Business communications expert James S. O’Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, says the phone hacking scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has become more of a political story than a business story.
“What’s been exposed here is the overly-cozy relationship between senior political figures, the metropolitan police and the tabloid press in London,” O’Rourke says. “The usual forms of remorse won’t work. Perhaps News International’s chief operating officer, Chase Carey, will be able to protect his boss, James Murdoch. If the noose begins to tighten around the principals at 10 Downing Street, however, all bets are off. The loss of BskyB may not be the last body blow to a once-proud media empire. An FBI investigation into accusations of phone-hacking in the United States may well prove to be the Murdochs’ undoing.”
O’Rourke, who has an extensive background in corporate communications and is writing a book about how a company should handle crisis situations, says the conventional wisdom in a reputational crisis that threatens an organization or brand is to be contrite, truthful, swift and complete.
“With the possible exception of that final consideration, Rupert Murdoch’s communication team is doing all that it should to respond to rightly justified howls of indignation and cries for the dismemberment of News International,” O’Rourke says. “They’ve published full-page newspaper advertisements proclaiming their failures and remorse. They’ve accepted the resignations of two high-ranking officials, including the editor of the Wall Street Journal. They’ve even shuttered the financial powerhouse tabloid at the center of it all, News of the World. But with the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, and the arrest of News International executive Rebekah Brooks, this melodrama has become more about politics than business in its focus.
“Those of us who teach corporate communication at the graduate level like to point out that a successful communication program consists of three elements: sound policies in the public interest, competent execution and sincere communication,” O’Rourke continues. “Note that ‘communication’ comes third in that list. Absent sound policies in the public interest, no amount of explaining or apologizing will help.”
The Arthur F. and Mary J. O’Neil Director of Notre Dame’s Fanning Center for Business Communication, O’Rourke is the author of 17 textbooks, including “Effective Communication,” “Management Communication” and “The Truth About Confident Presenting.” He is principal author or directing editor of more than 200 case studies in management and corporate communication. A trustee of both the Arthur W. Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations, O’Rourke also is a member of the Reputation Institute and the Management Communication Association and regularly serves as a consultant to Fortune 500 and mid-size businesses throughout North America.
Media Advisory: O’Rourke’s comments may be used in whole or in part. He is available for interviews and can be reached at 574-631-8397 or James.S.ORourke.firstname.lastname@example.org