One of the critical things to understand about how the media deals with issues in the public domain is the tendency to classify pretty much every subject at the extremes of the argument.
This is especially the case in the more populist and “tabloid” media, which wallows in the mud of popular thinking on just about every issue.
In this fantasy world issues are depicted as being black or white, right or wrong, and the people responsible are classified as either good or bad, heroes or villains, angels or demons.
This is exemplified in talkback radio where “Merv from Nollamara” can argue without question that every complex issue has a simple solution if only the boneheads in power would just wake up and show some common sense. It is this world that makes being a politician in a democracy like Australia just about an impossible compromise – making pledges they know they can never deliver. In the media fantasy world you CAN HAVE better schools and hospitals and pay absolutely no more in tax, and governments can reduce spending to bring budgets into surplus without any negative impact on services.
The reality is very different. The real world is anything but black and white – in fact, it is dominated by a lighter shade of grey. In this world good people sometimes do bad things, heroes in the media spotlight turn out to be violent husbands who bash their wives, spending on education has to be cut in order to fund more hospital beds.
This is why the role of corporate communications is so critical to companies and people trying to argue their case in the court of public opinion. The media likes things to be simple and that’s when the problem starts. Companies need sharp-minded advocates who can help journalists understand what lies behind a company or government’s decision to take a particular action. Power companies don’t put up charges because they are mean and nasty; they do it because they need to fund the higher costs of electricity. Governments don’t cut spending on education because they want kids to learn less but simply because they need the same bucket of money to pay for more hospital services in our expanding cities and towns.
Corporate communications are barristers in the court of public opinion helping the community to understand the many shades of grey and to clearly explain the reasons for decisions so that the case isn’t lost in the black and white kangaroo court.