Role of spokesperson examined in final session of IGCF 2015

SHARJAH, 23rd February, 2015 (WAM)– The fourth International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2015)oncluded its sessions with a panel discussion highlighting the role of a modern spokesperson in delivering messages and building public awareness in light of the growing social media presence in the communication landscape today.

Led by Turki Al Dakhil, General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, the session, titled ‘The Spokesperson: Between the reality and the future’, featured Mustafa Al Khalfi, Minister of Communication and Spokesperson of the Moroccan Government, James Rubin, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs the tenure of President Clinton (1997–2000), Robin Gordon-Farleigh, News Planner at the UK Prime Ministry, and Khaled Hazem, Industry Solution Manager, Government Middle East and Africa Public Sector, Microsoft.

Urging governments to recognise the need to cultivate a fresh approach to communication in order to truly engage with society, panellists concurred that government-level communication is a dialogue and not a monologue. With the use of case studies and experiences to underline the competencies that a spokesperson must possess, the session reiterated the importance of continuous training to improve and maintain the spokesperson’s delivery of quality government communication.

Al Khalfi said, “Today, it is crucial to tackle the role of government communication and the intrinsic role of the spokesperson in serving as a mediator in that communication process. A significant part of our regional problems in government communication stems from the lack of proper communication policies.” He added, “Government communication has become an interactive process today, rather than a monologue that dictates government messages to the people. Social media represents a great opportunity for us to achieve true interactivity between the government and the public. For instance, governments today may be faced with social challenges that can only be effectively resolved with public intervention. Such dialogue can help governments identify the most urgent issues and problems. The spokesperson is a product of teamwork. He should balance his relationship with social media audiences as well as remain in the good books of key decision makers.” Robin Gordon-Farleigh said, “From my experience I have learnt that the spokesperson has three key responsibilities: deliver important government messages, remain credible at all times, and ensure that the messages are of high quality and can be smoothly understood by the audience. Spokespersons play a vital role in communicating the priorities of the government to the public.” He added, “Efficient communication planning should be implemented for the government spokesperson to deliver the right message to the people – it is all about preparing the right person to be in the right place.” He further noted “Coordination among government entities is key. We need to make sure that government bodies speak as one voice, especially during crises.” Khaled Hazem said, “Today, we are witnessing four mega technological trends: cloud computing, social media, mobility, and the Internet of Things. We should try to leverage them to help the spokesperson achieve better results in communicating with the public. We have a wealth of data and information, and we must not keep the speaker disconnected from this information. Therefore, spokespersons have to keep a close eye on social media feeds and utilise them to come across as more realistic and more credible.” On his part, James Rubin said, “The most important aspect of government communication is what you say to the people. The reason for the importance of government communication worldwide is that the world has become increasingly democratic, and people today have an increasing role in the forming of foreign policy.” He added, “Officials often think that the problem lies in communication, but actually most of the time, it is a policy problem. Hence, the rule is good policies can be damaged by a bad communication strategy, but at the same time, a great communication strategy cannot fix what bad policies have incurred. It is also very important for the government spokesperson to maintain the right balance between being truthful and not revealing everything, because in foreign policy, sometimes it is dangerous to be 100% transparent.” Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, IGCF 2015 discussed the immediate measures needed for ensuring an improved relationship between the government and the public, using effective and clear government communication mechanisms.

The forum hosted a group of global experts in the field of government communication to identify the actions required on the international and local levels to further activate the role of government communication.