Sedition Act? What’s got into McDonald’s Malaysia?

16 Nov 2023 09:00pm
McD M claims that those NGOs and influencers have been conducting a boycott campaign against it. But now there are reports that McD M is trying to use the Sedition Act against the same parties. - BERNAMA FILE PIX
McD M claims that those NGOs and influencers have been conducting a boycott campaign against it. But now there are reports that McD M is trying to use the Sedition Act against the same parties. - BERNAMA FILE PIX

I was truly appalled when I heard rumours that McDonald’s Malaysia (McD M) plans to take legal action against several NGOs and influencers over its alleged falling sales since the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza by Israel began.

McD M claims that those NGOs and influencers have been conducting a boycott campaign against it.

But now there are reports that McD M is trying to use the Sedition Act against the same parties. This is absolutely extraordinary and I am shocked beyond words. Presumably some sympathetic but very misguided government figures are willing to be accomplices for that purpose.

I can confidently say that McD M will be courting a massive public relations disaster for themselves were they to proceed on the Sedition Act route. Or with any civil suit, for that matter.

The public is already horrified with the stomach-churning sight of Palestinian babies, toddlers, young children and women whose bodies were brutally burned, mangled and maimed by unrelenting Israeli bombing.

Everyone can see it’s a case of a defenceless population being victimised and massacred by a big bully, Israel, which is armed by the Americans and European countries. Public outrage is palpable as can be evidenced by the massive demonstrations in Malaysia and worldwide demanding the genocide to stop.

Against this backdrop, McD M, a big corporation with piles of cash and resources, plans to sue NGOs and individuals who have little cash and resources. Guess which one will be perceived by the public as the big bully and which one the victim? Does McD M really believe that its sales will pick up after the public, already revolted by big bully Israel massacring defenceless Palestinians, see that McD M is bullying NGOs which is campaigning for the human rights of Palestinians?

Chances are that the public will double down on avoiding McD products. And that’s the PR disaster I was referring to.

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And by publicly threatening to use the Sedition Act, McD M is practically declaring war against the very public from whom it expects business and patronage. This is really a course of action borne by very warped thinking.

The Sedition Act, in its wording, is never intended to be used to protect private corporations. It is doubtful that public interest is well served to have the AG Chambers expend scarce resources to contort the Act to devise charges for which it was never intended to be the basis. It is even more doubtful that such charges would stick in court.

McD M has a massive image problem since October 7th. Part of it is caused by events outside its control but, in the main, by its own misreading of public or customer sentiments and of external events.

There is a genocide taking place in Gaza. There is a party committing the genocide and another which is its victim. It is therefore a question of humanity. Anyone with any decency or humanity would without hesitation be on the side of the victim.

Thus, for the company to keep on insisting in its public statements that it cannot take side on political issues sounds very blind and foolish when things have gone beyond mere politics. You simply cannot remain neutral anymore.

The public is outraged when through social media when they learned that McDonald’s in Israel was providing free food to Zionist terrorists in uniform.

They reacted by vowing never to patronise any McD M outlet. Notwithstanding the fact that McD M has no control over what McDonald’s in Israel does, it behooves the former to ask itself why did the franchisee in Israel do what it did? Answer: it wanted to maintain a good image among its customer base by no longer remaining neutral.

Given that, it is terribly unwise for McD M to insist on remaining neutral and hope it would still have a good image with its Malaysian customer base.

People are not blind. When they see McDonald’s Israel unabashedly supporting the Israeli military, they expect McD M to support the Palestinian cause to the hilt. Right now they are disappointed.

I note that McD M in one of its public statements has pledged RM1 million to the Palestinian humanitarian fund set up by the government.

Commendable but clearly not sufficient to convince the public of where the company’s sympathy lies as evidenced by its claim that its sales are still low compared to before October 7th.

The company is blinkered by the attitude, often found among the rich, that big money would solve all its problems. Clearly it has not. It has to do a hell of a lot more than just donate money if it wants to rescue its image. What that ‘a lot more’ means I will explain shortly.

It is widely reported that the Palestinian ambassador to Malaysia has explicitly called on Malaysians to boycott McDonald’s. And yet I have not seen any public statement by the company seeking to explain to the ambassador why his call is wrong. But it is NGOs and influencers that McD M wants to take action against. This is very strange and inconsistent.

McD M blames NGOs and influencers when its sales started declining (as claimed by the company). But public anger over what McDonald’s in Israel did is a better explanation for the sales drop.

Word travels fast over social media. Clearly McD M has an image problem which it appears clueless to remedy. And by publicly announcing usage of the Sedition Act, it has massively aggravated its image problem. I will therefore explain below what I mean by ‘a lot more’ that it can and should do to convince the Malaysian public that it should not be a boycott target. It is basically a PR exercise.

First, disavow any intention to sue individuals or organisations or to have the Sedition Act used against them. This is the absolutely necessary but not yet sufficient step that the company has to take if it wants to avoid being seen as a big bully by the Malaysian public.

Second, hang Malaysian and Palestinian flags at all its outlets. This clearly tells the public which side you stand with. It is essential to show that you have the decency and humanity to know which side to support in the genocide in Gaza. Drop all pretensions to being neutral. It is after no longer an issue of politics.

Third, make McD M presence known and visible at all pro-Palestinian rallies by having staff members in full uniform give out free water and food to protesters. If McDonald’s Israel free food to soldiers, what is wrong with McDonald’s Malaysia giving out free food to pro-Palestinian protesters?

Fourth, at every outlet set up donation boxes for Gaza with the pledge that every ringgit contributed by the public will be match by one ringgit from McD M. Ensure that the boxes and the pledge are very visible to customers.

The above suggestions, not exhaustive, will go a long way towards ensuring that McDonald’s Malaysia regain a good image among Malaysians.

Rather than spend money on lawyers to sue an NGO which, it should be stressed, might well result in being counterproductive to its public image, it is much wiser for McD M to spend some money, probably not that much more than legal expenses for litigation, on the above steps.

I can assure McD M that the above steps will be effective in rescuing its image and its business.

Mohamad Kassim is a PR veteran and lives in Kuala Lumpur.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.