Adedayo Ojo

Media-handling during a maritime crisis: an African perspective

Piracy remains an embarrasing menace plaguing African waterways despite many efforts to stem the tide. / By Adedayo Ojo

Piracy remains an embarrassing menace plaguing the African waterways and, despite the numerous interventions and strategies to stem the tide, the gaps exist.
While interventions have yielded a notable decline generally in sea piracy, the Gulf of Guinea continues to face rising attacks.

This challenge costs the regional economies up to $1.25 billion annually, while expenses around rerouting ships to less pirate-prone waters gulps up to $3 billion. Ransoms paid to Somali pirates alone totalled a staggering $238 million in 2010 – the worst year for piracy on record, according to the International Chamber of Commerce.

Business activity around the waterways and ports is prone to a crisis; from managing frosty relationships with government agencies, such as Customs and Port Authorities, to managing infrastructure or operations breakdowns, things can swerve. Whether battling for license renewals or dealing with the flash-points of stakeholder and worker protests, operating in the African context requires meticulous media-handling.

West Africa’s media environment is replete with financial constraints occasioned by the socio-economic challenges of the region. Many media practitioners are consequently caught up in the web of ‘seeking bread for survival’ and distracted from the core mandate of proper investigation and painstaking reporting. This milieu offers organisations an opportunity to get their content published almost as written. On the flip side, it presents organisations with the challenges of misinformation and shallow unbalanced news reportage.

The digital media in Africa can be uniquely challenging. Economically, conditions have led to some experienced journalists being laid off by popular media outlets, choosing to venture into online publishing and blogging instead. These online platforms, usually managed by fewer hands with weaker quality control and editorial structure, tend to publish poorly written press releases with little to no copy-editing.

Let’s get some practical insights. In the case of an accident, the average African journalist has a challenge gaining direct access to the scene(s), as very few media houses mobilize journalists to accident scenes for first-hand investigation and reporting. This is in contrast with what happens in Europe and USA where even helicopters are provided for the first-hand assessment of an accident scene. Often the African journalist covering an accident relies on incomplete eyewitness accounts.

Citizen journalism also alters professional news-gathering practice. Armed with a mobile device and the internet, anybody can take pictures and publish half-truths about an accident without getting, let alone checking, the facts with the relevant authorities.

The surge of digital media and the resultant citizen journalism have indeed further complicated the African media challenge, compelling PR experts to gatekeep social media channels, blogs, and news sites, more extensively. 

The highlighted issues notwithstanding do not foreclose the existence of some thoroughbred and reputable media professionals and organizations in Africa.    

In our experience at Caritas, winning strategies that have been remarkable in managing media during crisis include: building robust relationships with media across cadre and beats; providing well researched and ready-for-publication content to in-house style; gatekeeping; scenario planning; setting up a crisis communications team; identifying spokespeople and training them – whilst working closely with clients to ensure timely and strategic information flow.  

Every focused organisation must have a plan to assure professional media management and minimal impact to reputation capital and goodwill during crises.

The price of negligence far outweighs the cost of reputation investment.

 

Adedayo Ojo is founder & CEO of the Caritas Group, an Africa-focused reputation management and marketing communication solutions provider.

Strengthening our West African response capabilities, Caritas PR, based in Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana has a strong team working for several leading oil companies and is experienced in crisis communications and managing offshore incidents.

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