Access to information must be consistent in crisis

Since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig and subsequent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, BP has been caught in a media and political firestorm about the effect it will have on the environment.

Since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig and subsequent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, BP has been caught in a media and political firestorm about the effect it will have on the environment. While the company has done well to provide the media and public with information on how it is responding to the leak, there has been one area where its level of disclosure has been lacking: providing visuals of the leak and its impact on the surrounding areas.

Media outlets expressed frustration in the days and weeks following the incident because they had no way of showing the public the leak, as BP was in the unique position of owning and controlling the images. And it took BP nearly three weeks to finally release images to the media of the oil spill—far too long in a world where media and consumers' appetite for information is insatiable.

This week, again following pressure from Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), BP agreed to provide a live feed of the oil spill on the website of the Committee on Energy Independence and Global warming. One could say it was a step in the right direction concerning transparency. However, this news was overshadowed by reports BP was restricting media from filming areas of the Louisiana coastline where there was evidence of oil washing up on the shore.

This completely undermines any other attempts by BP to be forthcoming with information about the incident. Any hint of controlling—or attempting to control—the media can only backfire, especially during a time when there is such a mistrust of corporations. Certainly there is always a desire to control the message during a crisis, but in an environment that is so hypercritical, providing the media and public with consistent access to information is the strategy that will pay off in the long run.

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