Friday, July 3 2020


Foreign correspondents speak of reporting missing jet

Update: March, 16/2014 - 20:52


Two reporters walk from Phu Quoc airport in Vietnam to the air traffic control tower nearby that is some 15 minutes away. — Photo BOO SU-LYN

PHU QUOC — After a Malaysia Airlines aircraft flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing on March 8, it was feared that the plane might have crashed into the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Viet Nam with 239 passengers and crew on board. The incident triggered a large international search and rescue effort. Viet Nam deployed 11 aircraft and seven ships together with military, border guard and coast guard forces, locals and fishing boats.

Viet Nam News reporter Xuan Hiep spoke to several foreign reporters who were reporting on Phu Quoc Island from March 10-14 to get their take on the experience:

Yan Hao, reporter of Xinhua News Agency, based in Hong Kong

I think the Vietnamese government responded swiftly by mobilising a lot of resources to join the search effort. I am not an expert in searching but I think that the aircraft and vessels that Viet Nam's government sent are adequate. The Vietnamese government also co-operated with China and other countries to carry out the search.

For Chinese journalists, the Vietnamese government provided important assistance such as convenient visas, interviews with senior government and military officials and approval to ride on the search helicopters taking off from Phu Quoc Island and HCM City. My colleagues who flew on the helicopters told me that they were impressed by the search personnel, who were intensely searching for floating objects with their eyes alone.

For Chinese reporters who could not understand and speak Vietnamese, the biggest challenge was the language. We could not communicate with Vietnamese officials on Phu Quoc Island in English. A few officials can speak a little English, but far less than the level required for accurate news stories, even though this is a tourist destination where many retailers can speak English.

In the first two days after the flight went missing, Xinhua reporters in HCM City and Ha Noi received very limited information from the Vietnamese authorities. Our reporters were not permitted to attend a press conference held by the Ministry of Defense or board the search plane taking off from HCM City, while other foreign reporters could.

Phila Siu, reporter of the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post

The biggest challenge I faced was the language. The navy base was the first place I went for information, but the navy officer I met did not speak any English. With the help of a translator, who spoke very little English, we were told that we would not get any information at the navy base.

For overseas journalists like me, another difficulty was having no idea where to get official updates on the search and rescue activities. Even after the government set up a press centre at the air traffic control tower, the daily press briefing was in Vietnamese. Most of the time when journalists asked questions in English, the officials either pretended that they did not hear or fled the room. It makes journalists wonder what the point of having such briefings is.

As for Viet Nam's search and rescue effort, I don't feel I am in a position to comment because I did not receive enough information at the press briefings to judge what the authorities did.

A helicopter lands after coming back from a search for the missing MH370 aircraft at Phu Quoc airport, on March 11, 2014. — Photo Choo Choy May

Yanina Wang, reporter of the Internet Portal Department at the China-based Tencent Company.

I think that Viet Nam has done their best to find the plane. As a Chinese national, I really appreciated Viet Nam's efforts.

However, as an international reporter, I faced many challenges while reporting at the press centre on Phu Quoc Island. The language barrier was a huge problem. The press conferences were conducted in Vietnamese, without any translation for foreign correspondents. I depended completely on the translator whom I hired in Viet Nam.

The press conference was our only source of daily information. Yet the information we received was very limited. The answers to reporters' questions were too general and there was no time for reporters to answer more questions as the press conference was only 10-15 minutes each day.

I had no choice but to believe what the Vietnamese authorities said about their search and rescue activities because they were our only source of information. However, sometimes the information provided to reporters conflicted with what was already announced.

Farah Zamira Farush Khan, reporter of Malaysia-based Sinar Harian

We can't speak to Vietnamese authorities without an interpreter, but I couldn't get one here, even though I got one before in Kien Giang Province and HCM City.

We also had a hard time finding the press centre where we could get official information from Vietnamese authorities. We went to HCM City and Ca Mau before finding out it was on Phu Quoc Island.

Now I still don't have an interpreter. At first I thought we wouldn't spend much time here because Malaysia said the missing plane was last spotted in the Strait of Malacca, but later China said they found something near southern Viet Nam, so now I have to stay longer.

Without an interpreter, we have to ask Vietnamese journalists who can speak English what the authorities say. We came here with Chinese friends who spoke with Chinese reporters who had interpreters, so we found out a little of what was going on. But I can't ask questions during press conferences because I don't know if the question has already been asked. Even if we could ask, we still wouldn't understand the reply.

Other reporters complained they received little information at the press centre. But I think it's the same everywhere. In Malaysia, we also don't have much information about the missing plane. We cannot force authorities to provide information because they haven't found anything.

I would be happy if Vietnamese authorities had more press conferences. But there wouldn't be a point to having conferences unless there were updates to be shared.

My friends in Malaysia say the police, civil aviation authorities, Malaysian Airlines and the minister all provide contradictory information. so no one knows what to believe.

Viet Nam is willing to help even though the missing plane does not belong to Viet Nam and there are no Vietnamese passengers. I think Malaysian people are very thankful to Viet Nam for their efforts to locate the aircraft, as well as those of the international community. — VNS

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