The government has defaulted to a colonial style of communicating in which the population is told to “do as I say, not as I do.”
This was the view of Dennise Demming, lead consultant at Demming Communications, when Newsday spoke to her in a phone interview on Wednesday.
“What we have to remember is people do what you do. They forget what you say...It’s also about how you make people feel. If I feel like I am a part of this, I will do what I am supposed to do. If I don’t, then to hell with you.”
In the first three days of the state of emergency, 75 people were charged for breach of curfew. Before the SoE, the government closed businesses and sent the public sector home because of covid19 spikes, yet 60 people gathered in Lopinot on Eid for a hike.
She wondered if the population trusts the communication the government is giving on covid19.
“Does the public trust that the communication is open, honest, transparent and true?...What we have done is, we take the approach – and this sounds terrible – but it comes from our colonial past. I can instruct you, but we’ve forgotten that we can’t instruct people into behaviour change just like that.”
She said people would only change their behaviour if they understood the consequences, but officials have done a “poor job of consequence implementation and management.”
"We have defaulted to the colonial approach to communicating where we
She said the government needs to tailor its communication to the different demographics of the population. Using a one-size-fits-all form of communicating. with a heavy-handed approach. by “buffing” the public at press conferences, she said, does not help, especially since the people who are turning into the conferences are most likely the portion of the population who are behaving and following the public safety guidelines.
“So we buff and we buff everybody and we use obscene language to everybody.
"I’m sorry, that does not work.
"They have to look at the people who are watching the press briefings – they are not who you are cussing. The people you are cussing are the same ones into the zesser and wesser parties.”
This scolding causes people to disengage from what the authorities are saying, and they don't listen.
When people in authority say one thing and do another, she said, that creates more distrust in the official communication. In November 2020, there was a large wedding in Valsayn which a government official reportedly attended and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh admitted that he knew about the wedding beforehand. That type of behaviour, Demming said, creates mistrust in the public.
“There is an inconsistency in the messaging. As long as you have inconsistent messaging, you will have low compliance, because you are communicating a duplicity that people will self-correct for.”
The vaccination rollout was another example of inconsistent communication. After vaccination, a person is put to sit for 30 minutes before being allowed to leave. She suggested having infographics on a TV while people are waiting, so they could watch and be more informed about what side effects they might experience.
She wished people would become more vulnerable and reach out to people on a human-to-human basis with grace, dignity, love and respect rather than berating them.
“We cannot continue to speak to our population like they are inhuman, as if they are a dog you are speaking to...this crudeness, the sarcasm, that is disconcerting. It is the kind of aggression that is absolutely unnecessary, as opposed to holding up each other to some kind of higher value."