By Macford Sibandze | 2020-01-15
VERY soon there will be vacancy at Hospital Hill! It is that of government spokesperson.
Long-serving and loyal servant Percy Simelane has reached retirement age. in fact, he reached it a few years ago, but his services were extended until 2019. As yet, no major pronouncement has been made on his position, whether he will get a renewal or not.
As the rat-race, lobbying, posturing, shoving and pushing for the job unfolds; government is spoiled for choice. I mean government has abundant flair if it will not reduce the focus of the lens to journalists.
If the net is cast wide and deep, there is plenty of talent in bona fide locals here at home, in the diaspora and abroad. But if government is still trapped in the old age belief that best government spokespersons are journalists, then it has reached glass ceiling.
In this job you can just be fired at a whim and have your career tainted forever. It is not for the feint-hearted and it needs a balancing act between the two governments in the country.
It is not only about media management; I wish it was. It is about dry-cleaning and mopping government’s shortcomings. Thus it needs more than just a journalist armed with journalism but someone with deep seated industry knowledge in government operations, politics and international relations.
It needs an intellectual who is street-smart, intelligent, confident, authoritative, charismatic, firm but not arrogant. You can just imagine what the brilliant minds at foreign affairs can do if they could be head-hunted for the job.
Many of these guys are trained in politics, international diplomacy, public administration and international relations. They have global experience having travelled and stayed all over the world.
The good thing is that they will have an administrative team that is equal to the task. Even if you are not trained in the media, the team, made up of Media, PR and journalism specialists, provides a support structure.
They know the A-Z of public relations and can help in building relations with the media because the government spokesperson communicates with the public through the media.
Like I said he may not be a journalist per se but can be a lawyer, a PR specialist, a marketer, business manager, a psychologist, sociologist, economist, educator, administrator or anyone who can manage.
In a way, this is a political post where you manage politics and how the public perceive government. It is about building trust and credibility for the government so this can be a domain of any manager.
It is not just the flow of information and knowing to edit news, but it is about making the public have utmost good faith, trust and confidence in government as well as position it to the public as a ‘good fellow’ with good intensions for the public.
A government spokesperson must have legitimacy and credibility to many people. Though he is a spin doctor and propagandist, he has to wear authenticity so much that there is suspension of disbelief.
I hate to say this, but this is a guy who at times will tell lies with a straight face and the following day go to church to sing the ‘People in Christ never lie.’ The public has to believe his lies to be truthful.
This is because the government spokesperson has two clients the public and government - his employer. The public should be the first to give him the …haaaa! With the media on his side, it will be easy to shape discourse.
The job needs someone reputable, not someone who will look like a boy in a man’s job. I don’t know the country’s deploying strategy, but I believe it can cast its net among a number of its ex-brilliant ministers and diplomats who have government experience.
Maybe some may be too old, but it can also fish capable minds from the private sector.Any manager with technical skills of communication.
you don’t give this job to someone who personally, lacks communication skills. What is he going to communicate?
I am using ‘he’ deliberately because I have strong feelings that government has reserved it for a male. So I won’t waste your imagination on a number of capable women we have here. These women should not blame God for their gender. The devil is a liar.
BRAVE AND ARTICULATE
The job requires someone who is brave and won’t be afraid to call a press conference and address global media such as CNN, BBC, SKY NEWS, FOX, CNBC, SABC, E-NEWS, etc to clarity government’s position on issues.
In the last three months, government PR has been wanting as we had ‘seven government spokespersons’ dancing around the subject. To date there’s an unpalatable cliff-hanger in foreign land about the country.
And in the language of PR, once there’s a vacuum in the public space gossip becomes news
As a communicator, you need to take your message to the people. If you can't do that, it means that space the should have been taken by your message is taken by rumours, fake news, propaganda etc.
NATURE OF THE BEAST
It’s the nature of the beast that with this job not everyone will like you but it requires that you strive not to be divisive. Though an employee of government, you have to create relations with the opposition.
It’s true that such relations can be ‘an organised waste of time’ but it helps to create them. Thus one of his paramount duties is to advise government on how to respond to issues that can have devastating consequences on its public image.
It is for this reason that other countries elevate this job to the position of minister, for an example, minister of information or minister in the presidency or prime minister. Because it is easy when the spokesperson has first hand information on what is happening in cabinet.
The spokesperson gives government human form, a face, hence he has to look the part. He does not necessarily have to look like a Hollywood star, but professionally, black, grey, blue, brown suits, white and blue shirts, red, blue, green, etc ties are not bad at all. He can spare his white suit for retirement.
Of course it is not about the colour of a tie or scarf one wears on television, but the ability to effectively connect with the audience, however the dress code gives him integrity.
You can imagine the same well prepared spokesperson wearing a yellow suit, pink shirt and purple tie on televisions-who can believe what he says? So the dress code is a communication on its own.
The minimal qualification required to be a government spokesperson is to have a Bachelor’s degree in political science, business administration or public administration. A college or university degree in communication, journalism and English is a bonus!
I hope you have noticed that I included journalism and communication in the end not the other way around, because this is a political management post. May the best lobbyist win and be ready for the global media. it will ask him ‘dull’ questions and expect brilliant answers.
I say ‘lobbyist’ because my flies in the wall tell me that this job will be won by inside power politics.
NB: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent views of the newspaper.
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