Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Benihana loses, Blogger wins - is this the precedent?

For blogger Mark or @mark248am (that's his Twitter handle), yesterday was the day things finally went right and justice was dished out.  Mark, was being sued by Benihana in Kuwait for a post he'd put on his blog that they didn't quite like (Mark talks about it in more detail here) was told yesterday he'd won his case for stating his opinion.

While this is no doubt great news for bloggers across the region, who've certainly come in the spotlight of late with the sea of revolutions we've seen across the Middle East and North Africa, this was a little more interesting because this wasn't a case of blogger vs. government but rather of blogger vs. private enterprise.

The grounds on which the lawsuit commenced itself was bizarre and left many to wonder why would a franchisee of a major brand like Benihana be willing to jeapordize his reputation like that.  After all, bad or negative feedback spreads like wildfire but good feedback doesn't often get spoken about enough.  I'm pretty sure that what happened in Benihana in Kuwait probably had a knock-on effect of sorts on Benihana in the UAE, even though the franchisee is different.  I know at least when I hear the name Benihana, I cringe.  I liked their food and the experience always here in Dubai but somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder if I want to dine there anymore.

Why didn't Benihana manage the damage much earlier?  Why did it reach to the point where they were making racist remarks by asking Mark if he was Lebanese (as if that makes any difference)?  Why weren't they just willing to sit down with Mark and ask him why he didn't like his experience there so they could see if they could constructively incorporate his comments into his experience there?  These are answers we probably won't ever get.  What Benihana probably underestimated was that even though the blogging community is small, they are vocal.  Their opinions do get heard and with so many journalists and PR-folk on social media across the region, these stories can be picked up very quickly by the mainstream press.

What I am more interested about though is that if this sets a precedent?  The legal system in the region can be erratic but a victory like this could be a reference point for others.  However, what this does not mean you can defame or be libelous.  There is still a fine line as a blogger you have to take.  Opinion is fine, making up facts, figures and being racist isn't.

So while I'm thrilled to see Mark win, I'm just worried this sends the wrong message to other bloggers in this part of the world who think they can say anything and get away with it.  There is still a code of ethics we have to live with as bloggers and while it's good to have multiple mouthpieces open during this era of citizen journalism, let's make sure to respect the boundaries.  If you want to be treated with respect, you also need to respect those around you, whether it be on social media or in real life.

As someone who's in the field of providing customer service myself, I know it's impossible to provide 100% customer satisfaction as much as we want but the basic principles of listening, understanding and acknowledging have never changed, whether it happens in person, over e-mail, phone calls or on social media.  I'm sure Benihana have learned a lesson but I sincerely hope other businesses in the region also do as well .

For Mark's comments on winning his court case, you can read this here on his blog.  My blog posts on Benihana Kuwait can be seen with the label of (BenihanaKUW) or by clicking here.