More than 150 years after the first oil well was drilled, the global reputation of the commodity and its fellow hydrocarbon, gas, is still perceived negatively. The narrative of the oil and gas industry has been written by those who rarely understand the nuts and bolts involved, which in turn is largely down to a lack of clarity and information. Journalists are typically open-minded truth seekers, but they must have the tools they need to do the job professionally. Transparency is essential.
Media is the vital glue to resolve the disconnect between industry and consumers. Consumers, especially millennials, berate industry for its ‘dirty’ image and environmental damage, yet the same generation enjoys the cool of their air conditioning, mobile and plastic gadgets and flying regularly around the globe. The lack of understanding as to how the oil and gas industry is woven into the day-to-day fabric of public life is widespread. A responsible media is integral to fixing the misleading narrative.
Industry needs to proactively seek collaboration with the media to help reshape and distribute a more positive story that sheds the view that the sector is an archaic, slow and male dominated industry. It must leverage decades of examples to illustrate to the media and wider public that it is underpinned by an innovative spirit, technological excellence and one of the first explorers of today’s new environmentally-friendly rule book.
Industry must also have a greater appreciation about the power of media and share information in a way that allows complex messages to be simplified for broader audiences. Drowning conversations in technical terminology only confuses the media, which already faces tight deadlines, restricted resources and broad reporting patches. Companies also need to avoid data-dumps, such as suddenly releasing reams of statistical information in an attempt to distract the media from the real story. In short, companies must keep pace with the international standards of transparency if they want to widen their global footprint. It is a different league with different rules.
Equally, the media should take advantage of the technical and scientific knowledge of those in industry, which could enable journalists to write with authority and accuracy. Journalists must be willing to broaden their reporting patches and flex their own intellectual and research muscle to keep up-to-date with emerging markets, such as renewables and green finance. Most importantly, if the story is not underpinned by thorough fact-checking and reliable sources, it should not go to press. Speed can never supersede accuracy. This is especially important to counter the oft-rogue impact of citizen journalism; a tweet, regardless of its truth, can add or swipe millions from a company’s share price in minutes. This does little to improve trust in the nexus of industry-media-public.
Industry and media must help the public understand the ABCs of the energy sector. When drivers go to the pump to fill their tanks, very few understand the basics of how the product was extracted, refined, marketed and transported. Considering the massive impact that oil and gas has on every one of the world’s 7.6 billion people, there should at least be a basic level of awareness. Increasing digital fluency, especially amongst millennials, should make this education process easier than ever. Still, as the human ability for technological excellence gains pace, industry cannot rely solely on screens and typed text to share its story.
There is no substitute for actively engaging with media, facilitating field visits, attending school and college seminars and listening to the concerns of communities located near operational sites. Making this effort – and collaborating with the media to ensure such activities are reported – will help shift the industry’s public image to that of a national champion.
Top 3 Recommendations:
Education, Education, Education: Improving the quality and frequency of knowledge sharing within and between the industry and media will ensure the public receive a more accurate picture. Removing the shrouds of confusion – the birthplace of stereotypes – will also make it more difficult for irresponsible and incorrect information by citizen journalists to gain traction.
Increase Transparency: A steady flow of clear and accurate information is essential to all aspects of the information chain. This will also improve the media’s faith that the messages and data they are communicating are true. Media has equal responsibility to support transparency with solid sources and fact-checking.
Social Conscience: Industry needs to guide the media’s spotlight to its positive socio-economic efforts. Much is being done to improve dialogue with local communities, including talent creation and environmental awareness, yet this rarely features in the headlines. The media needs to diversify from the dominant market narrative of oil prices and report more regularly on industry’s wider activities.
By H.E. Fouad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon & current Head of Lebanese Parliament Majority Bloc
Source: The Gulf Intelligence