Tag Archives: China

MIFF Off!!

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There’s an old saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Although China and anti-Kadeer supporters may argue otherwise.

Sunday saw the final day of the Melbourne International Film Festival and what a festival it was. In the lead up to MIFF, Melbourne was buzzing with news that Quentin Tarantino was coming to town. Who would’ve thought a 62 year old Uyghur grandmother would steal his limelight? And do so convincingly.

The 10 Conditions of Love is a 55 minute documentary by Australian director Jeff Daniels about an extraordinary woman, Rebiya Kadeer. It follows her journey as she campaigns for the rights of the Uyghur people who live in Xinjiang. This previously autonomous region known as East Turkistan by the Uyghur people, was annexed by China in 1949 but unfortunately hasn’t received as much attention as Tibet. Until now.

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A week before MIFF, very few people in Australia had heard of Rebiya Kadeer. With hundreds of films screening including Lars von Tries’ controversial Antichrist and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds… it should have largely gone unnoticed.

But then China stepped in.

The Chinese consulate contacted festival director Richard Moore, after the festival’s program was published in The Age, insisting the documentary The 10 Conditions of Love be withdrawn. The consular official, Ms Chen asked Mr Moore to justify his decision to include the film and chastised him for inviting Ms Kadeer to be a guest of the festival. Her request to remove the film from the program was refused.

“When I told them that I did not have to justify the film’s inclusion, they became increasingly insistent and proceeded to list her (Ms Kadeer’s) crimes,” Richard Moore told The Age.

Richard Moore also said how he and his staff had been bombarded with abusive emails and threats after he did not pander to Chinese demands. He continues, “The language has been vile, It is obviously a concerted campaign to get us because we’ve refused to comply with the Chinese government’s demands.”

And it didn’t stop there. As if we were in an episode of Spooks, the MIFF website was hijacked and flooded with pro-Chinese slogans, anti-Kadeer sentiment and Chinese Chinese flags blocking bookings. The following week the website was attacked again with all sessions being listed as SOLD OUT. These attacks were found to originate from Chinese portals and IP addresses. Also emails were circulated about how to sabotage the MIFF website. Six Chinese films were pulled from the festival program in protest.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was even pulled into the debate with China threatening to end Melbourne’s 29-year sister-city relationship with the city of Tianjin. This could have major economic implications for Victoria however Cr Doyle rejected China’s demands.

And what has been the results of this bullying and demands for censorship?

1. MIFF officials announced at the screening that the past weeks has garnered more international press for the festival than its last 58 years combined.

2. The film’s sessions were both sold out. In fact the 2nd session was so popular, it had to be moved to the Melbourne Town Hall where 1500 people packed in to see the film and the queue extended beyond two city blocks.

3. Channel 7 and Channel 9 sent news crews to the last screenings which further publicised the film on domestic news.

4. Cinema Nova has secured rights to continue to screen the film in Melbourne.

5. It’s sparked interest globally from other film festivals wanting to screen the film.

6. Despite efforts to sabotage the festival, this year’s box office and attendance records have been broken with attendance up to 190,000 according to Innovation Minister Gavin Jennings.

Sometimes it’s better to keep mum then have a public slinging match. From a communications point of view, what can we learn from this?

Don’t get too aggressive, heavy-handed tactics don’t work.

Bullying can’t win you any supporters.

Don’t think that if you refuse to respond, the story will go away. If given the opportunity to address your opponent on film, “no comment” sometimes speaks volumes. Chinese officials declined to participate in the film.

Trying to censor the public, the arts or a cultural festival only adds fuel to the fire.

Don’t try to manipulate the message illegally or falsely. Hacking websites, posting comments under fabricated aliases or lying only ruins your credibility.

Don’t expect coverage of governments and organisations to always be favourable.

Speak to the media. Get your message out there too.

Know your audience. What works in China won’t necessarily work in another country with different values, traditions and culture.

Choose your battles wisely.

Be cooperative.

Be willing to compromise.

Also remember to ask nicely. Being hostile from the start will not help you achieve your outcome.

And what do the c-worders think of China’s bullying tactics? We’re glad it backfired on them. In the words of the beautiful Divine … “you think you’re a man, but you’re only a boy” 😛 OK it was a stretch to link the most awesome-ness of awesome Divine to the censorship friendly Chinese. Polar opposite, in fact. But if we want to dance around the office on Friday afternoon to Divine, well… we can.

Celebrate your weekend folks,

the c word

Sorry seems to be the hardest word…

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Sorry

The controversy surrounding The Chaser this week has been the focus of much discussion on the radio airwaves, TV screens, online and even at the c word.

We watched as the twitterverse discussed the merits and demerits of the skit in question and also watched the various apologies and responses. Although we’ve seen the skit, we don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said already (fence sitter hehehe).

