Thursday, November 4, 2010
Nuclear energy for Singapore? A first look at the Lion City's information management and PR strategy for nuclear energy
If you haven’t been tracking Singapore's energy options, this blog post will bring you up to speed.
The Singaporean government appears to be easing people’s mindsets towards nuclear power through statements made at seminars and Parliament sittings.
This is strategic public relations (PR) in action. In other words, the long-term cultivation of mindsets and points of view through overt and subliminal messaging using the mass media and other devices.
It works...so long as your message is consistent and credible.
This isn’t the case for nuclear energy.
Three years later, there’s been a clear change of heart.
“It will be a long time before we make any decision on nuclear energy,” said PM Lee in the ST Page 1 lead story. “But we should get ourselves ready to get ready to do so. That means to give Singapore the ability to exercise the option should it one day become necessary and feasible."
No time frame was given.
But in the same story, PM Lee did say that Singapore might arrive at a decision on nuclear energy “possibly during my lifetime”. PM Lee was born in 1952.
The change of heart which is apparent from the two newspaper stories underlines the PR rule of not making definitive statements from which no climbdown is possible without loss of face/credibility.
If one has to sound decisive, do give yourself some wriggle room should future, unforeseen circumstances arise which force you to sing a new tune.
Ships have been sunk after being declared unsinkable.
Fortresses have been captured which were deemed impregnable. Case in point: Fortress Singapore.
Closer to home, torrential rainstorms have reappeared after being described as something we'd see once in 50 years. Don't we know how that PR fiasco panned out?
The takeaway from PR gaffes in the past is this: Many were own goals from improper media coaching or slips of the tongue.
For a potentially explosive (excuse the pun) issue like nuclear energy, utmost care must be taken to inform and educate Singaporeans and neighbouring countries in a timely manner.
Thus far, Team Singapore has done well.
This brings us back to the Today story in which PM Lee ruled out nuclear power. Reading through the story closely, one would come across the line in which PM Lee said the Republic's dependence on fossil fuels was unlikely to go away within the next 10 years.
This line saves the game because it gives the newsmaker room to manoeuvre, now that the nuclear option is being examined thoroughly.
Once Singaporeans wake up to the reality that their household appliances and home computers will one day be juiced up by nuclear power, it won’t take long before an anti-nuke lobby takes root in Singapore. Looking at the anti-nuke lobby in foreign lands, we can expect many of these voices will be strident, emotional and vociferous in their demands.
The quality of Singapore's PR and information management strategy will make or break public perceptions towards having a nuclear reactor in (or more correctly, under) Singapore island.
And if that PR war plan fails, one can always blame journalists for taking quotes out of context and dreaming up a sensational headline to sell newspapers. This has happened before. Many times.
Posted by David Boey at 12:46 PM