Taylor's FSLM Journals
Framing the bilateral relations between Malaysia and China: The news coverage of flight MH370

@ SEARCH Journal of Media and Communication Research

Online ISSN: 2672-7080

*Yang Lai Fong & Ramachandran Ponnan


The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in March 2014 was a test of the bilateral relations between Malaysia and China. Two thirds of passengers on the flight were Chinese citizens. Immediately after the tragedy, many in China accused Malaysia of being incompetent, dubious and even deceitful due to its authorities’ missteps and contradictory press statements. Meanwhile, some Malaysians saw China’s reactions as unfriendly and hypocritical. Through the professional selection and presentation of news items, the media communicates a host of salience cues that the public can use to organise and determine the importance of these issues, and this subsequently forms the initial stage of public opinion. In light of the events surrounding the missing flight MH370, the critical importance of studying media representations across Malaysia and China has become all the more essential to understand the role of media in bilateral relations. Based on a comparative content analysis, this paper investigated the framing of the MH370 incident as well as Malaysia–China bilateral relations by mainstream Malay-, English- and Chinese-language newspapers in Malaysia as well as by mainstream Chinese-language newspapers in China. The findings indicate that the newspapers carried an unequal weighting on the MH370 incident as well as the Malaysia-China bilateral relations. By employing different news sources, the newspapers also allowed different parties to act as opinion leaders to define or interpret the MH370 incident as well as the Malaysia-China bilateral relations. The two salient frames found in this study were “search and rescue operation” as well as “friendship, ties and understanding”. The coverage of the newspapers was also dominated by positive valence towards the Malaysia-China bilateral relations. Implications of the findings to the understanding of the framing and bilateral relations were also discussed.

Keywords: MH370, bilateral relations, diplomacy, Malaysia-China, framing