THE fatwa controversy on yoga need not have turned into an open battle the way it's been in the last week or so. With a bit more finesse and advanced planning, the controversy could have been reduced, or avoided even.
Somehow, the people responsible for the announcement had forgotten one major aspect of information dissemination - that of getting help from the media, the very medium by which the information was relayed.
In previous occassions, when potentially controversial decisions were about to be announced, they were preceeded by deep background briefing. Many editors were brought into confidence on a few major developments of national interest in the past.
The deep background briefing, a jargon frequently used to describe some off-the-record sessions involving the media, also served as a sounding board where the media can help give some initial feedback.
In the early 80s, I remember some senior editors were briefed on the padi subsidy which the Government had wanted to introduce.
The editors gave their feedback, some of which were not necessarily pleasant. But at least the Government had anticipated some problems and was able to refine the announcement, thus reducing the anxiety of the padi farmers and the community at large.
The Government had also taken the media into confidence over some security situation involving the Communist guerrillas, especially in the peace process that eventually took place. In the economic crisis of the mid-80s, the media were also taken into confidence to play a supporting role to help the nation get out of the mess.
It was the same in the 1997/98 financial crisis. The Government took the media aside, briefed them what was happening and told them what could have happened if the matter was not correctly presented to the rakyat.
Call it spinning if you like, but it served the purpose of putting the nation back on track. It took several years but the country battled the crisis and survived.
If the Fatwa Council had given the media some deep background briefing, things could have been handled differently. Very often, managing a crisis is a lot more expensive and stressful than preventing one.