MH370 and how not to handle the media

YEARS from now media consultants will still be quoting the curious case of flight MH370 when they talk about how not to handle the media during a crisis.

It is hard to comprehend, in 2014, how a government and an aviation company could have got it so badly wrong, for so long. Yet that is precisely what Malaysia and Malaysian Airlines managed to do.

Yes it was a crisis, but it could have - and should have - been managed so much better.

In today's world of 24/7 news channels and Twitter there are so many ground rules when it comes to handling the media and delivering a coherent, strategic message. And on every single occasion, the Malaysians managed to get it completely wrong.

It's hard to even know where to begin.

Dragging a grieving mother out of a news conference that was being carried live on every major TV news network across the globe was about the worst of their failures. Those images flashed around the world in seconds, the woman's shrieks echoing at the top of every news bulletin from London to Los Angeles.

It's hard to believe that they felt this was, in any way, appropriate or acceptable.

Then there were the news conferences where they had multiple spokespeople, each of whom, invariably, had very little to tell the world. And they did it all in several languages.

The disappearance of flight MH370 was a disaster that would have challenged any government or airline in any country, but the Malaysians continually managed to compound the misery of the distraught relatives.

What should have happened is simple. From the first hour of its disappearance there should have been one single spokesperson leading the briefings. One voice, backed up with the very best information that they had.

If you don't know, don't speculate.

There should have been an acceptance, early on, that this was not going to end well. The mismanagement of information (and the media) gave the families misplaced hope.

All of the evidence from previous situations (Air France flight AF447 in June 2009) was that this flight had crashed with the loss of all the people on board.

But by refusing to state the obvious from the outset, the Malaysians allowed random theories to become news headlines and quasi-fact.

All of this could have been prevented with a single, simple media strategy. State what you know. Have one voice saying it. Make it all attributable.

And be honest. As difficult as it may be, tell the truth. If you don't, you will be made to look a liar, stupid and uncaring.

The Malaysians could have come out of this with the world's sympathy. A disaster can happen anywhere, at any time, in any country. Now they have the fall-out to deal with. And all because they had no message. And nobody strong enough to say it.

Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Media First are media and communications training specialists with nearly 30 years’ experience. To find out more about our highly practical Crisis Management training, contact us here. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog.

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