Qantas loves hating its customers

It’s almost like Qantas wants us all to hate them. It’s the only possible explanation I can come up with for an airline that has ceased to care about its customers and turned into a business run with the mentality of a bank (MOAR PROFITS! SACK MANY PEOPLE!) combined with the management mentality of a television network (VIEWAHS? WHAT ARE THEY? WE ONLY KNOW ABOUT ADVERTISAHS!)

I’ll not rake over the epic stupidity of grounding the entire airline ‘for its own good’ nor its going to war with the people that have the power in their hands to make Qantas great again – the staff. Nor will I recount the huge disaster that was #qantasluxury, one of the greatest things ever to happen on Twitter. I can’t recall having more fun in an afternoon while at the same time feeling so sorry for the members of the social media team who inevitably opposed the idea on the grounds it was colossally stupid.

Qantas took steps over the past week to have the @QantasPR account wiped from our Twitter feeds. As Leslie Nassar pointed out (a man not unaware of the perils of running a fake account), Qantas have used reasoning that basically implies that Qantas customers are incredibly stupid. Obviously, we are. Because the occasionally very funny account,  adopting the mumsy and officious tone of the terrible @qantasairways, absolutely nailed them and was apparently so good that we will believe what they were saying. Yeah, right.

I have a couple of theories but first up, let me be clear as to how the account broke what I would term ethical or unwritten rules for a parody account – the username should really have the word ‘fake’ or ‘not’ or something to indicate that it isn’t real. I don’t think it’s enough to put it in the bio, I don’t think it’s enough for the bio not to explicitly state that it’s parody. They also used a Qantas trademark without obvious modification meaning they left themselves open to a successful legal challenge. While I agree with many commentators that satire shouldn’t have to point out that it’s satire, but Twitter, like the world, has plenty of idiots to keep the lawyers going.

What they were doing right was that the person behind the account hasn’t done it out of blind hatred but instead wants to have a bit of fun and wants the airline to be better.

Anyway. Theories.

While this may be a long bow to draw, I have a deep and abiding belief that Australian PR companies and PR people have almost no sense of humour. For many years I wrote video game reviews for a moderately successful gaming website. When we were unable to find a redeeming feature of a game we would say so. Then we battened down the hatches. You cannot, in this country, have any fun at the expense of ‘the brand.’ This then breeds an attitude within that brand’s PR machine that they are untouchable because they have successfully shut down any sort of fun-poking so they then go to market with things like #qantasluxury and the Woolworths Facebook debacle of finishing a sentence. I think part of the problem is that these companies are so keen to keep their often gigantic and/or multinational accounts happy, they develop an incredibly sensitive attitude to those brands.

I once told someone that Top Gear Australia wouldn’t work because of that same reason. There are plenty of rumours to suggest that I was right because a number of car makers were very unhappy at the damage meted out to their cars. Clearly Top Gear in the UK doesn’t have as many issues because plenty of quite new cars are damaged and there seems little in the way of backlash. TGA were (allegedly) threatened with a few manufacturers pulling out. I clearly remember a BMW 135i, a car brutally kicked sideways on Top Gear UK being taken for a very leisurely amble through the forest by the Australian presenter Steve Pizzatti. Ahem.

The other theory is that Qantas takes itself very seriously. While I am all for an airline taking the business of keeping aircraft in the air with utmost safety, I don’t think Qantas quite understands that the public face doesn’t have to be so, well, authoritarian. I flew Qantas regularly for years and whenever a flight was late or cancelled, the officious desk jockey would say, without fail, ‘We don’t fly unsafe aircraft.’ End of discussion. Qantas wants us to take them as seriously as they take themselves and when we don’t, we must be punished.

Twitter reminds me of a year 9 boys school classroom. Testosterone abounds and pack mentality rules. The over-confident maths teacher who says, without warning, halfway through a class, ‘hands up who likes me’ (yes, this happened and no, I did not put my hand up) is the real life equivalent of #qantasluxury. Those who didn’t put their hand up got booted out into the hallway and called arrogant. This is what happened to @qantasPR because they cut too close to the bone – they mimicked the feel and the tone of the real and outrageously poorly executed Qantas twitter accounts and got people talking about the brand for all the wrong reasons (as determined by Qantas and their ambulance chasing lawyers).

