Bridging communications between the government and the media
The media and the government have a symbiotic relationship; each needs the other.
But more often than not, both are guilty of spinning their narratives to fit their respective agendas. Such behaviors completely slants the news reports that are out there today.
THE dissemination of information is a crucial component of the new government, and one cannot deny that the media plays an essential role in this.
The media environment across the world has evolved into an energetic ecosystem and this has altered how government institutions operate and how leaders communicate with the public. How the system operates also shows how effective or otherwise, the message gets across.
In Malaysia Baru, as expected, depending on one’s political affiliation, some believe that the media facilitates information by covering a wide variety of views, while others believe that some media propagate anti-establishment views and manipulate how society views issues or personalities.
In the last few weeks, we have read reports of what appears to be “strained relationship” between the media and some politicians, ministers or their communication teams.
It is not an exaggeration, therefore, that most Malaysians are aware of how some leaders use the media to their advantage to get their message across. And the supporters of these faux pax prone leaders go out of their way to defend their political heroes. What they fail to realise is that by doing so, they are not helping, but actually attracting unnecessary attention and more criticism towards their leaders.
In a “free” world, not only do the media report the news, they also create the news by deciding what to report. It is the prerogative of journalists and their editors to report what they think or feel their audiences want or need to read. They know their obligations to their readers and are accountable for whatever information is published.
For some leaders to demand or dictate what the media should report is rather disingenuous, seeing how vociferous they were in calling for freedom of the press when they were the opposition.
Placing things in the proper perspective, perhaps it has not dawned on such leaders and their communications teams that they need the media more than it needs them. No one reaches the masses more effectively than the media and the sooner they realise this, the job becomes easier.
"while journalists are excellent at understanding how the media ecosystem works and know just the kind of sound bites their peers tend to congregate to, some lack experience when it comes to crafting holistic messages directed at multiple audiences across many platforms, which is what the discipline of communications is all about."
The role of the media and its impact on society is unparalleled: it is one of the most powerful communication tools in today’s world. It can promote the right narratives at the right point of time to the target audience.
Political leaders should know and understand the difference between the role of the media and how communications works, for they are two distinct disciplines. I was persuaded by a friend to listen to a media practitioner on television offer some rather useful advice to politicians — hire members of the press to be their press secretaries. There is merit to this advice, but while journalists are excellent at understanding how the media ecosystem works and know just the kind of sound bites their peers tend to congregate to, some lack experience when it comes to crafting holistic messages directed at multiple audiences across many platforms, which is what the discipline of communications is all about.
I believe that the selection of someone from the media fraternity to lead a communications team only addresses one aspect of the total scope required.
In today’s digital world, with the introduction of new and innovative platforms, the role of press secretaries or communications teams have evolved from being just a media liaison to a communications strategist.
They have to be able to execute their roles with finesse and forethought. They must be able to navigate the ever-changing communication platforms available — how well they traverse this new and dynamic ecosystem determines how effective the messages are in reaching the target audience.
Even Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo understands the need for a positive relationship with the media fraternity. He had called on officials in all ministries to cooperate with the media and hoped that “journalists will be given full support by the ministers and their respective ministries”.
Having said that, I hope government leaders and their communication teams forge a productive relationship with the media fraternity so that they are able to disseminate the accurate information to the public.
NOTE: The article first appeared on NST on November 10, 2018.