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Logical logistics needed for managing Mandela media mayhem

The Presidency, the ANC and Government might as well get used to the fact, sooner rather than later, that as the 93-year-old Nelson Mandela gets older and more frail, the media frenzy will increase from mild hysteria right now to complete and utter illogical chaos.

It is really important, now, that the Mandela family, along with all the relevant organs of state, seriously prepare themselves for an irrational media onslaught never before witnessed in this country and possibly the world.

The reason is quite simple. Mandela is one of the greatest global icons still living today. There is not a country in the world where his well-being is not front-page news. And while everyone would wish that he could live forever or at least reach his centenary, it is by no means callous to speculate that he could be lost to the world sooner rather than later.

Press pandemonium

So, why should his being hospitalised or, heaven forbid, dying, cause media pandemonium? After all, great statesmen have been hospitalised or passed away before without the media completely losing their sense of decorum.

The thing is that, right now, the media world has never ever been so competitive, so threatened, so desperately trying to survive. Newspapers are closing down right, left and centre, and broadcast media are fighting tooth and nail for a sustainable share of consumer attention.

And the well-being of Nelson Mandela is something that draws readers to newspapers, listeners to radio stations and viewers to their TV sets, like bees to a honeypot.

Government, the Mandela family, the ANC and, indeed, the people of South Africa should realise right now that the media industry is precisely that - an industry. An industry like any other - in pursuit of profit. Even worse, an often profitless industry in pursuit of survival.

So really, all these calls by Government and the ANC for the media to respect the ageing statesman's privacy is about the silliest form of media management available to them right now. With not too many exceptions, the media will not respect his privacy.

Whether they should or not is beside the point. They simple won't.

Down to Google Earth

It was also completely ludicrous for Government to manhandle the media outside 1 Military Hospital this past week after huffing and puffing about national key-point security. Getting all uppity about the media photographing the hospital without realising that all journalists had to do was go into Google Earth and they would have all the pictures of the hospital they could wish for.

While the communication from the Presidency this time round was far better than the mayhem surrounding the Milpark debacle a few months ago, it is still by no means anywhere near good enough.

Not only do communications need to be even faster, as well as a lot less defensive and patronising, but structures need to be established to be able to sufficiently feed the media frenzy in order to contain chaos.

Because the more the media is patronised with platitudes, and the more the media is kept in the dark, the more the media will attempt to break through the barriers. This is what the media do. This is their job.

Logical logistics

Whoever takes the lead on this - the Presidency or the ANC - it is vital that they stop waiting for something to happen and then just communicate the absolute basic patronising minimum. Last week, all the spokesmen were singularly bad, verging on the patronisingly arrogant.

These extraordinary events will require extraordinary media management measures. Measures that go far beyond just asking the media to be considerate.

This is not a moral argument. This is not about whether the media should behave in a certain way or not.

This is about media reality. While some will be considerate, others will not. Stand on your head, jump up and down, put them in jail - it won't help.

Government needs to prepare for the fact that anything to do with the health or demise of Madiba will create a media frenzy. It needs to be prepared. The logistics need to be logical.

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About Chris Moerdyk: @chrismoerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.

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