In his book entitled, “Truth to Tell”, Lenny J. Davis, the official spokesman for former President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky’s scandal, said that after he was assigned to this post he was anxious to know the nature of his work. When he got the opportunity to speak to the President himself he got a direct and abrupt answer saying,” When shit happens, you talk”.
In light of all what’s happening around us today when it comes to crises, from global inflation, extremism, the denouncing others as infidels and the leaking of misinformation that condemns moderate countries as well as targeting people of all levels over the internet, television and press, there emerges a question. Who is the official spokesman for our Arab world today? And what’s the role of officials when it comes to dealing and communicating with the media.
Can anybody recall any Arab official who has taken part in a live television question and answer session in a similar fashion to those American news programs on Sundays? Who are the figures available for interviews with the press? And who’s been assigned the task of refuting the intoxication of Arab public opinion on a daily basis?
How many Arab officials or official spokesmen are currently available to the media?
Let’s take inflation as an example, a crisis which has stricken an average of 33 countries around the world since 2001, including our region.
Who has stepped up to offer answers and rebuttals to the public regarding the reasons behind the crisis, its background and its historical significances? And who has attempted to provide the media with information rather then instructions, or has highlighted consumer behavior? We are flooded of information and lies in our Arab world that is reciprocated by either silence or futile attempts to hide the truth instead of offering answers and rebuttals or challenging information with new information.
Politically speaking, we have an undeniable example in Iran. Today’s media is filled with leaked information and statements to the degree that it is hard to find news about Iran without the presence of the Iranian viewpoint included, regardless of news’s sensitivity.
From a positive stand point, we have some experiments that deserve highlighting in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In Saudi Arabia, we have an example with the official spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry. Since assigning an official spokesman, interaction and communication with the Saudi Interior Ministry has become more flexible, feasible and rapid. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that there is no friction whatsoever between the Saudi media in particular and Saudi security officials despite the sensitivity involved in terrorism and security issues.
In Egypt, we have the example of the presidential palace’s official spokesman, where it is now quite easy to communicate, attain information and determine Egyptian positions towards different issues.
Today, media is like a merciless flood. Its mechanism have changed and whoever fails to deal with the media in accordance with these new mechanisms as well as traditional concepts like timing and reaching the widest audience possible will find themselves in a defensive situation, surrounded with misleading information that provokes public opinion and encourages international organizations to interfere.
An official spokesman is not everything and the same applies to conferences. What’s more important is communicating with the media to ensure the delivery of accurate information in the quickest possible time.
In a world that is governed by media, the best advice is to always be available for it.