidlelines for this blog.
Notify of

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phua Kai Lit

Debasement of language under authoritarian regimes.

Remember George Orwell, “1984” and Newspeak??


Isn’t that happening here?

50 million wastage becomes “investment” and “spin-offs”.

Newspeak Lim Guan Eng machai style.


Who does not know there is a preception management going around.. The issue is who is going to win? When you weigh the govt control over mass media, employing APCO, their machinery vs new media, Anwar skills, DAP strenght in facts, PAS discipline and machinery, who is going to win? BN is in a losing war. Between ‘Upward Price Adjustment’ and ‘Price Hike’ or ‘Barang Naik’, its a losing battle. (The PR people) should be fired just based on the fact the words are chosen. But the other thing that goes against BN is that both Najib and Muhiyiddin are… Read more »


DAP where got straight in facts?

The people of Penang are betting 50 million dollars that DAP has never and is never going to give anyone any straight fact – If we win, our 50 million dollars don’t get flushed down the toilet. If we lose, the PICC white elephant project becomes reality.


On what ground did you come to the conclusion that PICC will be a white elephant. That 50 millions could bring in an income of 500 millions or more in the long run. Moreover with land rising in that area, PICC could then be worth much much more than the 50 millions invested in a few years time. Use your head please black pearl


Perception Management, Mr. Anil?

That is what is happening in your blog.

Teams of machais are flocking to your blog and others’ to silence any and all critics.

Don’t you see how they praise Lim Guan Eng on every-single-thing that guy does ?

Even the 50 million dollar wastage ~PICC~ they also praise, using all kinds of flowerly languages, like “leadership”, “investment”, “accountability”, “honesty”, “clean”, and so on.

And when they failed to silence their critics, they got angry and started swearing, with CAPITALISED LETTERS some more.

That, Mr. Anil, is Perception Management, Lim Guan Eng style.

Gerakan K

This is exactly what I feel !!!…


We have one Gerakan K that agrees that PMD is allocated with RM12 billion to run his department. Don’t put it that the cost of living in Malaysia is one of the lowest in the world. Do you also realise that at the same time, the earning power of ordinary Malaysians are very low too. I am not any Machais for any political party. I am so happened to see people struggle to make ends meet. Don’t believe me? Go to UMMC, Paediatric 6 and talk to the parents over there. My son is happened to be one of the… Read more »

This is a classic not for what you don’t have or our soothsayers but for what you have and how you can use it for those who have nothing to create the community with a humane aspect. See link This is the English lyric Ain’t got no home, ain’t got no shoes Ain’t got no money, ain’t got no class Ain’t got no friends, ain’t got no schooling Ain’t got no work, ain’t got no job Ain’t got no money, no place to stay Ain’t got no father, ain’t got no mother Ain’t got no children, a’int got no… Read more »


The perception of subsidy reduced is almost equivalent to commission paid to the purchase of the “2 water toy submarines” plus pocket money as entertaining allowances for the prestigious buyers!

cheah sin kooi

Typical of the Barisan mentality. Where as every Ahmad, Ah Chong and Samy knows what a price hike is, this way of pulling wool over the eyes of the rakyat is just too mediocre to say the least. Well, you reap what you sow, as the saying goes. Come GE13, I hope the rakyat can put these miserable … into the dustbins of history.


The cost of RM750 million is just what we paid APCO last year to do perception management. Quite ironic but not surprising that we are paying US citizesn what could have been given to locals.


APCO (appears to be) behind this perception management? Unfortunately, Malaysians, at least those with access to the internet are far smarter than them. We have the numbers to outfox this APCO/UMNO guys. It had reached a stage whereby all Malaysians must be resolute in their desire to send this horribly corrupt and inept Government out for good. They are getting worse by the day. Today, we read about LHDN ahead of their targets in collecting taxes but at the same time they are using the soft approach to deal with Kuala Dimensi which owed them approximately 330 million RM. Why… Read more »

Ong Eu Soon

Nice try! All Anwar need to do is this; just keep repeating telling Malaysians.
If I am ….. tomorrow I will …..
If Anwar keep doing it for one thousand times, the road to Putrjaya will be wide opened.

Gerakan K

Now listen to foreign people voice that uncontaminated by PR (Pakatan Rakyat) propaganda[1]: 1)the cost of living in Malaysia was one of the lowest in the world 2)RM10 in Malaysia could be stretched far more than the same amount in Singapore, New York, Tokyo or London This is BN government contribution to Malaysia. Nothing to do with your super hero, the cheap chairman. Wanna to talk about perception ??? What about “PAS for all” slogan ??? Now in Kedah, PAS lead state government impose double license requirement[2] for mahjong playing. See ??? Really for all or for all muslims ???… Read more »


Gerakan K, idiot or what. 1. The cost of living is not one of the lowest but the STANDARD of living is. 2. RM10 in Malaysia could not be stretched much in Malaysia but it is even worse when in those countries you mentioned. And in Singapore, New York, Tokyo and London their money not only could stretch far more in their own country but MUCH MUCH MORE in Malaysia. AND HOW MUCH CAN MALAYSIAN EARNED COMPARED TO THEIR COUNTERPART IN THE ABOVE MENTIONED COUNTRIES. USE YOU HEAD PLEASE… Talking about double license you should be telling that to your… Read more »

Gerakan K

… That was a statement by foreign traveler and not mine.

Can you stop talking rubbish ???

I also own numerous shops in Selangor & KL and the signboard license fee also applicable in PR rule Selangor.

You don’t know your own kind being “tekan kuat kuat” in Kedah and Kelantan ???

I cannot help you anymore…


Have you heard that PM Department is allocated RM12 billion?

Subsidy cut is to finance his department lah!

Gerakan K

You stupid or what ??? RM12 billion for 45 agencies under the watch of the Prime Minister’s Department which including Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency, Auditor-General’s Office, Election Commission, Human Rights Commission, Public Complaints Bureau, and Public Service Commission. You all day and night complaining the inefficiency of MACC, EC, etc and now the government is putting more money to further enhance the services, then you complain !!! What a ridiculous people like you !!! You never read news ??? Recently MACC has employed a lot of new personnel particularly the chinese in order to combat graft more effectively. You think the… Read more »


We need people who has the know how to do a job efficiently. We don’t need people who has been in an army for life to take on a job to run a GLC. So, employing more people doesn’t mean being efficient.

MACC, Auditor-General, EC should not come under PMD to prevent bias. Will the MACC investigate their boss? Will the Auditor-General audit their boss?

So, who is being naive here?


You think throwing money at the problem going to solve everything?

Or were you just born yesterday?

Gerakan K

No money, no talk

No money, no walk the talk

No money, wanna born also cannot

No money, apapun cannot !!!

SK Cheah

Without those price hikes how are we going to fund (those lavish projects)? Who are the beneficiaries of this project. The contrators of course. BN just siphoned the money from its citizen and through this project got the wealth transferred to their own kind. Clever, and pls dont forget to pay your taxes….