What it comes down to is that Qantas don’t like dissent from its customers, its prospective customers or its own staff. Qantas hates anyone who disagrees with the agenda of the board, the CEO and institutional investors. It isn’t enough that we don’t fall for Joyce’s patronising sky-is-falling routine or planting of stories in the Murdoch press praising his ludicrous style, we now have to view the airline the way they want us to without actually putting in the hard yards to do something likeable. Not falling out of the sky anymore doesn’t cut it – Virgin do a good of that and make less of a fuss doing it. The difference is, they don’t treat everyone like dirt.

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The Truth Will Always Out – Super-Injunctions Are Stupid

When I first drafted this, I had the English footballer’s name in it. I’ve taken it out and replaced it with SEF or, Stupid English Footballer. Just to cover my backside so I can go to the UK without possibly being sued. It won’t be hard for any of you to work out who this footballer is. I’ll put his real name back in when a) I get a life b) it looks like I can get away with it.

There’s a marvellous stink going on, and has been going on, over UK court orders known as superinjunctions. There’s a certain amount of schadenfreude about the whole thing because it’s hardly important, but it’s funny when a cover-up is blown.

Super-injunctions are a court order that not only forbids reporting names or facts or whatever it is the litigant is trying to hide, the order also forbids the actual reporting of the existence of the order. The first time super-injunctions became an issue was when one was raised on behalf of an oil-trading company Trafigura. Trafigura were trying to stop details coming to light about an internal report that wasn’t kind about a Cote D’Ivoire toxic dumping episode. They got caught when a question was tabled in UK Parliament under privilege, which blew the whole thing wide open. The media, unsure of the legalities of reporting it all, had an interesting few days.

That was in 2009. More recently, via the medium with which the media has that most troubled relationship, a ‘list’ of other super-injunctions was released. It kicked off with The Sun reporting what are known as ‘blind’ items, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks, which on the Internet is a participation sport. Amusingly, these weren’t even super-injunctions, merely gagging orders. These gagging orders were largely taken out by celebrities to stop the papers reporting things that weren’t exactly in the national interest. The orders mostly involved preventing rutting, married footballers and the people they were rutting with, being identified. A few people were embarrassed, some liars outed and the discussion took on a (carefully worded) life of its own.

Where it got really interesting was when Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, took legal action when he discovered that respected BBC journalist Andrew Marr had taken out a proper super-injunction to prevent details of extra-marital affairs of his own. Hislop argued that Marr’s use of a super-injunction was epic hypocrisy (my words) because Marr himself had criticised them in the past and also criticised gagging orders. Being an active and prominent journalist meant he earned the scorn of his peers and rightly so. He has since stated he feels embarrassed and uneasy about his actions. Sounds more like he’s upset he got caught.

The Internet, never mind Twitter, makes a mockery of legal jurisdictions and it’s almost impossible to police anything that’s said. It’s also worth remembering, super-injunctions and gagging orders are fabulously expensive so are not generally available to the people who would genuinely need them for reasons most of us would find acceptable.

So that’s the history lesson.

I see why some gagging orders are good, where people are actually being protected from identification (like, say the poor woman who made the mistake of bearing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s child) or made the even bigger mistake of being alone in a room with Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Neither of these women could afford gagging orders even if they were legally available. These women were wronged and yet they can’t get protection without paying huge sums to a lawyer to get it.

The marvellous thing about gagging orders taken out by desperate celebrities and craven corporations is that the only thing they are really protecting is their own vanity and their own lies. They’re a lie in themselves and I’m pretty sure there are some quite pointed conversations with the children of these celebrities. The kids have the moral high ground which would be rather uncomfortable for the alleged adult in the conversation, I would imagine.

