Turkish Prime Minister's Cold Response to Mining Disaster

301 workers were killed last week after a massive mining accident in western Turkey. The tragedy is Turkey’s worst mining disaster ever, and it appears to be the deadliest mining accident worldwide in more than 50 years.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Instanbul to protest the government, which many people say is to blame for allowing the poor mining safety conditions that led to the accident. 

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did a few things right in his response. He visited the site, comforted victims, and, according to The Telegraph, he “promised the tragedy would be investigated to its ‘smallest detail’ and that ‘no negligence will be ignored.’”

But then he violated a basic rule of crisis communications that must be adhered to when fatalities are involved.

Turkey Prime Minister

Erdogan (pictured above) sought to place the tragedy in a larger context, dismissing mining accidents as “ordinary things.” He became “defensive when asked whether sufficient precautions had been in place at the mine,” according to The Telegraph

“’Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,’ he said, reeling off a list of global mining accidents since 1862.”

As reader Robert Durand wrote when sending me this story, parties involved in these incidents should “never attempt to put a tragedy in perspective, especially as events are still unfolding.”

He’s right. Context is not what’s needed during moments of crisis. What’s required is understanding, sympathy, and most importantly, a commitment to reducing the likelihood of similar problems in the future. (Erdogan and his aides also made several other mistakes.)

I offered a template to spokespersons confronting these types of situations in an earlier post titled “One is One Too Many.” In this case, Erdogan is unable to promise that mining accidents won’t happen in Turkey again; the dangerous nature of the work almost guarantees they will. But he would have been better served with a straightforward statement without any defensiveness:

“One mining death is excruciating; hundreds are unbearable. We may never be able to eliminate mining accidents altogether, but I will do everything in my power to reduce the likelihood of this type of mining accident from ever occurring again.”

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