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Media Scapegoating

A new practice of poor leadership

· Leadership

The news is a cultural artifact that can be made poorly or well. Journalists don’t make the news, they report news. As observers, commentators and chroniclers they choose the events and stories of public interest and import that they report on. Their choices, of course, give us their part of the world.

A journalist’s version is never the whole or final truth. But the purpose of journalism is not to present the reporter’s truth. As defined by the American Press Institute, the purpose of journalism is “to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.”

The press is not a big bad wolf

What journalists choose to report on can be good or bad, more or less artful, more or less reliable, more or less attention-grabbing, more or less interesting or entertaining. But professional journalists don’t make up or consciously distort what they report. They report on events or stories of public interest and import.

News is, in effect, a useful tool to empower those who seek to be informed about changing events, issues and characters at home and around the world. The distortion of the news is effected by those who are directly affected by it or who want to defend their vested interests, improve their political or market ratings or simply hide a mistake or worse.

It is well known that political leaders, like Donald Trump, Xi Ping, Recep Tayipp Erdogan, Ramzan Kadyrov, Nicolás Maduro, or Hassan Rouhani (what a lineup!), among others with authoritarian tendencies, use their “power of the pulpit” to regularly practice “reporter bashing”. They publicly intimidate journalists by referring to them in a contemptuous, insulting, defamatory or racist manner and treat them with outright hostility. But corporations also hinder independent reporting by killing news stories or using their market power to capture the media story in a way that slants the story in benefit of what the company wants to portray.

The new “public responsibility” practice of both government and private sector leaders is to blame the press. When a government or company representative is caught in a declaration or announcement that is made publicly reproachable because it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, the news is tagged by the emitter as wrong and the news as “fake”. References are usually made to “the international press” as some big bad wolf looking for prey.

We shouldn’t, of course, confound gossip or fantasy for news. But neither should companies like Air France denounce “international media” for reporting rightly on the company’s condescending policy mistake regarding its unilateral announcement that it is (was) resuming flights to Dakar, Senegal. Let’s review the news.

Air France caught with its pants down

  • On May 10th, 2020, in an article in Forbes Will Horton reported that European airlines will resume flights in June.
  • In a May 13 article, Togofirst reported that Air France announced it will resume flights to Lomé, Togo in June, with a stop in Niamey, Niger. A first flight is scheduled for June 15th. The company apparently has also scheduled direct flights to Abidjan, Cotonou, and Conakry. So it doesn’t seem outlandish to include Dakar in the list of destinations for Air France flights in West Africa. It certainly doesn’t follow that reporters would make it up.
  • There have been no declarations by the Presidents of Togo, Niger, Ivory Coast, or Guinea Conakry. But on May 15th, the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, called Air France out on its unilateral announcement that it would be resuming flights to Dakar starting June 16, 2020.
  • Air France local offices in Dakar quickly responded, as reported in a May 16, 2020 article by Opera News. The company’s local representative denied the information "relayed by the international press” and said that the company, which has been present in Senegal for 84 years, has always “scrupulously respected the regulations and procedures of the host country”. With all the weight of its international reputation, the company stated that it would never take the liberty of making such announcements without first having gotten the approval of the competent authorities. It expressed hope that the information reported will not damage the long-time relations that the French company has maintained with the aviation authorities of Senegal.
  • On May 16th an article in Archyworldys also reported that Air France will timidly resume flights to West Africa, saying that Air France’s announcement of renewed flights to Dakar “was in fact a simple simulation of schedules on the reservation centers which remained, of course, pending government approvals.”

The problem is that Air France’s own web page (as of May 16, 2020) refutes this, as does Google.com/flights, eDreams, Orbitz, and others. There are no flights available on June 16th, but there are on July 9th. In fact, when Google.com/flights automatically begins the search with departure date on July 9! Air France’s own web page allows flight bookings from Paris to Dakar as of July 9, at a cost of between $820-$1,300, with a tag line saying its $264 cheaper than usual! It sure is a funny way of refuting the information reported by the nebulous “international press”.

It doesn't add up

Judge for yourself, but having flights available for booking with a price discount does not seem like a simple simulation of schedules. Nor does it reflect scrupulous respect for the Senegalese government’s border opening not-yet-announced dates.

Senegalese air space is officially closed until May 31st and its reopening has not even been announced. Yet Air France continues to unilaterally plan flights to Dakar, despite its assurances that it would never do so without the Senegalese government’s approval.

It seems Air France was caught with its pants down. In its haste to resume flights for summer travel and before the rainy season drenches West Africa and droves of mosquitos invade it forgot that Senegal became fully independent on June 20, 1960 and is no longer a French colony. The easiest way to cover up the company’s mistake was to blame the press by redoubling on more "forgetful" communication. This is what could be termed official mongering of false fake news.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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