Friday, January 28, 2011

Be Open on Mandela, say PR gurus: HWB leads media on advice

(This is an edited extract of a news item that moved on the SAPA news wire today, January 27, 2011)

Authorities should be completely open with the media on Nelson Mandela's hospitalisation and provide regular updates, public relations experts said on Thursday.

"They are opening themselves up to rampant speculation by not keeping the press informed," said Evelyn Holtzhausen, chief executive of Cape Town-based HWB Communications.

"The first rule of public relations is to keep the press informed."

He was speaking as scores of journalists continued to camp outside Johannesburg's Milpark Hospital, where Mandela was admitted on Wednesday for what the Nelson Mandela Foundation said -- in a two-sentence statement -- were "routine tests".

Since then there has been a string of visitors to the former president, and a brief statement from the African National Congress giving no further information of substance.

Holtzhausen said that from a PR perspective, Mandela was an internationally-renowned statesman, and there was an obligation on his minders to keep the people of South Africa and the rest of the world aware of what was happening to him.

The media ought to respect his need for privacy, but at the same time he was a very public figure.

"They should be issuing bulletins regularly," he said.

Holtzhausen, himself a former journalist, said that from what he had seen, the media had certainly been respectful, and had not indulged in speculation.

He said he spoke on Wednesday to the editor of a large-circulation South African newspaper, who had said they was aware of the need to handle the issue very sensitively.

"There is responsibility [on the side of the media], but it's also up to the gatekeepers of Mr Mandela to show recognition of the critical role the media play," Holtzhausen said.

Holtzhausen said the number of high-profile visitors and family members who have been to see Mandela in hospital gave rise to the suspicion that his stay involved more than just "routine tests".

Source : Sapa /dbm/th