Footlballer [SEF] made the mistake of, firstly, cheating on his wife after painting himself as a family man for years. Then he got a super-injunction. When the media, and then the Internet, gets a sniff of this sort of thing, a ton of bricks falling on these people would be a blessed release. [SEF], who is apparently good at moving a ball around a field, has decided to sue Twitter and some of its users for breaching the order. Nice try. All he’s done is make himself a household name for being a hypocrite, a cad and a liar. The brilliant @snarkyplatypus tweeted one of the best summaries of anything ever:

‘I see [SEF] has discovered the work of Barbra Streisand’

(referring to the phenomenon amusingly titled the ‘Streisand effect‘)

I’m really enjoying this discussion because it points to an absolutely fundamental fact of life – the truth will always out. The Internet has a marvellous way of smoking it out, whether through the work of Anonymous, dedicated journalists or the herd mentality of groups like 4Chan. I’m not suggesting these methods are always particularly ethical and it would be rather nicer if people didn’t get hurt on the way through, but it’s going to happen. The Sun’s blind items were pretty much a presentation to the world: ‘We know a little bit about this, you do the rest so at some point we can take the credit.’ It’s like crowd-sourcing the legal risk, in the manner of the I Am Spartacus movement on Twitter during the so-called Twitter Joke Trial.

The other interesting thing is the way the law is having trouble keeping up with how to handle these sorts of shenanigans. The Paul Chambers case is a superb example of over-reaction and the timeline of events is extraordinary . The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge, compared (with a touch of hysteria) breaking these injunctions with child pornography, a reaction that’s difficult to understand (especially when the super-injunctions that have been uncovered are largely to do with personal vanity).

Difficult until you view it through the prism of legal tradition, some of it going back hundreds of years. The legal profession and the governments who make laws are grappling with the concept of a fragmented jurisdiction. You can publish a claim about someone who has taken out an order on a website not hosted within the United Kingdom and as long as you can’t be identified (or more to the point, have taken steps to ensure you aren’t), there’s nothing that can be done without a gross breach of the principles of freedom of speech (ie, blocking that webhost or in this case Twitter). I see Lord Judge’s problem, and it must be really frustrating, but find it hard to sympathise with the people who are affected (I may be labouring that point, apologies).

Bizarrely, those who try and make a deal of the fact their injunction has been breached should look to Jeremy Clarkson as a role model. It is alleged that he had a dalliance with somebody or other (one of the names that popped up was Jemima Kahn) and he has pretty much ignored it. If he had taken out the gagging order, he neutralised the PR problem by just avoiding it. It’s less interesting than smacking Piers Morgan in the face, but it had the desired effect – the media moved on to get a hold of someone else. Jemima Khan denied it, everyone else tried to scrub their brains clean of the image and that was that.

As Marr discovered, if you can be hanged on your own petard, people will go even harder to uncover the truth. The Internet loves a fight and doing something moronic like suing Twitter is a guaranteed way to send your problem supernova. I was barely aware of [SEF]’s existence until a couple of days ago, but now I know he slept with a model called Imogen Thomas (I tweeted a link to a ‘story’ run by the online Fairfax papers that critiqued the dress she wore to court this week). Now I know more than I really want to, but if he’d just worn the consequences of his actions, the Daily Mail would have done a job on him and people outside the UK wouldn’t care a jot. As it stands now, no matter how good a footballer he is, he now looks like a complete plonker. Which he is.

I guess the worst thing about super-injunctions is how they may be used. Someone commented on a TechCrunch (one of the sites I used during my research) article that, technically-speaking, Tony Blair could have taken out a super-injunction over his Iraq WMD dodginess. That doesn’t really stand up, because as Trafigura discovered, super-injunctions can be blown open under Parliamentary privilege, but as with Trafigura, the discovery of the super-injunction was serendipitous and that will keep happening. That will be why celebs like super-injunctions – their sex life isn’t in the national interest so won’t come up in Parliament. I hope not.

Attendance at Famous People School should include tattooing of this truism on their forearms: The truth will always out – even if you’re rich.