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Dreamworld Spins WHSQ

30th Nov 16

By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions

Dreamworld's parent Ardent Leisure is meeting today to decide when they reopen Dreamworld, and the smart money's on December 10.

The trigger was the release of the Workplace Health and Safety QLD (WHSQ) report. Or more accurately how well media bought Ardent's spin on the findings and sold it to a trusting public.

The coverage shows just how effective strong claims can be in a world of 'post truth' reporting.

If you buy Dreamworld's take on the WHSQ findings they passed with flying colours. The line "none of the problems were 'guest safety issues'",  has been reported by nearly every media outlet in Australia.

Only News.com and The Australian called BS on the Dreamworld release pointing out that three of the matters were prohibition notices that are only issued if the inspector believes there is ‘'imminent danger'’.

Reading the News story you'd think the report was so damming Ardent would have no option but to close the park and sell the site. But reading the rest of the media coverage it seems that Ardent are heroes.

Both views can't be right. So read the Dreamworld release here and judge for yourself.

For a moment let's overlook the unstated - but very ugly - premise in the Dreamworld release that workers' lives are less valuable than the lives of 'paying guests'.

Dreamworld makes the brazen claim that none of the defects were serious and none affected guests. And that line was widely reported. Clearly defective safety harnesses don't matter for guest safety in Dreamworld land.

So here's the point. We need to rewrite the crisis comms rule book in a post truth world. A point brilliantly made by the New Yorker cartoon I've shamelessly pinched.

Getting the all clear from WSHQ was critical to help rebuild the public's trust and permit the reopening of the Park. 

Dreamworld's take on the report dominated media coverage and the public's perceptions - which is evidence of the power of spin in a post truth world. If more media had challenged Dreamworld on their line it would have damaged public trust and delayed the reopening, perhaps for ever. 

And trust was the dominant theme that emerged from last week's reader poll on Dreamworld.

Nearly 90% of respondents said a mid December opening would work - as long as Dreamworld could rebuild the public's trust. The key to rebuilding that trust was a positive WHSQ report and a concrete demonstration of safety. Or as one respondent said to "... pull the park apart to ensure all elements work as they should".

A second clear theme was that Dreamworld had to see the crisis from the public's perspective and show they got it by expressing empathy and compassion, as well as concrete gestures like permanently closing the ride on day one. 

Dreamworld's handing of this crisis has shone the spotlight on the power of communication and the risks of boards and executives not understanding and accepting professional communications advice. It also shows just how many of the crisis reporting rules have changed in a world driven by social media with fewer experienced journalists on watch. Time to upgrade your crisis plans for the post truth world.

You might also like to read

Lessons from the nightmare at Dreamworld

Managing Outrage

Social Media and the gullible public

How would you or your Board respond to a Dreamworld moment? Leave a comment or contact us for some ideas about how to have this conversation with your leadership team and Board

  • Mark
    12th Dec 16 4:36 PM
    Press release references "maintenance safety harness anchor points", but you write it up like it's a harness used by guests and embellish the point.