How the media will report the MH370 incident

When a plane goes missing, it is a terrible experience for the families and loved ones of the victims. The uncertainty, the waiting and the frustration of not knowing can be heart rendering. The best we all can do is send our thoughts and prayers for the victims and their loved ones and, in Unspun‘s case, perhaps help people to understand how the media is likely to treat crisis-like situations like this and better prepare them for what they are about to read or see in the media.

Any crisis-like situation like MH370 goes through four stages. Stage 1 is the “Breaking News” stage. Almost all of the information is focussed on “what happened”. In this case the facts are that MH370 disappeared with no telltale signs such as a radio call or signal. This is strange, but speculation would not help. Facts are the only currency in crisis-like situations.Unspun thinks Malaysian Airlines’s CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya has handled the matter relatively well, with the factual delivery of his core statement at a press conference earlier today.

We have been seeing the characteristics of this stage in the media coverage but it has already morphed into Stage 2, which is focused on the “drama” of the victims or their loved ones’ responses, as well as the response of the perpetrator/responsible organization. This is a crucial make-or-break stage for Malaysian Airlines as the spotlight will turn on how they are responding to the situation, and the possible causes of the incident.

Malaysia Airlines will need to constantly update the media and the families of the victims as they will, rightly or not, be judged by how responsive and open they are with sharing information. This is a difficult task if the search and rescue teams do not find the wreckage of the plane soon but it is something that Malaysia Airlines would have to handle with great delicacy.

If Ahmad and his team handle things well they will be able to avoid Stage Three of a crisis: The Finger Pointing Stage. At this stage the media tries to focus on the “Why” of the incident and experts will be trotted out to speculate on who should have done what. Malaysian Airlines may not have the answers as airline incidents like crashes take a very long time to investigate, gather evidence, perform the forensics and come to any conclusions. But this would not stop the media, pundits and the general public from trying to place blame on someone.

After some time the incident will go into Stage 4, which is the Resolution or Fallout stage. The publicity is tuned down a notch as the focus shifts to either funeral services, government inquiries or special hearings. And even if  Malaysian Airlines conducts a successful closure strategy to the incident, the facts and myths of the matter live on in Google and social media, ready to pounce back with a vengeance if the airlines makes any mistakes.

It is a difficult situation and one can only hope that Malaysian Airlines has trained itself well in Crisis Management so that it will be able to provide crucial information and support for the victims’ families and loved ones throughout the incident and maintain enough control of the situation to continue to do so.

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