Muddled messageFew of our state officials seem to have internalised the need for good crisis-time communication.
The importance of good communication cannot be overemphasised during times of crisis. Swift and reliable communication can save lives and forestall a lot of anguish for countless people. But when you get the communication wrong, bad situations often get worse. Late on Saturday, news began to trickle in of an armed attack on Israel by the Palestinian group Hamas. Initial reports suggested that some Nepali students living near the Israel-Palestine border might have been caught in the attack. When the air started clearing from the Saturday incident, it transpired that at least 10 Nepali students had been killed, with a few more injured or missing. Days after the attack, some Nepali students who were holed up in safety bunkers in Israel took to the social media to implore their government back home to arrange for their prompt rescue. In response, Nepal’s foreign ministry issued a rather generic statement on the whole episode, without a word of comfort for the bereaved families or support for the stranded students.
Similarly, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, on Monday, said the government had decided to give a public holiday the next day in order to mourn the lives of the departed. Later, Communication Minister Rekha Sharma refuted him, saying that there was no such holiday. The government was rightly mocked for even contemplating a useless national holiday when all its energies should have been spent on getting the Nepalis stuck in Israel to safety. Worse, there seems to have been miscommunication over the whole affair even inside the government, and big confusion on the intended message. Other senior politicians and parliamentarians have been no better. In the wake of the Israel incident, Raghuji Pant, a Member of Parliament, made cold remarks about migrant workers when a reporter informed Pant that Nepalis are crying out for help from Israel.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal himself made a great show of phoning a stranded Nepali student in Israel. Why he needed to make such a public show of consoling a fellow Nepali remains unclear. The government is reportedly working to repatriate around 200 Nepalis living in Israel who have expressed their wish to return. Again, given the lack of communication, it is unclear if there have been more requests for repatriation.
Few of our state officials seem to have internalised the need for good crisis-time communication, or any kind of communication for that matter. This in a country where press releases by ministries often tend to be riddled with misleading information, not to mention careless typos. These mistakes may have devastating consequences during times of crisis. Likewise, a few added words can make the government seem compassionate and caring while lack of them reinforces the message that the Nepali state simply does not care about its citizens. This is a dangerous message to give out. Hopefully, the government will learn from the recent backlash over Israel and put in place a more credible messaging system that informs and assures rather than inflames passions and increases mistrust.