Avoiding pitfalls in political communication
Recent comments by some politicians give cause to worry, especially given the fact that they represent the people in and outside the country.
It is important for politicians to understand the nuances of political communication vis-à-vis the implications of their statements to avoid getting embroiled in political controversies which may damage their political careers.
Basically, political communication is a specialised area of communication which is done by politicians, political activists and government officials.
Mostly, the communicator seeks to communicate a message mainly through the mass media to a targeted audience. The communication materials can be text, voice or video.
Sometimes the messages are made at political party rallies, conferences, congresses and meetings.
Each communication material seeks to achieve a certain effect in terms of selling an idea or policy, explaining a point or criticising an action by a political opponent.
However, many politicians falter in their communication mainly because they fail to assess the true import of their messages.
The point is that every message has either a political, economic, social or religious meaning which may be encoded differently by people.
There are many interest groups that are sensitive to issues about themselves and there are human rights activists who go to the defence of the vulnerable in the society.
Avoiding the pitfalls
Therefore, politicians are required to recognise all these interest groups and understand their sensitivities to avoid attracting their anger.
In recent times, some politicians have been forced to apologise for some utterances that they made at political meetings, which attracted a lot of condemnation from sections of the society.
Others have had to give further explanations to the statements that they had made. If the message is a text, the communicator has to use words that are clear in meaning, while the sentences have to be congruent (not amenable to two or more meanings).
In the case of voice, the communicator should be sober in his or her presentation and refrain from using insulting, inciting or defamatory words.
And if it is a video, it is crucial for the communicator to avoid unnecessary gestures; for example the use of the left hand (which is not acceptable in the African culture) or the demonstration of violent behaviour.
In all cases, political communicators have to stay away from insulting comments about religion, ethnicity, class, race or sex; these are very sensitive areas that will cause the anger of an entire community towards a politicians.
Often, many politicians are confused when their messages receive bashings by either keeping mute or coming out to render apology later.
The point is that, as soon as the message goes ‘bad’, the communicator has to settle on the next line of action depending on the gravity of the issues.
He or she can decide to retract the said matter and apologise, give further explanations or distance him or herself from the statements, if it is uttered or written by a close associate.
Apology is the best remedy, provided the matter in contention is uttered by the communicator.
And in doing so, the communicator is not supposed to justify his/her action or seek to explain the issue further.
The tone of the apology should be remorseful, while trying to get sympathy by echoing his or her vulnerability as a human being and restating his/her respect for the people affected by his or her statement.