BP's public relations headache
How coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico proved toxic for the petroleum giant.
Last Modified: 23 May 2010 10:49 GMT

This week on the show: a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico equals a massive PR headache for BP and the ethical dilemma faced by news organisations when their journalists are kidnapped - to report or not to report?

The story for our News Divide this week began over a month ago on April 20, when an oil-rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded.

For petroleum giant BP, the oil spill has become not only a huge corporate and environmental crisis, but an ongoing PR nightmare.

In an industry where brand value and public perception is of crucial importance, BP has struggled to convince the media and audiences around the world that there are others to be blamed for this disaster and that the company is doing enough to clean up the mess.

Much of the PR grief however, has been self-inflicted: BP made no friends in the media when it tried to get local fishermen to sign legal contracts promising not to speak to journalists. And the company's efforts to downplay the extent of the spill backfired as well when a video of the oil spewing into the sea revealed that BP's estimates were significantly off the mark.

This week we look at the series of media mis-steps that have plagued BP since the crisis began and how the coverage of the spill has proved toxic for the company in more ways than one.

Rounding news from the media world in Newsbytes: whistle-blowing website Wikileaks has fallen foul of the authorities in Australia; a new book reveals that the Obama administration and media mogul Rupert Murdoch are cosier than they would have us believe; and Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari has been sentenced in absentia by an Iranian court to 13 years imprisonment and 74 lashes.

Our feature report this week deals with the ethical debate involved in reporting the news of kidnapped journalists.

Correspondents working on sensitive stories or reporting from war zones and other dangerous regions face a very real threat of being kidnapped because of their work. But often news audiences do not hear of these kidnappings until after the journalist is released.

It happened in the case of David Rhode of The New York Times who was held by Taliban for seven months. And it happened before when Melissa Fung of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was kidnapped for three weeks in Afghanistan in 2008.

News organisations seem to be ever more cautious about reporting news of the kidnap of fellow journalists for fear that the media attention might jeopardise their chances of rescue.

The criticism, however, is that this caution does not kick in when those kidnapped are not journalists.

The Listening Post's Salah Khadr reports on the ethical dilemma editors face when they choose whether or not to report on a kidnapping.

Closing our show this week is a viral video for all those of you who are exhausted by the demands of online life. www.suicidemachine.org is a website designed to give release to all those who want out of Twitter, Facebook, Hi5, et al. Take a look.

This episode of The Listening Post aired from Friday, May 21, 2010.

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