Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

A useful tool but also a trap

COMMENT

TAGS: Politics

I try to step into politicians’ shoes sometimes to get some sense of their addiction to media exposure. It is much like other addictions in that even though it can harm them, they cannot say “no” to a request for a comment or interview. This is how they fall into the trap of overexposure.

Interviews, appearances on news bulletins and talk shows and even a lifestyle story here and there are all necessary, but only in moderation and only when some basic principles are being adhered to. It is extremely important that they know what they're talking about and deliver an absolutely clear and succinct message. If all they’re doing is trying to clock up mileage by speaking absolute rubbish, it is a mathematical certainty that they will do themselves harm. When they’re dealing with sensitive issues especially, it is imperative that they have control over what they say but also how they say it. Both rivals and allies will assess every single word, will even look at body language to draw conclusions.

Serious countries invest in communications strategies and in psychological warfare via public statements and appearances in politics. It is time for Greece to get serious too. When, for example, a crisis breaks out between Greece and Turkey, it goes without saying that some central authority decides which official will say what. The pressure can be unbearable, as I can personally confirm. Sometimes it comes in the form of flattery – “people want to hear what you have to say” – and sometimes in the form of psychological blackmail. In a small country where everyone knows each other, saying “no” can be hard. This is why we need representatives who are professional and impersonal, who emit an image of a serious state when they’re talking policy and positions in a time of crisis.

The second fundamental principle is that overexposure ultimately leads to being hated by a large part of the public. There are, of course, numerous politicians who are almost permanent fixtures on TV and end up getting elected again and again as a result. They belong in a special category of their own, however.

It is always sad to see otherwise serious people becoming ridiculous or marginalized simply because they can’t put a lid on it or because they try to fix a gaffe by making one more statement or giving one more interview. They forget that the media can swoop on a single phrase and revive interest for a bygone issue.

This is an age of constant communication. Communication is a useful tool, but if you don’t see the pitfalls it can also be a trap. As Germany’s former finance minister once told me when I complained about him turning down repeated requests for interviews: “My dear man, no one has lost his job over an interview he didn’t give.”

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