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RIM Boss Loses It, Walks Out of BBC Interview

Mike Lazaridis walks out of BBC interviewToday’s moment of madness comes courtesy of Research in Motion’s (s RIMM) Co-Chief Executive Mike Lazaridis, who is getting plenty of attention for walking out of an interview with the BBC on Wednesday.

The backstory? Having already extolled the virtues of the Playbook, the company’s much-anticipated tablet, he sits down for a chat for BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan Jones (a friend of mine and, I hope he won’t mind me saying, not exactly a firebrand).

Then things start to go wrong (click through for the video).

He’s asked about the problems BlackBerry has been having in India and the Middle East — problems largely to do with the levels of encryption the device offers its corporate users, which have fallen afoul of various government edicts. Surprised by the topic, Lazaridis starts off with a quizzical look, tries to bat away the question and then — after a press officer tries to intervene — calls an end to the interview.

“Alright, so, it’s over, the interview’s over,” he says. “Please. You can’t use that, Rory, that’s just not fair. It’s not fair. Sorry, it’s not fair: we’ve dealt with. Come on, it’s a national security issue, turn that off.”

At which point the camera switches off.

On one hand, it’s a typical huff from somebody in a position of power. CEOs — and particularly those in technology — don’t like being asked unscripted questions. Anyone who’s dealt with Apple (s aapl) will know the company always likes to concentrate on the product and won’t talk about anything off script. Steve Jobs once refused to answer several questions I asked him, simply staying silent.

Seen from this perspective, it’s not atypical behavior, but it’s certainly not great for RIM at a time when it needs a boost. Indeed, our mobile editor Kevin Tofel told me it was a poor choice from Lazaridis, who could have argued it was a sensitive issue and said “no comment” or simply dealt with the question. But we’ve all seen people flub their lines before or get surprised.

This also, in a way, betrays the sort of pressure that the company is under right now. Either the issue with the Indian government is a lot more frustrating than he seems prepared to admit, or he’s simply so keyed in to talking about Playbook — a problematic but potentially crucial launch that requires some version of Lazaridis-as-pitchman — that he gets sent into a spiral by an unexpected (but surely not unusual) question.

Not good news, whatever the case.

11 Responses to “RIM Boss Loses It, Walks Out of BBC Interview”

  1. Security issue? I would have walked out too
    Remember to interview CEO/ presidents of a countries ( not saying they are equal) interviewer must show respect & class in questioning.

  2. Nowhere in that very brief interview was Rory Jones out of line. The string of revolutions across the Middle East recently make security for users a very relevant question. If anything the backpedeling (and dare I say “fake outrage”) demonstrated by Mike Lazaridis goes to show how out of touch RIM is about the state of smartphones.

  3. Beavertail2

    If someone doesn’t respect you. You have the right to walk. Poor choice of question, poor ambush journalism, poor form.

    It is a matter that is ongoing discussion. Discussing it in public is not appropriate. Pressing on this matter is with bad intention – to embarrass and to bash Blackberry brand. Competitions put him up for that?

  4. I think this is just the culmination of weeks and months of the same re-hash. Even Obama and other world leaders have shown their humanity when poked in the eye a million times over.

  5. A suitably media-trained exec should be perfectly capable of pulling off the “that would be an ecumenical matter” defence, or even, horror of horrors, answering the question.

    To claim that the question is not relevant now in a period of tumult – in some ways facilitated by new technologies – is a little short sighted. Encryption in the hands of ordinary citizens is a vital tool in ensuring that those who are struggling against tyranny have a level playing field with the governments who are trying to control them. RIM’s cooperation with governments on access to their encrypted messaging is very relevant.

  6. what kinda ridiculous reaction was that? this issue is not old and over with it…all he had to do was say its a sensitive topic and withhold comment…I love how he threw in “this is a national security issue” at the end before leaving, why didn’t he just say that first??!!

  7. Bobbie, nice report, but I don’t think you’re being fair in this. I’m no RIM jobsworth, far from it, but just how was Rory’s question relevant to Now? I mean, the incidents he referred to were both ages old. It isn’t the first time the BBC has been partial in its coverage, the whole tech press seems to suffer from group think at the moment. I guess what I’m saying is that the RIM co-CEO couldn’t win if he commented, and couldn’t win if he didn’t.
    Not entirely sure why I feel this way, just that I do.