Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jonathan Wong MOE Scholar Pleads Guilty to Child Pornography Charges

A Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) scholar, studying at the University of York, has pleaded guilty to 17 charges of owning child pornography videos.  Identified by the main stream media as Jonathan Wong, the main stream media reported that Jonathan had been publicly caned while he was a student in Hwa Chong Instituition for peeping at students and staff.  Responding to media queries, the MOE issued the standard holding lines of (a) "we are looking into the matter"; and (b) "the Ministry will take the necessary disciplinary action against those scholars who have behaved inappropriately."

From a Crisis Communications perspective, the MOE could have better handled this unfolding crisis. 

Firstly, the MOE's holding line totally missed the key concern of stakeholders.  In this scenario, the fact that Jonathan Wong had been awarded a teaching scholarship despite having displayed questionable behaviour while in school is the key concern on the minds of stakeholders.  Stating that the Ministry would take actions against those who "behave inappropriately" is little consolation for concerned parents.

Secondly, it is my opinion that the MOE lost an excellent opportunity to build empathy with stakeholders by relying on the standard holding lines.  This is because the facts of the incident had presented themselves early enough in the crisis to present the MOE with an opportunity to put them on the same side as the stakeholder.  This the MOE could have done by simply acknowledging stakeholder concerns before going into the standard holding lines.

So what can PR Professionals learn from this?

In this scenario, it appears that the MOE did not conduct a proper stakeholder analysis before responding.  I postulate that if they had, they would have been able to identify stakeholders' key concerns and addressed it in the initial statement.  Hence, the performance of a stakeholder analysis is always a must.

Additionally, this scenario shows PR Professionals that not all crisis should be handled with the standard holding lines.  Sometimes, the opportunity presents itself and PR Professionals should seize these fleeting opportunities to empathise with stakeholders.  Doing this will put the stakeholder on your side which will then enable you to better handle the evolving crisis.

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