Flight 370: 'Insensitive' texts defended

Danica Weeks found out her husband Paul was dead via text message.
Danica Weeks found out her husband Paul was dead via text message.
A crisis management expert has defended Malaysia Airlines' decision to send news about missing flight MH370 to relatives of crew and passengers via text message, saying it had no other option.

The company's handling of the incident will be in the spotlight at a crisis and reputation management seminar at Massey University in Wellington next week.

School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing senior lecturer Dr Chris Galloway will be at the course to speak about reputational damage and how to handle crises in the wake of MH370 and the Fonterra botulism scandal.

Dr Galloway said today he was "empathetic" to the airline, whose biggest mistake was choosing to focus on what it "didn't know".

"Had I been advising them I would have suggested that the focus should have been on what efforts were going on to locate the plane ... rather than stressing all the unknowns which has helped to create confusion and doubt in people's minds, and has lead to media indulging in what has been ... at times harmful speculation."

Authorities had felt under pressure to "feed the beast" and produce information, he said.

"There's a temptation to try to say something even when there is not much to say."

Dr Galloway defended the carrier's decision to inform families their loved ones hadn't survived in a text message.

"[Malaysia Airlines] no doubt made the calculation that the one and only means available to them for reaching everybody ... quickly was to send a text. So even though that might have seemed insensitive, how else could they have done it?"

Time restrictions would have prevented contacting more than the 1000 relatives by phone before speculation mounted, he said.

Crises as unprecedented as a vanishing jet couldn't be planned for in entirety, but there were things that could be done to ease the situation.

One of these was preparing an offline information "dark site" that could be made live as soon as a crisis broke - something Malaysia Airlines did right.

"Part of the URL for [Malaysia Airlines'] information website had the words 'dark site' in it."

Australian research showed a quarter of all organisations that failed to manage a crisis successfully "disappeared" within 12 months, Dr Galloway said.

The The Massey University Professional Development Course, Reputation Management and Crisis will be held at Massey University's Wellington campus next Friday, April 11.

- Cassandra Mason of APNZ

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