One of the major issues in communication today has to do with the so-called professionalization of communication. Between the private citizen and powerful organizations or resorts of political power, there interposes itself a small army of professional communicators whose purpose is to fend off criticism or questioning with empty “responses” that actually say nothing. If you as a citizen have a case to make, if you object to some aspect of the status quo, you will not be able to argue with those responsible. Instead you will be fobbed off with some blah-blah by their communication staff.
At the same time, professional communicators are busy coaching politicians and executives in “political communication”, which is the art of sounding good while saying nothing. The most highly prized people in this field are former TV newsreaders and TV presenters.Their philosophy derives from the broadcast media: keep talking, there must never be silence – and the fact of talk is more important than its content.
In public life now, the pretense of saying something mirrors the pretense of listening. The powerful pretend to be listening just as they pretend to be saying something.
In the Western democracies, which pride themselves on their culture of open debate, political leaders no longer say what they think. They say what people expect them to say, and will not say something that will lose them votes, unless of course it will result in a surge of votes from another, larger constituency whose anger and resentment they can harness.
Whenever a politician or a business executive or any kind of a “suit” appears before the cameras, they have been so coached by professionals and their message so “crafted” that what you see is not a person at all. Professional communicators probably have their version of the Ten Commandments of political communication hanging on the office wall. I haven’t thought of ten, but I can think of four to start:
- Don’t be yourself.
- Don’t say what you think.
- Don’t say what you mean.
- Don’t mean what you say.
Communication is the lifeblood of society. We professionalize it at our peril.