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Importance of Media Framing, Advocacy about Palm Oil

**This article was published in English and has no translation in Bahasa Melayu** 

**This article was published in NEW STRAITS TIMES on 9 July 2021.**

By Datuk Dr Nasir ShamsudinDr Wong Mui Yun

Over the years, the palm oil industry has been subjected to constant “public relation (PR) attacks” resulting in bad publicity in the global perspective, and hence degradation of demand of palm oil-based products. - File pic

Over the years, the palm oil industry has been subjected to constant "public relation (PR) attacks" resulting in bad publicity in the global perspective, and hence degradation of demand of palm oil-based products.
 
The focus of the attacks is on the issues of environment, health, and human rights.
 
According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), the attacks against palm oil by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FOE) were motivated by politics and trade, rather than genuine concern for environmental conservation.
 
Since Malaysia is heavily reliant on palm oil exports, these attacks have negative impacts on producers and export earnings as well as the livelihood of almost 650,000 smallholders, the core constituent of over two million people who work in the palm oil value chain.
 
There are voluminous research findings on the health benefits of palm oil and environmental aspect. Palm oil actually has a longer shelf-life (stable, easy digestion, resistant to oxidation, and high smoking point) and been proven to have neuroprotective properties due to the presence of antioxidants such tocopherols and tocotrienols. Tocotrienols are not widely found in nature but abundant in palm oil.
 
To counter the environmental issue, most of the palm oil industry players in the supply chain are Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certified.
 
For instance, 75.1 per cent of the 5.9 million hectares of plantation are RSPO-certified, and 88.1 per cent are MSPO-certified. For mills, 431 of 452 are MSPO-certified.
 
These certification schemes should have contributed to greater transparency in the value chain and help to strengthen the dialogue on sustainable palm oil.
 
Palm oil producer giants, Indonesia and Malaysia, have been teaming up to fight against the smear campaign targeted at the commodity. But, the question is how can the counter campaigns penetrate the global community?
 
To deliberate on this issue, Institute of Plantation Studies, Universiti Putra Malaysia had recently organised a forum pertaining to effective strategies to counter the smear campaigns in the global community through the media and public relations.
 
When it comes to the media, public relations advocacy often depends on the power of the given nation and its people. The media has a tendency to portray negative images of developing nations as compared to positive media portrayal in developed nations.
 
These means that, in terms of reconciling issues, strategies for advocacy in public relations, often times, require the understanding of power that the media has in terms of influencing the public of a given nation.
 
The challenge for advocacy is heightened within a developed nation because information and knowledge transformation are deeply ingrained in the minds of the people through the media on many levels and forms.
 
Therefore merely sending out messages to the public in a medium does not effectively penetrate into the mindset of people. In reconciling issues within the context of the media, public relations advocators require comprehensive knowledge of the background of the affected constituents.
 
Thus, to position the advocation strategically, the media must frame the counter campaigns to penetrate targeted stakeholders at various levels consisting of individual, family, community, and organizational levels.
 
The reasons being that different communication campaigns will result in different perceptions at different layers of society and consumer ethnocentrism such as the following:
A) Individual level:
1. Conservation and sustainability campaign through information dissemination; 
2. Knowledge dissemination for behavioural change; and 
3. Nutrition and health education through dissemination of knowledge and behavioural change on palm oil
 
B. Family/Peers level:
1. Fostering quality lifestyle through health, environment & economic benefits of palm oil;
2. Coordinated family-bonding programmes on sustainability and information dissemination;  
3. Programmes must be tailored based on 3 major public sentiments health, environment and human rights; and
4. Participate in coordinated nutrition and health related community programmes
 
C. Community level:
1. Fostering quality lifestyle through health, environment, and economic benefits of palm oil at the community level; 
2. Awareness of the impact of deforestation and carbon emission;
3.  Establishment of a knowledge and support ecosystem on palm oil benefits; 
4. Educational and nutritional support for community on benefits of palm oil to be led by local agencies;
5. Educational and nutritional support messages need to be tailored based on three major public sentiments health, environment & human rights; 
6. Provide technical and educational supports to nutrition educators and food operators on healthy use of palm oil; and 
7. Product labelling on the naturalness and healthiness of palm oil
 
D. Organisational level:
1. Developing consensus with important society members through meaningful information sharing initiatives; 
2. Develop nutrition and health advisory services on palm oil for the public; 
3. Influence public policies and promote access to palm oil; 
4. To institutionalize social media sentiments mechanism to monitor the sentiments for palm oil; and 
5. Crisis communication action should be initiated before the inception of the event or based on early warning system
 
What the targeted counter campaigns focusing at different layers of the society that have different perceptions on palm oil, the strategised advocacy communications can effectively penetrate the global community.

Date of Input: 15/07/2021 | Updated: 19/07/2021 | syazreena

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