Ability to act swiftly, transparently, and with confidence and a level of preparedness are essential to providing effective responses to crises situations. The maturity to learn from experience that allows for an active engagement with communities earns governments the trust of its people while coping with risk management, according to Brad Staples, President of APCO International, Chair of Global Development.

Staples cited the communication approaches of governments to Hurricane Katrina in the US (2005) and more recently to the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan (2011) as ineffectual and uncoordinated. On the other hand, Singapore’s response to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2000 demonstrated best practices in crisis communication.

Elaborating on this point, he added: “Within two days of the SARS outbreak, the Singaporean Prime Minister took responsibility for the epidemic and set up a national task force. In addition to actively involving the media, public education campaigns across schools and communities were launched in full force. The Ministry of Health declared the situation as a national crisis and offered continuous updates through holding daily press conferences. A dedicated SARS website and TV station were set up. Periodic polls were conducted on people’s satisfaction that indicated 93 per cent satisfaction to the way the government managed the crisis.”

Panellists in discussion at the Forum

Staples’ comments came during a panel discussion titled ‘Management of Risks and Crises in Governmental Media Communications’ on the first day of Government Communication Forum 2012. Dr. Nabil Al Khatib, Executive News Director at Al Arabiya, jointly headlined the discussion. Attended by leading government officials and top-tier regional and global media thought leaders, GCF 2012 runs until 27th February at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).

In his comments, Dr. Khatib said: “There is a need to redefine the role of public relations agencies (PR) in the Middle East. This is important if we are to avoid any tendency to ‘blackout’ or filter information that is communicated. Instead of talking about the crisis on hand and a possible solution, the audience is kept in the dark. Client in the media is the audience and the different departments of PR need to help them, not mislead.”

“The information ‘blackouts’ in the region are caused when the PR agency does not allow the real extent of the crisis to reach the public, thus keeping them unaware of the reality on ground. Media outlets rely on information from PR agencies. If the agency withholds information from the media and public, it can cause long-term issues for the government entity. It is, therefore, very important for the government to communicate the right kind of information and not just placate the client. ”

Brad Staples serves on APCO Worldwide’s executive committee. Formerly, the CEO for APCO’s Europe region and subsequently for EMEA operations, he led the company’s expansion throughout EMEA and helped develop client service teams across these geographies. Prior to joining APCO, Staples worked at a European affairs consultancy in London and Brussels.

The former Executive Editor at Al Arabiya News Channel, Dr. Al Khatib has extensive experience in news reporting in the region. In addition to his earlier role as Co-Founder and Director of the Birzeit University Media Institute, he has also served as Chairman of the Department of Mass Communications and as Director of the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) in Jerusalem.

The second day of the Government Communication Forum will host sessions on:

-       Case Study of the Governmental Awareness Campaigns in the US and UK

-       Role of Visual Media in Supporting Government Institutions’ Vision of Social Development

-       Turkey and Malaysia’s Experience in Developing the Government Media Sector, and

-       The Role of Caricatures in Correcting Misconceptions and Raising Levels of Awareness.

 

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