January 4th, 2007 by Wendy McAuliffe
I’ve been watching events surrounding the unauthorised execution video of Saddam Hussein with a close eye.
What surprises me most is the confusion this video seems to have caused for the Iraqi, US and UK governments, from a communications perspective. This isn’t the first time that unofficial user-generated videos have leaked onto the web, but the three powers seem totally unprepared for a crisis management situation of this kind.
While the blogosphere has been buzzing with opinion on the release of the footage, with some going so far as to label it a ‘snuff’ video, our Prime Minister Tony Blair responded to the event with silence.
Jon Snow, writing on the Channel 4 News blog, agrees: “Fascinating to observe how readily the authorities like to dash out to condemn terrorism and the rest but when a possible abuse of behaviour occurs by the authorities in Baghdad be it by us, Iraqi or anyone else, a strange silence falls over the proceedings.”
Irrespective of peoples’ opinion on the content of the video, I am sure many felt cheated by the UK government’s inability to have an opinion on the matter. While John Prescott was eventually ’forced’ into stating that he “deplored” the footage, ensuing news reports implied the Prime Minister would not have wanted to use so critical a word of the Iraqi authorities.
So a war of words has broken out between Blair and Prescott, and the British public remain unsure about the UK government’s true stance on online video leaks.
I accept that political relations with Iraq and the US are the strongest forces at play here, but as member of the blogosphere, I would have liked to see the UK government demonstrate that it is able to respond intelligently to situations involving social media, by engaging in dialogue with its online network.
Gone are the days of silence being an accepted crisis mananagement technique, and the Saddam incident has thankfully highlighted this further.