Sep 10 2008

The lost art of mass communication

Published by at 1:38 pm under Europe,Opinion

First reported on my old blog on 31/10/2005. 

It’s terrible to live in Germany in these days of coalition negotiations. And I’m an African! I can just imagine how incredibly frustrating and irritating it must be for the average German (with his huge need for things to be organised, clear and stable) to open his newspaper these days. 

Rumours of what lies ahead for the German consumer and economy are flying thick and fast. Then taxes are going to rise, then not. Then state subsidies are going to be cut, then their going to be increased. 

Then the German state finances are going to be completely overhauled, then not. Then the people are going to be hit in their pockets, then not. The rumour mill is working overtime. 

Then we need a huge rebuilding action, then we don’t need it (yes, seriously). 

Even the politicians new to Berlin are blowing hot and cold.

Last week Edmund Stoiber said: “The state finances are facing the biggest overhaul in the history of the German nation in the next 24 months.” This morning he said: There is no need for the new coalition government to become the “Koalition der Grausamkeit”, leaving the impression that the state finances do NOT face the biggest overhaul in history. 

Total and absolute uncertainty reigns in Germany. 

And all of this because the German politicians don’t seem to be able to control the flow of information to the media. In fact, they don’t even seem to think there is anything wrong with this total chaotic situation Germany finds itself in since – I wanted to say, since the election, but, to be honest, the flow of information from the national government to the community (via the media) has been chaotic since I came here in 2002. 

Never have I read so many “speculative articles” parading as “the real thing” as here in Germany. 

The Schröder government’s biggest failure was, meiner Meinung nach, its inability to communicate the need for reform, government’s reform plans, its successes and time-table for reform going forward. 

By not communicating properly, Schröder’s government added to the uncertainty, which has lamed the economy and caused it to grow way below its potential for years. 

And this from the nation which once ruled the science of mass communication and of controlling the “public opinion”! 

With Angela Merkel came the promise that Germany will soon have a government which knows how to communicate with its people and will do it honestly. 

If this hot and cold blowing of Stoiber is anything to go by, the coalition government will not do any better in this department than the Schröder government did. 

One can only hope sanity will return with the completion of the coalition negotiations. 

What is needed, is that the number of “official government spokesmen” be cut to ensure that (1) less information flows and (2) only correct information flows. 

Secondly, the people should know who these official spokespeople are. So the people will understand the article they’re reading (which quotes only non-official sources) is a speculative piece. 

Thirdly, government should communicate with paid advertisements in the media (in which it alone determines which messages go out). 

These advertisements should (1) give a clear exposition of the current situation (why reforms are necessary) (2) a short description of the end goal and (3) a list of reforms to be implemented in the next 12 months, next 24 months and next 36 months on the road towards this end goal. 

This all must be short enough to fit into a full-page advertisement. Communicating with the people through paid advertisements is one area where the new government should not try to save money. 

Weak communication was the main reason for Merkel’s bad election result. (By the way, the content of what she said came in a distant fourth place – after the debacle with her professor from Heidelberg and Stoiber’s silly remarks). 

It’ll be interesting to see if Merkel learns from her mistakes.

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