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View from the street: communication crimes of commission and omission


David Gaffney Charlotte Street Partners


Senior partner

Introducing the UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill a fortnight ago, Suella Braverman told the House of Commons “there are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws. Let us be clear: they are coming here.”

In a Daily Mail column the following day, the home secretary referred again to the 100 million people currently displaced globally and claimed that there were “likely billions more eager to come [to the UK] if possible.”

During an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Susanna Reid challenged Braverman to justify her misleading and inflammatory language, pointing out that “it is a fact that we are dealing with tens of thousands and you have used the word billions”.

Braverman’s attempt to lend credibility to the claim by invoking the name of the United Nations was as cynical as it was calculated. More unseemly, though, is the way that UN data was used and abused to feed the fear of those voters already worried about migrant numbers and to justify the “tough” legislation being proposed.

None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who subscribes to view that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, but Reid’s intervention highlights again the value of independent journalism as a means of verifying claims, checking facts, and holding powerful people and organisations to account. Electorates should be able to form opinions and make decisions based on facts, rather than spin, rhetoric and hyperbole. We often rely on the media to help us navigate through that fog of confusion.

If the home secretary was guilty of a crime of commission in her communications, Scottish Rugby committed a crime of omission in its social media coverage of last weekend’s under-20 men’s international between Scotland and Ireland, albeit a less weighty misdemeanour.

An official Twitter feed that had been generous – both qualitatively and quantitively – in its praise for the U20 side in its single-point victory over Wales a month earlier, was markedly muted as the same team shipped 12 tries and 87 points to an impressive Irish outfit. To be fair, the half-time score was published, but the only other information you could have gleaned about the game from the governing body’s feed was that Scotland made several substitutions and scored a try.

In withholding the final score, did Scottish Rugby do its young players a service by protecting them from critics and trolls? Or were the top brass more concerned with what the result might say about the state of grassroots and development rugby in this country? Were the social media team forbidden full disclosure to save the blushes of those at Murrayfield who wear blazers rather than gumshields?

‘Owned’ channels are an essential part of the modern communications toolkit and provide organisations big and small with a largely controllable means of sharing news, opinions, information, and marketing content. If you want audiences to trust those channels – and, by extension, to trust and respect your people and your brand – you need to be a credible source of information in good times and bad. Celebrate the hard-fought victories and record-breaking profits by all means, but have the good grace to front-up the setbacks and explain the disappointments too. Failing to do so calls into question the integrity of an organisation and undermines its reputation.


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