Sunday, March 2, 2014

IS NAVY LOSING THE MEDIA BATTLE?

IS NAVY LOSING THE MEDIA BATTLE?
Ramblings of a Retired Mind
By
VIKRAM KARVE

There are many sides to a story.

For example, take the recent navy submarine mishap, preceded by a number of accidents/incidents in the navy during the trauma-filled recent past, which culminated in the resignation of the navy chief Admiral DK Joshi on moral grounds.

There are many versions of the submarine mishap story, mostly speculative, doing the rounds of the mainstream media (Print and TV), on the social media (Twitter and Facebook) and on the internet.

But the most important version of the story is missing.

The navy version – the credible version – is not available anywhere.

The main protagonist, the navy, is not interacting with the media, print, electronic or social, and the navy is not telling its side of the story.

All sorts of news reports and conjectures are being bandied about in the media and there is no response from the navy. 

There was a similar situation during the so-called Wife Swapping Scandals in the Navy last year when Navy Public Relations (PR) remained conspicuous by its silence resulting in people believing whatever scuttlebutt was projected by the media.

This “Media Shyness” is not helping the navy’s image.

It is baffling as to why Navy Public Relations Officer (PRO) is reluctant to appear before the media to tell the navy’s side of the story, discuss the navy’s point of view and present the true facts pertaining to the mishap before the public.

Due to the woeful lack of navy public relations effort, people are hearing various speculative and opinionated versions of the story.

In the absence of a credible version from the navy, people have no choice but to start believing the scuttlebutt that is presented to them.

Total silence on the part of the navy is creating a widening information gap.

Such information gaps create a scope for confusion, speculation, rumours and wild “kite flying” by all and sundry which can damage the reputation of the navy.

During this entire hullabaloo, the Navy Public Relations (PR) remains conspicuous by its silence.

Since the Navy does not tell its side of the story, in the absence of authentic information, people start believing whatever is reported in the media which is mostly hearsay, gossip, unfounded information and unconfirmed reports.

Most of the media reports are quite unfavorable to the navy and this is adversely affecting the image of the navy.

Perception matters.

It is high time that Navy PR stops running away from the media and takes positive steps to restore the good reputation of the navy in the eyes of all stakeholders.

As far as the current mishaps are concerned, in order to repair the damage done to the good image of the navy by such controversies, there is an urgent need for Navy PROs to interact with the media, appear on TV and, if necessary, take part in debates and discussions and effectively communicate the authentic facts in a credible manner.

We see only retired officers and “expert commentators” appearing on TV debates giving their opinionated views based on half-baked information.

Many commentators seem highly biased and, at times, they tend to run down and vilify the navy.

But the Navy PRO is conspicuous by his absence and there is no one to rebut the fallacious and disparaging remarks made sometimes by various participants during TV discussions.

The saying “Silence is Golden” does not apply to Public Relations (PR).

In Public Relations – SILENCE IS NOT GOLDEN

The Navy must tell its side of the story truthfully and it must do this with promptness and accuracy.

Navy PR must engage with the media in order to ensure that the media reports such news in a balanced, fair, credible and transparent manner after hearing all sides of the story.

There is an urgent need for Navy PR to be more visible and articulate.

Navy Public Relations Officers (PRO) must appear on TV Channels promptly without delay the moment any news pertaining to the navy is reported and the PRO must give the Navy version of the incident.

This will help the truth to be established and obviate speculation, gossip, scuttlebutt and rumours.

There is a vital need for Navy PR to optimally utilize the Social Media, especially Twitter, which is highly effective in disseminating news almost instantaneously.

Navy PROs must make their presence actively felt on Twitter.

Alertness in monitoring news of interest and prompt response on Twitter is a highly effective public relations strategy.

This will help project the navy point of view effectively.

In today’s technology driven world, it does not pay dividends for an organization to be media-shy.

Being media-shy, and not telling the navy’s version of events, is damaging the reputation and image of the Navy, as people believe other versions which may be sensationalized, exaggerated, unflattering, misleading, or even untrue.

Today, the media is alert and quick to report any news.

There is a rat race in the media to be the first in reporting sensational “Breaking News”.

In addition to the print and electronic media, social media like Twitter and Facebook, owing to instantaneous speed and tremendous reach, has a huge power to affect your reputation in a split second with devastating effect.

In these modern circumstances, whenever there is negative, scandalous or sensational media coverage, orthodox PR strategies like “being in Denial Mode” or “burying your head in the sand like an ostrich” or “mouthing inane platitudes” may be counterproductive and may result in tarnishing reputation of the navy.

As I have said earlier, there is an imperative need for Navy PR to effectively engage the media and be speedy, visible and articulate.

The media has made rapid strides incorporating the latest in information technology, but Navy PR seems to be rooted in the distant past.

In fact, Navy PR seems to have become defunct.

Navy PR must ensure that, in addition to the PRO, senior naval officers are visible in the media and articulate the navy’s point of view.

We hope that the Navy PR rejuvenates itself to achieve Synergistic Public Relations.

Proactive Navy PR will help uphold the good image of the Navy.

Responsive Public Relations are imperative to enhance the image, morale, reputation and prestige of the Navy.

There is an urgent need to improve media management by the navy, and other defence services, army and air force too.

In conclusion, here is quote, maybe apocryphal, made by the late General K Sundarji, a distinguished former Army Chief, at a media seminar at Delhi:

“When commanders fail to respond to the media, the field is left open to the critics of the armed forces, then speculation and misleading stories abound”

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
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