Transparency vs Cover-up – a Tale of Two Crises

Two major media crises have erupted over the past month, with very different approaches taken by the organisations involved.  One central theme that comes through however, is the need for transparency when things go wrong, and that means openness with the media – otherwise things get much worse in the end.   Much has been written about the Post Office/Fujitsu scandal, where an utter lack of transparency was at the root of the issue.  The Post Office denied there was a problem, told many of the sub-postmasters caught up in it that ‘they were the only ones who had an issue with the Horizon IT system’ and threatened any media organisation that wanted to dig deeper into the story. Both organisations have avoided giving media interviews where possible.   The longer this sort of thing goes on, the more painful the blow-up when the truth finally hits the headlines.

On the other side of the Atlantic Boeing has potentially an even bigger problem, in that many human lives are at risk if its customers fly unsafe planes.  After a series of high-profile problems with its Max jets, most recently with the blowout of a ‘plug door’ mid-flight, the company has been accused of replacing its traditional engineering-focused culture with a much more commercially-driven approach, which critics say increases the likelihood of corners being cut.  The boss, Dave Calhoun, is right in the firing line as he has had senior management positions there for many years, so had a central role in shaping that culture.  Many believe he cannot survive in the role, but he has at least been much more open in admitting the problems and committing to making the necessary changes.  In an emotional address to his workforce, made public by Boeing, he accepted blame for what had happened on the company’s behalf, and committed to changing things.  He agreed to be interviewed by CNBC where he was lucky enough to be given a soft ride, failing to be challenged on the central question of whether the company had continued to put profits before safety.  I would imagine his PR advisers told him he would have had a much tougher time had he appeared on one of the main US consumer news outlets.  Even so, his candour has been appreciated by legislators, and he may even save his job.

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