Analysis: PR players weigh in on Viswa Sadasivan's apology to comedian Sharul Channa

Days after news broke that Viswa Sadasivan, CEO of PR firm Strategic Moves, made an inappropriate remark to comedian Sharul Channa, Sadasivan has spoke up once again. This time he left a comment on women’s advocacy group AWARE's Facebook post, which urged Sadasivan to denounce the victim-blaming comments that Channa has received, after speaking out about the incident.  Sadasivan said in the comment on the post that some important points have been made by the organisation, and what AWARE is asking for is reasonable.

"I do urge that we desist from using extreme language in putting down views expressed by Channa, Kandade and others in this Facebook page. In fact, I urge that we all use this opportunity to hear each other without the need to suspend civility. Personally, this episode has been a learning experience," Sadasivan said. He added that he appreciated the AWARE stepped in "with sensitivity and temperance".  Although Sadasivan denounced the act of direct victim-blaming comments to Channa, the host of web series Inconvenient Questions did not elaborate on the incident itself.

According to Channa, in a prior conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, she confirmed that Sadasivan previously apologised for causing her discomfort, offense or hurt, even though it was unintended. He also said that he "did not intend the statement about the rose to bear any sexual reference or innuendo" but could "see how it could have come across as such". In response, Channa told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, that Sadasivan did not assume any responsibility in his apology, as he did not acknowledge that his remark made was an innuendo.

If you want to find out more about Channa, listen to her podcast with us here.

PR community speaks up

Channa's sentiment was also felt by other industry players in the PR field. Susanna Hughes, founder of Framework Communications, said Sadasivan's response seems "inadequate and appears to cover only his side of the interaction". She added that the apology focused on Sadasivan's intentions, and not on how the incident might have been seen through the eyes of the other person. She said:

The apology doesn’t demonstrate reflection on the other person’s experience, which is critical for communication of any message - but particularly a genuine apology.

Hughes also added that the situation, nonetheless, could still be salvaged using his own platform to discuss the issue. As a well-known person who has a platform that reaches many, Hughes said Sadasivan has the opportunity to use this situation to help the general public understand how "innocent" comments and remarks can have a damaging effect, and encourage others to reflect on how the language they use can perpetuate unwelcoming professional environments for women and others.

"Sadasivan can demonstrate that he is using this opportunity to become better educated on these issues, and how seemingly small interactions can be indicative of larger, systemic problems, while encouraging others to do the same," Hughes said. 

Similarly, another female PR practitioner and agency founder, who commented under the condition of anonymity, said Sadasivan's apology was "not only feeble, but also insincere". "It is very generous of Channa to offer Sadasivan a chance to apologise, which he should have used to take full responsibility for his remarks," the PR player said. 

She said: "At a time when more and more CEOs and public figures are expected to set high standards for the company they represent and rein in workplace sexism, Sadasivan's remarks and dismissive attitude towards Channa which is worrying in a society such as Singapore, which is vying to be at par with other global cities such as London, San Francisco or New York that are prioritising gender equality."

She added that the chance to apologise has now passed and Sadasivan has lost the opportunity to redeem himself. "The ball is no longer in his court," she added. Instead, she advised Channa to utilise her status as a key opinion leader to keep the conversation going to highlight misogyny in Singapore, be it socially or publicly through her circle of influence. "She surely has the charisma, the courage and the gumption to do it," she said. The last thing that should happen is that this incident becomes yet another archived article in the Singapore press, the PR player added.

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