Malaysia's government-controlled media has lashed out at Australia's Channel Nine for airing allegations that a woman and her friend were entertained in the cockpit of a Malaysia Airlines flight by co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and Fariq, the first officer, were piloting flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard on Saturday when the jet vanished. A massive search and rescue operation is under way to find the plane and its passengers.
In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said it was "shocked by the allegations" that Fariq hosted guests on the flight deck in 2011.
The company said it hadn't confirmed the validity of the photos that Australia's A Current Affair programme said showed Fariq with passengers. However, Malaysia Airlines said it was taking the claims "very seriously".
On the show, a passenger identified as Jonti Roos said she and a female travelling companion were invited into the cockpit. Roos said she and her friend were allowed to stay in the cockpit during the entire one-hour flight.
Hamid and the other pilot talked to the women, smoked and posed for photos during the flight, she said.
Johan Jaffar, chairman of Kuala Lumpur media company Media Prima described the publication as "gutter journalism, one-sided and based on hear-say".
Nuraina Samad, former managing editor of the New Straits Times, said she was saddened by the report that went to air in Australia on Tuesday evening and then went viral around the world.
'"It made me cringe. It is bad journalism and in bad taste," she said.
Azman Ujang, former editor in-chief of the state news agency Bernama said freedom of the press should not be abused.
"The media has to be responsible. The pilot is not around to defend himself," he said.
"They are taking advantage of the situation and trying to pick on MAS (Malaysia Airlines), he said.
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari said his company does not condone the 27 year-old pilot's behaviour.
International airlines rules strictly forbid passengers entering plane cockpits.
"We will not compromise with actions that will affect the integrity of an aircraft," he said.
Meanwhile Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak said people in his predominantly Muslim country must have patience and pray as the search for the plane drags on.
He said Muslim were taught that every event was determined by God, and to accept the fate as Allah's will.
"We must face this great challenge from Allah calmly and we must try our best, with all the resources and strength that we have. This is what the government is doing," he said.
- Sydney Morning Herald