GEMS foot-in-mouth syndrome and the curious case of the disappearing comments

Please don’t put your foot in your mouth. If you have to say something do mutter the words when the room is empty, or when you’re in the middle of the ocean. And it’s also advisable to stay away from media (image credit: http://www.ronedmondson.com)

There’s a condition that I like to name foot-in-mouth syndrome. Basically, foot-in-mouth happens when an executive talks to a journalist and doesn’t think before they speak. This results in classic ‘how did they say that’ quotes which often whip up a storm of protests from all and sundry.

This week we had one of the best foot-in-mouth moments I’ve read for some time. The chairman of GEMS Education, the UAE’s largest provider of primary and secondary education, gave an interview to Gulf Business. The story was rapidly picked up by Arabian Business and has provoked hundreds of comments from some very angry parents. The quotes which did the (most) damage were below.

Parents have no right to complain about fees if they choose a high school they cannot afford, GEMS Education chairman said of “grumbling” parents in an interview with Gulf Business.

“If you put your children in a school that you can’t afford then you can’t grumble,” Sunny Varkey said.
“You understand what I’m saying? You must choose a school that you can afford.

“It’s normal human behaviour [for parents] to defend fees. But parents can very well see which are the schools that are good, outstanding, fair, or not good. And, accordingly, they can choose a school.”

I love media sites on the internet, partly because of the ability to leave comments and the inevitable pearls of wisdom that readers leave. Varkey’s foot-in-mouth (and if you can’t see why this is a disaster of an interview for Varkey, you’re beyond the pale) was attacked from all sides by parents. Comments included such wonders as ‘It’s no wonder GEMS and HSBC (?) are the two most hated firms in the UAE’, and ‘If graduates from your schools are as arrogant as you are then your schools are definitely not worth the tuition. I would highly recommend getting media training before giving out interviews.’

I wish I could show you more comments; the last time I saw the piece with the comments section still live there were 98 printed which must be a record for the site. However, Arabian Business’ publisher ITP has taken off comments for this piece, either due to the severity of the comments or, more likely, someone possibly threatening legal action.

What happened to the comments on Sunny Varkey’s case of foot-in-mouth? I don’t know. But I can at least leave you this cached screen shot to show you that what goes on the internet can always be found!

Where did the comments go? Only ITP and GEMS will know!

Where did the comments go? Only ITP and GEMS will know!

Red Bull and a crisis in Kuwait that hasn’t hit the headlines

Surprisingly, Red Bull has not hit the headlines for what appears to be a number of major events in Kuwait. The company, best known worldwide for popularizing the energy drink concept, has apparently been embroiled in a crisis in Kuwait after a young Kuwaiti passed away after drinking too many cans of Red Bull. I’m going to continually use the word apparently as there’s no information out there in English and the only information in Arabic can be found on chat rooms.

According to Kuwait’s social media scene the Kuwaiti Ministry of Commerce has of the end of March banned all sales of Red Bull to those under 16 years of age. The below are a news piece from Kuwait’s news agency Kuna and an image shared over twitter of a Red Bull fridge with a sign in Arabic saying that Red Bull is not for sale to those under 16 years of age. Here is the same info on a discussion forum.

The article from Kuna on Kuwait’s decision to ban Red Bull sales to those under the age of 16. There’s no publishing date on this however (credit: Downtimes)

And a sign on top of a fridge which states that no sales of Red Bull are allowed to those under 16, which is supposedly from a Kuwaiti grocery store (credit: UAEwomen forum)

Kuwait’s Twitter community has also been focusing on the news, but surprisingly the topic hasn’t been trending outside of the country.

Whether this is all true or not, as it always the case with the internet the story is spreading especially in Arabic. The news can now be found on sites across the Gulf in Arabic. The fear may be that other GCC countries will follow Kuwait’s lead (such an action wouldn’t be unusual). However, it’d be fascinating to know what Red Bull has done to tackle this issue. There have been suggestions that Red Bull has upped its ad spending to tackle the issue, and that may explain why there’s little news of this in Kuwait’s vibrant media scene.

However, Red Bull has avoided the spotlight before. If you do read Arabic have a look at this piece on Red Bull apparently employing women to hand out cans in Riyadh back in December. Some would say brave, others would say silly.

Women walking outside of Riyadh’s Kingdom center apparently handing out Red Bull to passing motorists (credit: Murmur website)