Monday, April 2, 2012

Lessons from SMRT Crisis Communications from Saw Phaik Hwa – Yellow Journalism

David Boey of Senang Diri fame, posted an interesting article on the handling of crisis communications by SMRT's Saw Phaik Hwa. In his article, David had the opportunity to interview Ms Saw and asked her why she said “people can board the train, it is whether they choose to?”

Ms Saw clarified that the quote was made during a conversation with a journalist three years ago, and it was in response to the journalist's comment that trains were getting crowded and that she could not even board one at 9 am. Ms Saw explained that she had disagreed with the journalist's comment and said “'cannot board at 9am? How can that be? You can choose to board if you want to.” Ms Saw's rationale for this statement was that 9 am was after the office hour peak hours and the trains were thus not as crowded. Unfortunately, the published quote appeared as “people can board the train, it is whether they choose to” and the exact context of the quote was not reported.  The quote attributed to the CEO made it appear that this comment applied to peak hour trains.

The key lesson for PR Professional is this. Record all your interviews and ask for corrections if you have been misquoted. This is especially critical in a crisis situation where accurate reporting of the facts are paramount. Sometimes, in their desire to scoop a story, a reporter may take liberty with your comments and, unless challenged, the damage can be unsurmountable.

I often quote in my workshops a similar lesson that the late Michael Jackson had with the reporter Martin Bashir in 2003. That year, Bashir conducted a series of interviews with the pop singer which was viewed by over 52 million in the UK and the US. Unfortunately, Bashir doctored the recordings to paint Jackson in an unflattering light and emphasized the allegations of child molestation made against Jackson. Thankfully for Jackson, he had the foresight to record all his interviews with Bashir and the Jackson team released a rebuttal interview which showed Bashir contradicting his previous statements.  Needless to say Bashir credibility as a journalist was lost and he faded into obscurity.

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