Today I read a tweet by AirAsia X CEO, Azran Osman-Rani, where he took issue with an article in The Sentinel, an online publication. Azran wrote: “@premesh @zakizahid when I EXPLICITLY told you it was untrue, you still went ahead to publish the Sentinel article, knowing its insidiousness”.
This got my attention, so I went and found the Sentinel article online. What was interesting about the article was the reader comments that it generated. The readers made very strong remarks against the Malaysian Government led by prime minister, Najib Razak. I don’t care to repeat all the remarks that the Sentinel readers made, but it was clear from reading the comments that Malaysia is a very politically and racially divided nation. I was very sad to see this, because Malaysia is a great country, with many highly talented and capable people.
As for the Sentinel article itself, I think Azran is correct. From my reading of the article, the Sentinel has got its facts wrong. The article basically said AirAsia is relocating its corporate headquarters from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta. But I can also see how the Sentinel got confused. AirAsia’s founder, Tony Fernandes, has disclosed on several occasions in the past month that AirAsia is establishing a regional office in Jakarta.
What wasn't so clearly communicated by Fernandes, was that this office will be very small and that it is being established so AirAsia’s government relations people can have easier access to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat, which is Jakarta. This is important to AirAsia because much of the airline’s future growth depends on the further liberalization of air services between Southeast Asian nations, an initiative that the ASEAN secretariat is leading.
Rather than make it very clear to journalists that the Jakarta office is going to be very small, Fernandes it seems has been talking up the significance of the new office. This is possibly in an effort to win over Indonesia’s news media. One of the big problems AirAsia has in Indonesia is that it is perceived as being a foreign carrier. AirAsia needs to be perceived as a local brand if it is to succeed domestically in Indonesia. Establishing a regional office in Jakarta neatly dovetails with that strategy. But by talking up the significance of the new regional office, Fernandes has caused confusion in some quarters of the Malaysian news media. Some Malaysian news organizations, like the Sentinel, have incorrectly assumed that “new regional office”, means AirAsia is re-locating its corporate headquarters to Jakarta from Kuala Lumpur.
I think the lesson here is that corporate leaders must try to refrain from being too clever with the news media. A news journalist’s job is to explain things in very simple terms so it is easy for readers to understand and grasp a topic quickly. If Fernandes had been open about the fact that this new Jakarta office is going to be very small then – I think - the Sentinel and other news organizations would have written a more accurate story. The story, as the facts stands, wouldn’t have been as big. But at least it would have been accurate. In the end, the controversy generated by the inaccurate story, has back-fired on Fernandes and AirAsia.