Prita and Omni: an alternative view?

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“I definitely won’t be supporting Prita,” said the Corporate Communications officer of a major bank vehemently.

Unspun had bumped into her when meeting with clients and, by way of small chat, asked if she was supporting Prita Mulyasari, the housewife who was jailed for three weeks because she had been charged under the Electronic Information and Transaction Law. She was indicted after she complained about the service at Omni International Hospital.

Unspun was taken aback. Since the story broke, Prita had been elevated into a cause celebre against an asinine law and an equally asinine legal system where the punishment certainly did not fit the crime. I asked her why she felt so strongly against supporting Prita.

“Well,” she said. “People like her have to learn that you still have to be responsible for what you write, even if its on the Internet.”

“We receive dozens of complaints like that everyday, and most of the complaints are baseless. Yet they find their way into mailing lists and before you know it the mainstream media picks up on what they said,” she added.

“So I think Omni was right to take action against her. I hope they sue her for a lot of money to deter people like her,” she spat. Later, when the venom had somewhat subsided, he admitted that jailing Prita for complaining was an excessively harsh measure, but the principle of holding her legally accountable for what she wrote still applied.

She has a point. Libel is still libel, even if it is on the internet and people should take responsibility for what they write.Indonesia’s libel laws are a mess as it does not treat libel as a tort but as a crime. The existence of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law, meant to stop unscrupulous people from peddling smut with impunity, only serves to make the issue even a bigger mess.

But even if there was clarity in the law it is a legitimate question to ask whether the new media makes it futile for companies to try to protect their reputation by taking onliners to court. Here’s the reasoning why it may not be a god idea.

In the old days there was an admonishment to any would-be plaintiff against trying to sue newspapers. They were told that “you do not pick a fight anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” The lesson there is that even if you win the case in the court of law the publisher or journalists would, because they control the channels of mass communications, win the image war.

Fast forward to today, the age of Web 2.0 and Social Media where everyone is virtually a publisher. Everyone, through the seemingly limitless capacity of the Net to publish and to scale issues, all of a sudden are sitting on their own barrels of (virtual) ink.

This begs the question of whether any business, especially if they are large and therefore perceived as a social Goliath, should pick a fight with any of the Net’s publishers – the email writer, the mailist commentator, the blogger, the Twitterer.

From what has happened in the Prita case the answer is an unequivocal no. Even if Omni International Hospital wins the legal battle, it has already lost its reputation and is not likely to regain it within a short time.

What then are companies to do. Unspun‘s friend’s complaint is valid. As a large company they get dozens of complaints per day, many of them, in closer investigation, proving baseless. Do they ignore these complaints that pop up like mushrooms after rain on the Net? Will ignoring them encourage or discourage further complaints? And if they do try to answer to these complaints, wouldn’t that very action embolden the complainers and other who have yet to complain?

Well, yes and no. We live in an age where everyone is virtually a publisher. And since you don’t pick fights with publishers the only alternative left is to engage them.Talk to them, be someone infulential in their “neighboorhod”, be good listeners and act on their cimplaints, either to get to the bottom of their grouses or to take action to remedy a wrong. If companies can do these then it has a very good chance of becoming a leader in the Web 2.0 world.

Companies who balk at the time and effort that has to be wasted to listen and to talk to customers this wayjust don’t get it that their cheese is being moved. Change is in the air. Embrace it or go the way of the dinosaur.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Brett says:

    This from the corporate communications manager from a major bank? Wow! What a crap bank they must be. I hope I am not their customer! Personally, I think the whole did she/didn’t she defamation question just sad. Any company that can’t deal with angry customers without resorting to SUING THEM needs to take a good hard look at itself. Where is the compassion? Where is the PR department?!

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  2. Yessy says:

    Same as above, I actually has the feeling that I know the bank in question and am more than happy to say that I am no longer a client of their robotic and mechanical “services.”

    I would like, however, to see what the person in question would say if the same thing happened to her. Or her child. Actually, I would hope that the same thing *would* happen to her loved ones. Then she can make such comment. Otherwise, I would tell her to take that major corporate schtick out of her sitting end and swallow it live.

    While complaints to major companies are often baseless, there are more than enough complaints against “institutions” that are more than valid; i.e. those that are minutely detailed such as Prita’s letter. I have worked in a corporation and have received baseless complaints that can always be rebutted easily as long as one is completely aware of one’s company policies et al. I have also received complaints that required more than simple tact to resolve.

    Needless to say, as long as your company is a service-based one, they should ALWAYS have the customer’s best interest in mind, *and* employ a large amount of compassion, empathy and sympathy. The instant one of the three is missing, you may as well change the directive of your company into one that hurts/dominate over clients instead of aiding/accommodate their needs.

    As far as the “she should be responsible of what she write, even in an e-mail,” as far as anyone is concerned, she was. She was responsible enough to share her MINUTELY DETAILED experience that went far beyond the limitations of an imaginary distress with the world to prevent the same thing to happen to others. I would write the exact same thing should – God forbid – such thing happen to me. Actually, I would sue the hospital to high heavens and THEN write the letter, AND publish it on a larger-scale media. Jail me? Go ahead and try. I know my rights.

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  3. Daus says:

    You can check a rather similar expression in my blog post (in Indonesia): http://daus.trala.la/2009/05/kasus-prita-dan-uu-ite/

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