Everything is fair game in communication – apparently not!
Whose rules are we actually playing by? IABC Victoria president Danielle Jorgensen asks our panel. “Without fair game, would we have some of today’s fair outcomes (#metoo etc)?” she said. “Does all communication need to be rooted in fact? Even spurious communication is still communication, right? Today, communication could be a battle between reality, and how people will see and understand reality.”
With the battlelines drawn, the affirmative team of Clare Gleghorn (General Manager, Bastion Reputation Management), Darren Sibson (Communications Manager, Digital Banking, ANZ) and Brad Weldon (Director, JAW Communications) got off to a flying start, and argued their case strongly, advocating for honesty and transparency in communication, saying that:
- Individuals and organisations make honest mistakes
- Too many things have been swept under the carpet, which should have been fair game
- Goodwill can only be maintained if all is fair game from a communication perspective
- We need to hold our leaders to account, and to communicate unpalatable truths
- The definition of fair game is “a person or thing that is considered a reasonable target for criticism, exploitation, or attack”, and that this in fact, is the Australian way.
The affirmative team acknowledged that as a profession, we need to hold individuals and organisations to a high standard for communicating news, both good and bad, saying we are stewards of civil discourse while ensuring all is fair game in communication.
The negative team of Louisa Coppel (Big Picture Strategic Services), Gerry McCusker (Principal Adviser Engage ORM/The Drill Crisis Simulator), and Jacquie O’Brien (Director, Public Affairs and Communication, Marie Stopes) seized on this point, arguing that everything in communication is most certainly not fair, giving the structure of formal debating as an example. In fact, the team argued that the very notion of “fair game” is implicitly unfair, pointing out that:
- Where everything goes, we sacrifice professional standards and norms, if anything goes, we lose all quality control, without rules there’s no responsibility, and without recourse there’s no accountability – and it’s a wrestle to the floor
- The idea that everything is fair game implies a no-values system
- When we say that all is fair game in communication: people get hurt, lives get altered and we have to consider: what kind of world are we making?
- Without rules for communication, we have chaos, no meaningful connection, and no humanity
- Someone doesn’t have to lose for another to succeed – a win-win outcome is possible.
Louisa sums up her argument beautifully: “As professionals, we should be speaking truth to power, we should be shaping the debate (not spinning it), setting the standard (not chasing each other in a race to the bottom) – we can lean in, and engage without ‘shoutrage’ . . . as stewards of civil public discourse, we choose how we deploy our skills and our art, we should call out unfair play, we live by a rule book that is worth something, and with that, society might just win.”
Eventually, the negative team won on the day, but with such a robust, intelligent and well-considered debate, the winners were the 50-strong audience.