Saturday, November 18, 2006

Real Audience

In the previous post Disaster in Iraq, I mentioned an interview Tony Blair gave to David Frost on al-Jazeera. Frost suggested that the intervention in Iraq was a disaster, and Blair responded with two words ("it has") before proceeding to explain the difficulties.

A public figure such as Tony Blair is always speaking to more than one audience, and his words may have a different effect for each audience. Was he speaking to the Middle East, to the Americans, to the UK Labour Party, to future historians? Or was the apparent assent ("it has") merely courtesy to an elderly interviewer?

Even experienced public figures fall foul of this problem occasionally. For example, UK Industry Minister Margaret Hodge made some remarks critical of Tony Blair at a private dinner; these remarks were later reported by the press [BBC News]. And when the Pope quoted some anti-Moslem sentiments in the middle of an academic lecture, these were repeated around the world. (See my earlier posts: Papa Ratzi 3, 4, 5.)

Good communicators adjust their language and emphasis to suit the audience. For a given audience, it may be possible to be sincere, authentic, grounded in the here-and-now. But this becomes increasingly difficult when communications intended for one audience are inevitably revealed/released to other audiences. Obviously Tony Blair cannot say one thing to al-Jazeera and something else to CNN without being found out. Even a perceived difference in tone will attract comment. Thus extreme publicness undermines authentic communication.

If a communication has diverse effects, how shall we determine the underlying purpose of the communication? Who is the real audience?

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