News International revelations confirm that confidentiality is not a form of crisis management

We’ve been waiting for more “devastating new evidence” in the News of the World, News International and News Corp phone-hacking scandal and today some of it came. It emphasises three points that every reputation management or crisis management specialist knows and advises: confidentiality agreements do not guarantee confidentiality; the truth will always emerge; and you should come clean with your advisers (reputation managers, press office, lawyers) at the start – giving limited information or setting a narrow remit means you won’t get the advice you need.

Written evidence, to the House of Commons select committee that is investigating the phone-hacking scandal, includes a letter from Clive Goodman, the News of the World royal reporter who was jailed for phone-hacking. Previous evidence has attempted to show that he was a rogue reporter; phone-hacking was not widespread; the editors (Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, Colin Myler) did not know about it. Now his letters reveal that phone-hacking was widespread – and that it was discussed in the paper’s daily editorial conferences. Seeking to defend their reputation, the paper’s lawyers Harbottle & Lewis, have said they were not fully briefed and only advised on a very narrow aspect. That’s a triple-whammy of crisis management misdeeds.

Meanwhile, we all had our suspicions; we’ve all been waiting to be proved right; there was a conspiracy of silence – and we now have evidence of it.

If you believe you need to rely on a confidentiality agreement to protect your reputation, you are on dangerous, shifting sand. There is no such thing as confidentiality if others, or you, later have to defend your actions to preserve, or limit damage to, your reputation.

Similarly, if you have to redact (the current vernacular for block) information in evidence you can be sure that all you are doing is drawing attention to the fact that you are hiding something. Someone will dig deep to find out what you are keeping secret and why – and tell of their findings.

Seeking confidentiality is a desperate measure. Being open, honest and transparent is the only way to limit the damage to your reputation that your secrecy might cause.

When the game is up, and you are at risk of your attempted cover-up being exposed, it is time to wave a white flag – confess, reveal all, apologise, promise not to make the same mistake, and take actions to ensure you don’t.

We are still waiting for the Murdochs, Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and Colin Myler to see common sense. And I can’t be the only one waiting for more devastating revelations …

  del.icio.us this!

No Response so far »

Comment RSS · TrackBack URI

Say your words