While Malaysia Airlines earned praise for managing the crisis well in the initial few days, it has copped flak ever since, the latest being its decision to inform the grieving families about the flight over SMS.
Read also: Experts commend MAS’ comms strategy
Late last night, the airlines announced it can safely conclude the airline was lost in the southern Indian Ocean. It informed the families of the 239 passengers and crew members that the plane was assumed to have crashed with no survivors, according to The Straits Times.
The SMS read: “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived.”
“We must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean.”
Many on social media bashed the airline for being insensitive but some have also come to its rescue to clarify its decision. See the responses here:
— Erin Gloria Ryan (@morninggloria) March 24, 2014
First by SmS, second in English when most of the families are Chinese, shameful way by Malaysian authorities to treat families of #MH370
— Omar Havana (@OmarHavana) March 25, 2014
Others who defended it said:
Stop dissing the Malaysians, it was only one of mediums of communication and families subscribed to this sms service. #MH370
— The Sydney Noob (@thesydneynoob) March 24, 2014
— Anwar Ibrahim (@anwaribrahim) March 24, 2014
— Ery Rahim (@eryrahim) March 25, 2014
MAS also clarified its decision in a statement to the press saying the SMS were sent only to supplement personal notifications and phone calls. MAS further explained that it had personally contacted and called the next of kin prior Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s announcement last night that satellite data showed the flight ended “somewhere in the Indian Ocean”, The MalayMail in a report said.
“SMSs were used only as an additional means of communicating with the families. Those families have been at the heart of every action the company has taken since the flight disappeared on 8th March and they will continue to be so,” it said in a statement today.
“It’s important not to confuse communications coming from the Malaysian government with that of Malaysian Airlines. Since the Malaysian government mobilised naval forces to search for the plane the crisis has been fronted by the government not the airline,” Jamie Morse, managing director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies Singapore, said.
One could argue government ownership in MAS but that is not the point as the government has managed the crisis since naval mobilisation.
Morse said: “A more appropriate analysis of crisis communications should now to turn to responses coming from the Malaysian government which, just as MAS had difficulty communicating through a lack of information during the first 48 hours of the crisis, has suffered due to a lack of information.”
The reason behind the information vacuum seems to be more due to international governments who have sought to protect the secrecy of their respective radar capabilities, according to Morse.
“The fact that so much information has been come via privately owned organisations backs this up. It is disappointing that nations in a region that is free of military conflict could not practice greater transparency concerning the information they had at hand for the greater good of locating the plane as soon as possible.”
Mylinh Cheung, managing director, Epic Public Relations felt while att the beginning, the communications was quite good from the airline, as the hunt for the missing plane entered week 2 it became harder to see through the noise to see how MAS has in reality continued the communications process with the families affected.
What is also telling, according to Cheung is that MAS did all they could for the families as what was released in the statement today: “Those families have been at the heart of every action the company has taken since the flight disappeared on 8th March and they will continue to be so”.
“This should definitely continue to be the guiding principle as MAS make arrangements to bring the families to the recovery area and continue to support them during the ongoing investigation,” she said.