However it leads us to think about another c word: crisis. And how best to handle yourself and your brand in a crisis. We think The Chaser’s response is a perfect example of what NOT to do in a crisis particularly when apologising. If we comb through their apology (and quite frankly it takes a little combing to get there) we are first presented with a justification. Have a look for yourself… btw this apology was issued shortly before noon by the show’s producer Julian Morrow and Director of ABC TV Kim Dalton:

“The Chaser’s War on Everything is a satirical program aimed at provoking debate and providing social commentary on topical issues, current affairs and public life in general. The sketch in last night’s show called ‘Making A Realistic Wish Foundation” was a satirical sketch and black comedy.

“The ABC and The Chaser did not intend to hurt those who have been affected by the terminal illness of a child. We acknowledge the distress this segment has caused and we apologise to anyone we have upset. As a result, ABC TV will edit the segment out of tonight’s repeat screening on ABC2 and online.”

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In order for an apology to be truly apologetic and not simply a token gesture it really must start with “we are sorry” or words to that affect. If you look closely at the Chaser’s apology they start off by talking about their show and building a case for the merits of what they have done and then only in the second paragraph do they launch into an apology. ABC and the Chaser took the “I’m sorry but…” approach which never really sounds like a sincere apology, does it?

Another problem was they they took far too long to issue this statement. With breakfast radio & morning radio in a frenzy, the team & ABC seemed to ignore attempts for interviews and responses. What they should have done, is issue an apology first thing in the morning to be pro-active, be part of the debate and and to prevent the snowball from escalating. Silence only fuels speculation and further frenzy.

Any public relations student or practitioner can tell you about the 2 polar examples used to demonstrate crisis management. See Wikipedia summaries below:

Tylennol: Example of successful crisis management

In the fall of 1982, a murderer added 65 milligrams of cyanide to some Tylenol capsules on store shelves, killing seven people, including three in one family. Johnson & Johnson recalled and destroyed 31 million capsules at a cost of $100 million. The affable CEO, James Burke, appeared in television ads and at news conferences informing consumers of the company’s actions. Tamper-resistant packaging was rapidly introduced, and Tylenol sales swiftly bounced back to near pre-crisis levels. Johnson & Johnson was again struck by a similar crisis in 1986 when a New York woman died on Feb. 8 after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. Johnson & Johnson was ready. Responding swiftly and smoothly to the new crisis, it immediately and indefinitely canceled all television commercials for Tylenol, established a toll-free telephone hot-line to answer consumer questions and offered refunds or exchanges to customers who had purchased Tylenol capsules. At week’s end, when another bottle of tainted Tylenol was discovered in a store, it took only a matter of minutes for the manufacturer to issue a nationwide warning that people should not use the medication in its capsule form.

Exxon: Example of not-so-good crisis management

On March 24, 1989, a tanker belonging to the Exxon Corporation ran aground in the Prince William Sound in Alaska. The Exxon Valdez spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Valdez, killing thousands of fish, fowl, and sea otters. Hundreds of miles of coastline were polluted and salmon spawning runs disrupted; numerous fishermen, especially Native Americans, lost their livelihoods. Exxon, by contrast, did not react quickly in terms of dealing with the media and the public; the CEO, Lawrence Rawl, did not become an active part of the public relations effort and actually shunned public involvement; the company had neither a communication plan nor a communication team in place to handle the event—in fact, the company did not appoint a public relations manager to its management team until 1993, 4 years after the incident; Exxon established its media center in Valdez, a location too small and too remote to handle the onslaught of media attention; and the company acted defensively in its response to its publics, even laying blame, at times, on other groups such as the Coast Guard. These responses also happened within days of the incident

Please note we’re not suggesting that the Exxon oil spill is by any means in the same league as the Chaser incident, but it merely demonstrates a lack of strategy being in place for dealing with issues that arise.

So what can you do to better handle bad publicity and crisis?

Be prepared

Respond quickly

Break a bad story first so you can maintain some control over it

Keep media & key stakeholders informed

If you’re in the wrong, own up to it & apologise

Make amends & explain how you are planning to improve

Speak with one voice, make sure other employees are not sending mixed messages

After the story settles, try to follow up after a period of time, with a positive PR story

Just briefly before we speed off to enjoy the long weekend here in Melbourne … another C word in the news has been China and its dealing with the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Twenty years on it still saddens me to no end. Our thoughts are with Tiananmen mothers who struggle to have their children’s death recognised & also those still living in exile or in prison for the efforts to topple corruption. Its a sad day indeed when many Chinese don’t even know about this terrible moment in their country’s history.

I won’t leave you on a somber note though. Instead a lesson on how to say your sorry… take it away Elton.

Happy long weekend,
the c word

Updated 10.30pm 05/06/09

Apparently “sorry” isn’t so hard to say when your TV show gets pulled off the air for 2 weeks. The Chaser were quick to respond this time around with another apology