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Speaking the Truth in Public Life.

By Staff Writer: Harvey Fewings.

This article is not about trashing the roles of ‘ media advisors ‘ – rather, it is about the philosophy that requires political statements and announcements to be ‘ spun ‘ to achieve what is supposedly the ‘ right ‘ effect. Whatever the hell that means?

How many public figures, politicians, celebrities, corporate leaders and media personalities have been undone in their public life when they are caught out telling lies, hiding the truth or puffing smoke about the place in an attempt to distract attention from the truth or the facts?

I say there have been plenty.

We read about it every day, or we watch it on our television screens, but it still goes on and on and on and on!

Why? Why are they not able to learn.

There seems to exist an irrational, internal fear of telling the media the truth.

Some years ago, in another life, I was CEO of a large public enterprise; on my second day in the role, I was approached by one of my colleagues who wanted to know which media advisor I wanted to appoint to assist me with the media.

The following day, at a meeting of all my senior executive colleagues, I announced that I would not need a media advisor.

Shocked silence.

It appeared as if I had announced that I had two heads!

“ What will you do? “ one of them said in a hushed voice.

I replied that I would tell the media what was happening, why it was happening, who made it happen and what it means when it does happen.

More shocked silence.

“ What tell them the truth ? “ my deputy questioned.

“ Yep. “ I said.

“ Jeeez. “ they all said.

The implication was clear; if you tell the media the truth, they will twist it to suit their agenda.

We then had several sessions on why it was to our advantage to tell the media the truth, never speak off the cuff or the record.

Record everything if the contact is oral and keep written records of everything you say and release, in the form it is released.

So, that is what I did to manage the truth in a very public forum.

Let us, therefore, look at the most public of forums, the world of Australian politics.

There are three levels of Government in Australia. Local Government – Councils and Shires etc., State and Territory Governments and the Commonwealth Government.

Australia is heavily over-governed, and that fact alone mitigates for an open and truthful communication channel between the various elected persons and the electorates they represent.

But, that does not happen. It should, but it does not!

Most elected persons these days have administrative support staff funded by us…

Numbered amongst those support staff are “ media advisors.”

These are usually young people, in their late twenties or early thirties, holding tertiary degrees of education in ‘ Communications & Journalism.’ Or ‘ Arts And Communications.’ Or ‘ Media Studies & Communication.’ And so on. I am sure you get the picture.

Well, what do these advisors do?

Job descriptions vary. The general idea seems to be that these young people are there, in the political stream, to provide expertise on how ‘ to spin ‘ the political stories of the day.

And, this is where I become curious.

Politics, elections, candidates and the mechanics of managing political campaigns have been part of my life for many years. I have been involved in great political success stories, and great political train smashes; neither of them is anything like they are made out to be…

Where I have had influence, and that has not been on many occasions, but where I have, I have always pursued the idea of telling the truth to the electorate.

If a programme stuffs up, or a person makes a mistake, then say so! Tell the people who are paying your wages and the wages of your staff the truth! Tell them what happened and why!

It is the idea that political stories and announcements need ‘ spin ‘ that I challenge.

Politics in Australia is about governing the communities in which we live. It is not a game; it a bloody serious business. It is the most serious business in town – and it is about power!

Once you mix human beings and power, any number of weird tunes begin to play.

It is evident that the idea of ‘ spinning ‘ political stories is about maintaining a position of political power – not about maintaining good government – but about maintaining political power.

This is not a universal conclusion, I know politicians who bring the highest standards of integrity to the role and assiduously protect those standards.

But almost every political office has a ‘ spin doctor ‘, and it is the ‘ spin doctor ‘ who often decides what is said, how it is said and to whom it is said.

I ask why?

Most of them have not lived long enough to have had any challenging life experiences; that is not their fault; it is a matter of biology.

How can they be advisors to elected men and women who have toughed out an election, placed their integrity and personal life into the public forum?

Recent events in Canberra have made it quite clear, to even the most casual observer, that the idea of advisors and Ministerial Assistants has become a burden on the Parliament and both sides of the political spectrum.

I think that the ‘ system ‘ has become the tail wagging the dog.

The secret, if there needs to be a secret, to remaining elected in any public office is to provide the people who vote for you the results they expect.

And that is a good, open and honest government.

You simply cannot have that, if you have a system full of ‘ spin doctors ‘ who twist and dilute political announcements to suit the story of the day.

In my opinion, in politics, the only, the best, the most vital story of the day is the TRUTH !

Simple. The End!

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