It was a truly global media event; the rescue of the 33 miners from the San Jose mine on Tuesday 12th October; the biggest Globe-watch since 9/11 nearly a decade before. Billions watched it live worldwide but one man media managed the whole event and came out smelling of roses – President Sebastian Pinera of Chile. He’s just finished a European lap of honour meeting the British Queen, the Prime Minister and the leaders of France and Germany, giving them all souvenirs of ‘his’ rescue. Pinera’s media management was masterful.
One should not be surprised. In his previous life Harvard educated Pinera was the owner of Chilevision, a network of TV stations. He understood the importance of media. Right from the start he understood the importance of rescuing the miners too, leaving his dying father in law to go to the mine in Copiapo on August 7th. Once it was established that the miners were alive with that note to a probe ‘Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33″ – on August 22nd,it was all systems go from the Chilean government to rescue them and to bask in the glory of it all. Writes John Mair…
This story had everything-characters, drama, tension, plot and two possible endings –one glad, one sad. Hardly surprising the world’s media flowed to the Chilean desert .At the zenith there were 2000 journalists and technicians embedded in Camp Hope (with the miners’ relatives) all looking for an angle. Not all finding one. Pinera was there too, if not always physically, in the shape of his doppelganger Mining Minister Lawrence Golborne who like him spoke perfect (American)English so was tailor-made for global TV. Money was thrown at the engineering of the rescue itself to speed it up. Those of a cynical nature might have noticed that Pinera was due to go on a European tour starting on 17 October and it would be neat if the rescue could be accomplished by then. It was.
Pinera knew the hazards of allowing a media circus so he created a pool. The only pictures coming from the top of the mine and indeed from inside the mine (an innovation that surprised and please the world’s media) during the whole rescue came from a Chilean government feed controlled by one of Pinera’s lieutenants from his Chilevision days. To make sure of exclusivity, the top of the rescue shaft was surrounded by Chilean flags rendering others’ shots unusable. Everything was wrapped in the Chilean flag, the rescue vehicle in national colours, flags flying everywhere and the national anthem played as each of the 33 emerged.
Pinera was omnipresent at the rescue itself as the pictures and emotion traversed the Globe by satellite as each of ‘Los 33’ emerged to the waiting Chilean cameras. They first embraced their wives (or their mistresses) then were thrown into the warm embrace of Pinera, his wife and then together they sang the National Anthem. Each and every one of the 33 in the 23 hours it took to bring them to the surface got that Pinera hug.
Having orchestrated the rescue, Pinera was not finished. When ‘los 33’ were put together for a group photo in the hospital in Copiapo who should be sat slap bang in the middle (he’s the one without medical sunglasses) but President Sebastian Pinera. Managing the miners and managing the media masterfully to the end. A lesson for us all?
John Mair delivered an earlier version of this to the Dubai Police Conference on World Media on 19 October 2010.
Many Thanks to http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism