When “no comment” is not enough

by: Ghui/

I refer to the article entitled “SMRT: Effective Crisis Management” by Shanta Arul. While the incident I am about to relate is not directly on point with Shanta’s article, it does have many parallels to the issues raised by Shanta.

Every commercial entity exists to make profit. It is therefore understandable that the bottom line is of utmost importance. That said, the line between downright cut throat and shrewd business policy is very fine. Shrewd business tactics display acumen and foresight which must be applauded. Downright cut throat on the other hand implies a lack of regard for the well being of individuals. The line that must be drawn between the two is especially crucial if the entity in question can be construed to represent Singapore.

An article dated 17 April 2011, entitled “Pilot refused to divert aircraft when presenter had mid air heart attack”, states that Max Pearson, a BBC radio presenter had a heart attack while on board a Singapore Airlines flight. He went into cardiac arrest shortly after take off and was offered assistance by a doctor, who was a passenger on the flight. It is understood that the pilot refused to divert the flight so that Pearson could get urgent medical attention despite the flight having just taken off. It was all thanks to a lucky coincidence that there was a doctor on board that the married father of two survived. However, it is alleged that as a result of the pilot’s decision not to divert the flight, Pearson will now suffer long term heart damage and is considering suing the airline.

The reasons for why the pilot chose not to divert the flight are unclear although some publications have alleged that this is due to Singapore Airline’s strict bottom line policy. Diversions would cause delays and delays would in turn lead to costs and result in a loss of profits. The airline has refused to officially comment so we have not heard their side of the story.

This incident seems remarkably similar to the SMRT incident. While they are different entities, they are both huge profit making companies in which the government owns a significant portion of shares (whether directly or indirectly). In both these cases, the entities in question have been tight lipped despite individuals having been injured. I question this “no comment” policy because a lack of information breeds speculation and speculation in turn breeds suspicion. These companies while being private companies in name are seen (whether rightly or wrongly) as associated with the Singapore government and the nation of Singapore. In light of this, do we want the image of Singapore to be linked to the endless pursuit of wealth despite human lives being involved?

While big corporations exist to make profit, they do owe some accountability to their customers. Where accidents have obviously occurred and where safety procedures have been openly questioned, these entities need to come out and make a proper statement. In the age of the internet, simply saying “no comment” will not make the problem go away.